Ever since I published the results of my research into the characteristics of high performance, I have attracted much interest from both profit and non-profit organizations. I have done numerous talks and seminars on high performance organizations (HPOs) in all kinds of companies in many industries as well as healthcare and educational institutions. What’s been missing however from this list are governmental agencies. It seems the message of “high performance,” with its emphasis on continuous improvement and dedicated attention to clients (in this case, civilians and the business community) fails to resonate substantially in government. I have hardly done an HPO Diagnosis in governmental institutions and I am on average invited to speak to public officials only once or twice a year.
Why is this? Why do governments – with its principle task of serving us, the public – not want to study the characteristics of high performance, then apply it in this critical sector? Why don’t governmental officials see the HPO Framework as the natural successor to New Public Management? After all, in this movement – which had its heyday in the 1990s – much emphasis was placed on increasing the quality of governmental processes and services, making these both better measurable and manageable, and delivering extra-added value to citizens.
Is this lack of interest due to the long-term orientation of HPO, perhaps out of an inherent tension with the short-term nature of politicians, the ‘masters’ of governmental agencies? Or is it because public institutions basically are a monopoly, having been around for ages, and thus feeling no threat of extinction? Therefore they feel no great drive for improving?
If this is the case, why is it then that in developing countries – where government often is the main economic power and also the biggest employer of the country – there exists an increasing and serious interest in HPO? Last year I was invited to speak at an HPO Summit in Windhoek, Namibia, to an audience of governmental agencies. I also conducted an HPO Diagnosis of Rwanda’s Ministry of Local Governance and Social Affairs. This year I am conducting HPO Diagnoses of Rwanda’s International Criminal Tribunal and Zambia’s Ministry of Commerce Trade and Industry. In the meantime, several Presidents of African countries have stated publically that their governmental institutions must improve considerably(and thus become HPOs) in order to ensure that their countries will seriously develop economically. These presidents realize that an efficient, and above all effective, governmental sector is crucial for the well-being of their countries and inhabitants.
Perhaps Western governments suffer from the dialectics of progress. After all, most Western countries have been doing relatively well since World War II and their governmental institutions have been performing adequately. Now however with budgets tightening all over the Western world, and the likelihood this will be the case for many years to come, civilians are at the same time becoming more demanding. Thus, adequate is no longer good enough! Western governmental agencies must therefore emerge from their comfort zones and begin focusing on new and better ways of operating if they hope to deal with their increasingly difficult circumstances, not to mention stay responsive and relevant.
My research into the characteristics of high performing governmental institutions reveals that these organizations, if they truly want to become HPOs, need to focus on the following six themes:
Governments in several developing countries are leading the way to a better, HPO-level public sector. I call upon the “developed” governments in the Western world to follow their shining example. Only in this way will they help us all through the difficult economic times still ahead!
Perhaps it is nice to forward this message to your (local) government?
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