In the private sector, it’s pretty easy to know whether your organization is outperforming the others in your industry sector. It is easy to find out if you have better margins, or lower employee turnover, a lower costs structure or a better return on shareholder investment. Many private sector organizations are publicly listed companies that require transparency in financial performance and risk. Many private sector organizations have articles written about their leaders, their techniques and their performance. And, many private sector organizations strive hard to be included in published rankings that evaluate them on a multitude of performance metrics, including best performing, fastest growing, best places to work, and best corporate cultures.
As well, there are CEO learning forums like EO Entrepreneurs Organization, YPO Young President’s Organization, the MacKay Forums, TEC, Tiger Forums and many others that are all designed for CEOs of small, medium and large organizations to share their experiences, share performance data, and share tools and techniques with the sole goal of making each other better.
Does such a thing exist for leaders in the public service?
I know many public service leaders who join the organizations listed above, but they do so with a huge sense of guilt and consciousness, as they know that they are using taxpayer dollars to pay for the membership – a membership that includes a peer-to-peer platform for management education, leadership discovery, performance measurement sharing and implementation accountability.
Shame on them. Shame on the President of the College, the General Manager of the Conference Centre, the Deputy Minister of the Department of Energy and the CEO of the Healthcare system for wanting to learn from the best, compare performance and techniques, and be accountable to one another for getting better. Shame on them for using part of their budgets for improving performance.
Madness. Madness I tell you.
We have dumbed down our public service, and we have done it to ourselves. We have scrutinized budgets, provided harsh opinion on expenditures, demanded lower salaries, and trashed public service leaders all over the front pages of the newspaper for doing anything slightly unusual.
We now live in an environment where elected officials condemn the actions of the administration, independent Boards of Directors are fired en masse. CEOs are held under “investigation” for months based on conjecture. Ombudsmen and whistleblower protection allow everything to be questioned. And senior executives have lost their privilege of an appropriate severance.
And what have we created? Not only a public service culture that is risk adverse, but also a culture in the public service which is scared to spend money on things that could actually improve performance. We have punitively and intentionally dumbed down our public service leaders to a level where all we should expect is mediocrity.
How sad. How very, very sad.
You get what you pay for, I say. If you are not willing to pay a bit to take risks, to strive for performance improvement, to enable an award-worthy leader, then why would you ever expect to see anything different than what we are getting. Our current fascination with frugality is maybe constricting us to an era of underwhelming performance.
It’s time to bring out the rankings and allow our public service leaders to compete for awards, recognition and rankings. Yes, sometimes people roll their eyes at these accolades and dispute the methodology, the objectivity or accuracy of the assessments. I get it. But that cynicism should not stand in the way of the benefits, as I’m looking at the value of these awards and ranking for what they positively accomplish:
- They clearly identify the performance measures that matter, based on years of comparing company performance against one another;
- They objectively rank each company’s performance on individual measures, such that the company can learn areas of excellence and weakness, and what it will take to be best-in-class;
- They are often accompanied by an education and awards session for the finalists, where leaders can learn from leaders about how they achieved higher levels of performance;
- They allow organizations in a wide range of sectors to identify top performers, read about their stories, understand the leadership philosophies used to achieve the results, and compare their own organizations to the winners; and
- They allow the winning organizations to use these awards and rankings as badges of honor, to create pride within their own organizations and to create interest in potential employees who want to work for the industry’s best.
To improve performance, to be ranked, to show vulnerability, you have to put yourself out there – and that takes courage. Public sector leaders need rankings and forum groups, and they need them today. Our public sector leaders need to start putting themselves out there, comparing themselves to their colleagues, making themselves better leaders, and improving performance.
That’s what we should expect of all our leaders, shouldn’t it?