Employees are the most valuable assets of an organization. Government entities rely on them to deliver services to the community and often times they go above and beyond what is within their job description when resources are tight. Yet when looking for areas of efficiency and ways to save money, they aren’t always the first to be asked.
Historically, employees on the front lines have been overlooked as idea generators. In 1911, Frederick Taylor published “The Principles of Scientific Management” to address the relationship between managers and those employees who are on the front lines. His theory that managers were the planners and the employees were there to perform the tasks was well received during his time. But over time, employers have evolved to recognize someone performing “tasks” may have more insight on how to create efficiency or come up with a new process than someone who sits at a distance.
Many states are looking within for innovative ways to improve services and save money. Pennsylvania, launched a website so employees can submit cost saving ideas to help balance the budget. California has something similar called the Employee Suggestion Program. In a 2014 interview with Kari Ehrman, Merit Award Program Manager, she was asked what makes this program so successful; she responded, “The main reason was because it received top management support”.
Programs like this help drive employee engagement. Many take pride in what they do. If they find a way to make something more efficient, cost effective, or safer, their ideas should be heard. More collaboration between employees and leaders can result in a more productive workforce.
We are close to being blessed by a new driver in our house. I use the word “blessed” a bit tongue-in-cheek, because I’m not sure the steep increases in car insurance and the fresh cloud of worry hanging over our heads are any consolation to having a kid with a driver’s license. You’ll also note that I said, “close to being blessed,” because it turns out the visit to the DMV didn’t actually render a new license. It’s not that our daughter isn’t a good driver and failed the test, rather the arduous processes and mountains of paperwork required to actually get a license these days disassembled our plan. We ultimately determined that we would need to take our daughter out of school and ask for a half day vacation if she is going to be successful securing a legal spot on the highway.
One doesn’t have to look far to find a multitude of empirical data that indicates productivity advancements in the public sector (i.e. the DMV) have not kept pace with increases in the private sector. Killefer, 2006. To actually improve productivity, and to make notable gains in operational efficiencies, government workers would have to figure out creative ways to eliminate bureaucracy and to improve communication amongst themselves and the citizens they serve. This challenge got me thinking about human resources processes inside government organizations, because my experience has taught me that HR is likely one of the most operationally inefficient areas of government. Think about a typical time-off request. If I’m a public servant in most government organizations today and I want to take a day off, I have to complete a 3-part leave form ahead of my leave. This form moves from me to my supervisor for signature and approval, and then the original form is shuffled to an envelope that has to make its way across town in the back of a mail truck. Hopefully the form lands on the desk of someone in Payroll, because the Payroll Administrator will have to make a manual entry in the official system of record so that the system can keep track of how many leave days I’ve taken. And heaven help the poor citizen who may need my services on my day off, because there’s a high probability no one will know where I am.
The workforce leave process and the DMV process for a new license are two simple examples of productivity gaps in the public sector. Fortunately technologies exist today that have the ability to manage these processes more efficiently. It just becomes a game of budgets, weighed against pain, weighed against vocal employees and citizens. The pain is high. Perhaps our voices need to become louder.