Reflections on a Trip Down Under

December 20, 2012 by ahmed

A. Introduction

Today most organizations, both business and government, at every level, face massive operational challenges. We are told many of our Fortune 500 companies are “hoarding cash” not knowing where to invest, and remain in a constant struggle globally to compete with growing firms in China, India, and across the world.

On the government side, at least 40 or more of our 50 states have faced or are facing impending deficits, and cities and counties across the country face similar financial setbacks. Moreover, in the public’s view, many of our federal agencies, both civilian and defense, have been or are currently mis-managed. And now, our country as a whole is facing a potential fiscal cliff, where further cutbacks in services are a most certain reality, if not another economic recession.

Expand this perspective further with some initial statistics at the U.S. national budget level: over $1.8 trillion in annual revenues, $2.3 trillion in annual expenditures, to include a payroll for 2.7 million civilian employees. In addition, across the 50 states, the total value of all budgets indicates government expenditures make up close to 20% of our gross domestic product.

In many arenas, the public is asking: How well are these resources being managed? Or, alternatively, what is the “return on investment” to us as citizens or taxpayers, or customers?

In summary, our nation cries out for a true transformation to more proven approaches to managing the effectiveness and efficiency of our organizations. The global issues we face demand nothing less.

B. The 2012 World Capability Congress, Auckland, New Zealand, December 4 – 7, 2012.

One way to address this extraordinary organizational challenge is to explore how other countries or nations are coping in the same global context. I recently (December 2- December 7) had the honor and privilege to be an integral part of the 2012 World Business Capability Congress held in Auckland, New Zealand from December 4 – December 7. The Congress had close to 300 engaged participants from 25+ countries across the globe.

More specifically, this Congress in New Zealand had presentations by some of the world’s best business speakers and scholars and included close to 150 presentations on all aspects of organizational improvement, 14 keynote speeches, 3 panel discussions and over 30 best practice presentations from organizations competing to win the 1st International Best Practice Competition and the First Global Benchmarking Award Competition. I was honored and humbled to be selected as a speaker and judge at this Global Benchmarking Network supported and sponsored event in Auckland.

On a by-the-numbers basis, the presenter breakdown by country was: New Zealand = 76, Australia =16, United States = 8, Malaysia =8, Germany = 5,Singapore = 4, UK = 4,Canada = 4, All Others – 3 or Less = 2. Or, by topic area, the breadth of this sharing occurred in 18 related business excellence related topic areas from leadership to customer focus to performance measurement, global benchmarking and process improvement. You are welcome to access the web site for this conference for copies of the papers and presentations:

http://www.worldbusinesscapabilitycongress.com

C. My Reactions – Truly Remarkable Global Success Stories Are Happening Today!

Over the past 20+ years, I have spoken at and participated in at least 50 or more conferences and speaking engagements, covering an extensive array of topics from leadership development, to human capital management, performance management, Balanced Scorecard, to business process improvement, to Six Sigma and beyond, both in the United States and other countries, both from public and private sector perspectives. This was the first that was not guided by a United States or Western only centric approach, and one where success stories and case studies were primarily from an Asian or European business or government context.

So, what did I think of the presentations, discussions, and conversations that I heard at this globally based New Zealand conference? What was my major take-away learning that I can and will find ways to adapt or adopt in the United States and elsewhere? Or, more directly, what do they mean for government? How does government respond to the continual threats of re-structuring, privatization, outsourcing, downsizing or complete elimination?

Does the private sector have a “corner on the market” for performance excellence? Can our not-for-profit and public sectors truly compete with global companies or those that are considered world-class performers? On an ever increasing basis these days, the answer is a resounding YES, regardless what we may read or see reported by the media.

– The Subordinate Courts of Singapore.

Consider just one extraordinary example from the 20 – 30 or more presentations that I observed, listened to, and engaged with the speakers – The Subordinate Courts of Singapore (SUBCTs).

Pause for a moment and think reflectively, openly and honestly – How often have you associated “your” local or state court system with operational performance excellence where they actually measure citizen satisfaction and how they treat any and all employees who work there? They have been doing exactly that in Singapore for over 10 years or more!!

I was extremely privileged to hear this success story as explained by Chief District Judge Tan Siong Thye in Auckland. As a critical component of the Judiciary, the Subordinate Courts handle more than 95% of the Judiciary’s case load in the City/State of Singapore. This court system in Singapore won the coveted 2011 Singapore Quality Award with Special Commendation, an award that represents the pinnacle of business excellence in Singapore.

As just two selected measures of their business results, they most certainly demonstrate their enterprise-wide commitment to performance excellence. The SUBCTs gauge general public satisfaction using 5 indices, namely (a) public trust and confidence; (b) fairness; (c) accessibility; (d) independence; and (e) timeliness, through public perception surveys. Very high ratings are registered and an improving trend is observed for all 5 indices over the years.

  • Public Trust and Confidence. The ratings for public trust and confidence have not only exceeded the 80% target over the years but have steadily improved over time. The ratings leaped from 93% in 2001 to an all-time high of nearly 99% in 2010. As compared to the other judiciaries studied, the SUBCTs enjoy a significantly higher level of public trust and confidence.
  • Confidence in Leadership. The level of confidence in leadership amongst employees in the SUBCTs is an important measurement of employee engagement and continues to run high. In the past 3 surveys, the overall confidence level in leadership exceeded 90%. These ratings are better than those of other organizations that have carried out similar employee surveys.

The Singapore Courts is simply one exceptional case study of government operational excellence from this Auckland World Congress. How would John Roberts react as our Chief Justice of our U.S. Supreme Court? Forget about Roe vs. Wade for a moment, what is the cycle time for a case to “get through” our or your local court system? Do you know? What are the Business Results for our US Supreme Court compared to Singapore or the UK or Germany?

– Implications for the Management of Government in the United States.

As I synthesize my thoughts from other presentations I attended, I would offer the view that there are over 100 or more global success stories in the broad arena of Citizen Friendly or Customer Friendly management category. The guiding light is being provided by countries like Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa and beyond. These success stories were discussed in-depth in Auckland in early December in spades, as they say, with a commitment and passion I have rarely seen in recent years in the United States. Entrepreneurs are alive and well across the globe in all types of organizations, both internal and external.

Are we in the United States ready for this level of performance excellence in our local, state, or federal court systems? Where is it occurring today? Or, for that matter, where are similar examples of performance excellence occurring across the spectrum of our US government landscape – at the city, county, state, and/or federal levels? They are there for sure, yet we are not at the “top of our game” for our country as a whole. Can we compete at this global, Olympic level with these other nations of the world?

As a start, Lean business process management tools (Kaizen, Rapid Process Improvement…) are being used in such states as Minnesota, Iowa, Washington, Connecticut, Maine, and beyond, in possibly 10 to 15 states and maybe a similar number at the city and county levels. However, is that level of operational excellence sufficient or “the best we can do” in the United States (5- 10% of “all” government jurisdictions), when compared against these broader commitments in Singapore and elsewhere across the world?

Do our Governors for all 50 States and our newly re-elected President Obama in Washington share this sense of urgency? What are we waiting for, the next boom business cycle, or until we “solve” our fiscal cliff dilemma? These global success stories in government concretely demonstrate that a transformation of the public sector is possible, is underway today, and is yielding startling business results that exceed standard private sector performance expectations. But is it happening today in the United States, throughout the fabric of our federal government, the FAA, SEC, Homeland Security, DOT, HHS, and extending to the 80,000+ governmental units across our country, to sustain our position as a global leader? You tell me.

As Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum titled and explained in their recent book: That Used To Be Us. It is our responsibility to expand our hearts and minds and find the solutions to our most entrenched global management issues. Sharing best management operational performance excellence practices across our entire planet will make this a reality for this generation and beyond.

We are not alone. That message is what this World Business Capability Congress reinforced for me as a global citizen of our planet. We in the United States need to renew and engage ourselves, at all levels, in this world-wide sharing and benchmarking performance excellence community on a much broader scale. It is our choice as a country.

Dale F. Weeks, President
Global Leadership and Benchmarking Associates (GLBA)
3041 Shamrock North
Tallahassee, FL 32309
E-Mail: rei89@msn.com
Phone: 850-591-1076

Web Page: www.sites.google.com/site/dfglba

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