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Use All Your Business Senses to Build Success

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization. 

By Keith Reester
February 19, 2018

Nearby by my office is one of the country’s leading schools for the blind, supporting leadership and development of these talented members of our community. I see many of these students daily as I commute to work via light rail. Recently while waiting on the platform for the afternoon northbound train the southbound arrived and a load of some 30 passengers disembarked, with likely 90 percent being sight impaired. As I watched this gaggle of students joyfully chatter away making their way through the train platform and up the various ramps to exit the area, one rider took a hard fall on the stairs right in front of me — a scary fall. Once it was clear that he was uninjured, just unceremoniously toppling over, the irony of the situation came clear: The one pedestrian that had taken a fall was the one sighted, but staring down at his phone, fixated on what was right in front of him, devaluing all his other sensory inputs. It is easy to do this in business and government today — becoming fixated on a critical target input while ignoring the sensory contributions from many other sources.

Best in class government organizations develop systems and leadership to build business practices which capture input from all their business senses to craft and deliver great government programs.

  • Strategy – All outstanding leaders have a keen sense of strategy developed over time both inside and outside their organization. Often it seems today that government organizations devalue the need for vision and strategy succumbing to the trend of moving projects or programs forward without stepping back and viewing the daily and weekly efforts through the lens of a more significant plan. Can your organization check the box for operating with a clear strategy? If not look up from the screen and begin to etch the path to a clear vision.
  • Performance measures – To assure success measurement of critical drivers is essential, but to what extent is your decisionmaking driven by the performance measurement? Best in class organizations seek to utilize measurements as another sensory tool to understand the environment and execute.
  • Community engagement – Outstanding government requires public participation in vital decisions, and the community is defined not by the agency but by the stakeholders. Today in government we have more excellent tools than ever before to engage stakeholders, but these means can also bring a difficulty to the game. When defining success always map a plan for your community engagement strategy and stick to that plan even when it gets hard. A matrix approach to identifying the community components and the tools best able to reach these stakeholders is vital to execution.
  • Employee engagement – Great teams have great people and finding a path to engage employees is elemental to excellence. Take the time to develop a strategic plan for employee communications, development and feedback, as this aids in creating a culture of energized learning and participation. Team members that feel engaged in the organization, and believe the agency cares about them as well, are far more likely to create outstanding customer service, exhibit improved response times and develop new ideas.
  • Peer assessment and learning – Frequently organizations fail to take advantage of their peers. In government—mainly local—there are so many opportunities to exchange and integrate ideas from other communities. Unlike private sector business where firms often jockey to keep information tight to the vest, government agencies have the ability to share information freely and learn from successes and failures. Often organizations don’t seek out these sharing opportunities, or it is restricted to participation at the executive level. One other facet that teams miss unless they are part of an accreditation process, is the chance to solicit and get peer feedback on significant portions of their operations. Very often the task of evaluating an organization is left to hired guns (consultants), but there are vast opportunities to get feedback short of hiring outsiders. Invite in three other fleet shops to evaluate your parts operations for example.

As a government leader, today embrace the challenge of using all your senses to drive success, build a team concept that utilizes input from all team members and embrace the opportunity to engage with customers and the community. Leaning forward with opportunities to participate, evaluate and execute on strategy lay the foundation needed for a culture of innovation in government. Embrace your full pallet of business senses to create excellence, don’t stare at the phone at the expense of your surroundings or you might just be the commuter lying askew on the train platform.


Author: Keith Reester is the Public Works Director in Littleton, Colorado and also provides consulting services across the country to public and private sector partners. More of Keith’s writing is available in his book Define, Measure, Create – Inspiring a Leadership Journey, available on Amazon and other platforms. Keith is reachable at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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