In my last post I suggested that a good product development process was not democratic, it was the product of clear leadership, shared vision, teamwork, and consensus building. Given the unacceptable performance of our elected leaders currently chewing up news headlines, I wondered what application effective free enterprise might have on the product development process that is democracy. What can we expect of democracy in the laws and policies it creates if we think of that enterprise as group of employees whom we fund?
Imagine working for a company where you were assigned to solve an extremely difficult, hugely complex, mission critical project, and the best your team could come up with was a status quo stalemate where almost any way you projected various outcomes of the stalemate, the company was doomed to failure. Because of the stalemate, you were more concerned about whether you would have a job when all was said and done than whether you helped your company make any progress solving the problem. Your supreme tactic would be to blame the other side of the stalemate for the stalemate, and hope that enough people believed your story rather than theirs so that you survived and they didn’t.
Then the proverbial *$&# hit the fan.
Would this somehow be a justifiable position? Ethically, emotionally, or logically? Would you feel good about yourself, that you had acted within the bounds of expectation for which you had been given authority? Would you really think you were safe from the temporarily ducked wrath of those who put you in the job?
I don’t think so.
Ringing any bells?
It is essential that we always remember in a democracy the government works for the people. That’s makes every taxpayer an employer, since we fund the operations of our elected officials and those they appoint. Think of yourself as a traditional employer. If your employees were acting in the way our government is acting — posturing and manipulating and behaving with a level of dysfunction that would never be acceptable in any corporation — would you continue to tolerate it? I would not. I would demand cooperation, collegiality, collaboration, and progress. Most of all, I would insist on honesty over spin, humility before ego. That is only right in exchange for the trust of authority, plus salary and benefits.
How do we lose sight of this? Because we fear government? Because we don’t understand government? Because we have become cynical and weary listening to rhetoric in all the media channels it now flows, endless noise absent of substance that drives us to the refuge of silence? Because we are overwhelmed by the process of government where change seems so elusive we find it less painful not to engage than to engage?
Hegelian dialectic encapsulates a framework where the evolution of ideas and events is resolved through history in a process of thesis meeting antithesis resulting in synthesis. Any reasonable person can understand this even if he or she has never heard of Hegel, who may be attributed disproportionate credit for the model. The concept is as much observation and interpretation as it is construct, opposing opinions are always present and result in outcomes, intended or not. Nation A and Nation B do not have a shared belief set. If they resolve their differences amicably, change occurs. If they do not resolve their differences amicably, they go to war. One point of view slams into another point of view, one largely prevails, and change also occurs — much of it unpredictable. We can only hope that the change is for the better, we cannot ensure it. Consider the consequences of knowing attempts to drive change for unsound motivation — we get what we get.
We know that change happens when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. If we accept the status quo of the current process, the pain will remain. If we demand better, we will get it. Self-serving entrenchment is not a strategy of public service, partnership is. This requires more than a letter or two to our elected officials threatening the loss of your vote, it requires a consistent communication loop that makes our expectations of consensus building a mandate, a necessity rather than an abstract goal.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve in elected public office, not an entitlement and in democracy not a power grab. It was never meant to be a career, it was meant to be an opportunity for those with some hard-won bits of knowledge, experience, and wisdom to give back to the community through a period of public service. That is the beauty and brilliance of representative democracy, the leadership is expected to evolve and turn over specifically for the public good. When we all forget that and allow the political landscape to exist as an ecosystem unto itself — an inorganic bureaucracy that feeds and fuels its own self-aggrandizing perpetuation — we abandon good business practice and invite shenanigans.
I don’t expect the government to make a profit, it is a service organization meant to be self funding for critical needs, thus the true practices of free enterprise cannot apply. Yet the basic behaviors and expectations of executives and managers that any responsible and passionate business owner or employer would demand must apply, or dysfunction will continue, and the business owners will suffer the consequences. If you have ever been part of an enterprise where management allowed dysfunction to take over, you know how quickly the tables can turn and the potential devastating outcome. It can happen quickly, without enough warning, and without a path to correction.
We all learn in grade school that the framers created a series of checks and balances specifically to ensure that one set of ideas did not permanently crush another. However they did not design our legislative product development process so that it would bring stagnation and impasse, anymore than a business would want checks and balances to impede innovation and growth. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill showed us just a generation ago that we can have our cake and eat it too, so there is a proven model in recent memory. We need to embrace that now or we all lose.
Good managers do not leave the most important problems to the last second.
Good managers appreciate the differences in the points of view around them and strengthen their outcomes with a mix of ideas.
Good managers talk to each other, not with poorly staged sound bytes to third-party forums to relay messages to each other.
Good managers put the enterprise and those they serve first, their teams above self-interest, and only accept reward when those conditions are met.
This isn’t hard, it is standard operating procedure for anyone who has ever worked in an important company role under time sensitive and otherwise impossibly difficult circumstances.
Demand better as an employer. We deserve it. We’re footing the bill. This we have in common, all of us.