Thursday, April 25, 2013

Alberta Bureaucracy - Spending Versus Productivity

Danielle Smith, Leader of the Official Opposition for the Alberta Legislature, has been consumed lately by some recently discovered executive expenditures and has spent a LOT of time drawing attention to them.

If I could put my Newfoundland accent on (long lost on the streets of New York), I’d say to her – “Give it up, gurl.  Sure, yur lookin’ in da wrong direction, by”.

In fact, if you end up spending a dollar or more looking for every dollar you can claw back, are you really winning?

There’s a much larger pot of gold to be discovered within the Alberta bureaucracy and any bureaucracy for that matter but it takes audacity and courage to root it out.

That pot of gold is in the areas of human productivity and effective resource utilization.

Many studies have been conducted to analyze productivity in public and private sectors around the world and can often be boiled down to the following scenarios.

Scenario 1 – Self Assessed

Very few people will ever assess themselves as underutilized or even utilized at optimal levels (for fear of being removed or having their friends removed) so we can discount all of these assessments. Period.

Scenario 2 – External Assessment

These break down into two sub groups.

2a. Friendly Assessment

Some assessments are at the request of a “friend on the inside”.  They are set up to produce a desirable result much in alignment with scenario 1 but under the guise of an objective, external assessment.  These results can be discarded.

There are other assessments that didn’t start out as “friendly” in the same fashion but the people conducting the assessment discovered that they get paid faster or their journey is less confrontational when their approach is considered friendly to those being assessed.  Please see scenario 1.

2b. Objective Assessment

There are a few objective assessments where the people conducting the assessment call it the way they saw it.  Few of these studies get acted upon or are acted upon in a diluted fashion so as to not offend anyone (especially unions) but which can be referenced as a “strong effort to make things better”.

It also happens that the few assessments that produce positive, measurable results (but which are in the minority) are highlighted and presented as the majority of the results when in fact they represent a small portion of the true effort.

Now … before I continue, I must make two observations:

1. Many large-scale private sector organizations have tremendous issues in the areas of productivity and utilization also.

2. There are many public sector workers who are committed to their job, are proud of their service to their municipality, state, province or nation and are doing an amazing job.  In fact, if it weren’t for them, we’d be toast.

However, having been in a number of public sector areas over the years, as a consultant to different groups, as a consumer of their services and as a long time provider of productivity assessment / enhancement services, I can state without fear of condemnation that the public sector has a long way to go when it comes to discovering where the money is really being lost.

A small example

While one data point doesn’t make a study, I remember a couple of years ago having the need to be in a blood testing center twice in the same week in a hospital.

The first time I was there, I was one of two people there for the hour I waited.

The second time I was there, I was the only person there for the hour I waited.

At one point during the second visit, the receptionist, who had an amazing high score going with her computer-based solitaire card game, picked up the phone and called a colleague to complain about how she was run off her feet with her busy day.  She spent about half an hour on the phone complaining about it.

I was amused by the event until a few days later when the hospital produced a self-assessment of the work load of that particular area, citing how the workers there could not be expected to cope with such pressing workloads for much longer.

I contacted someone in the hospital who had worked in the noted area and she indicated that the workload I observed was typical for any given week.

I guess the hospital (or the union) had embraced Assessment Scenario 1 in order to get a few more people in there.

Cash Outlay Is Not the Only Source of Expense

So when I think of Danielle Smith making a fuss about a $7,000 expense here or a $10,000 expense there, my thought is “chump change”.

Not only should she (and others) care about what is being spent but we should spend more time examining how we spend it.

After all, what we get for what we spend is often equally if not more important than the actual amount spent.

I wonder if too many people think that ROI, KPI and other forms of measurement are actually four-letter words.

The challenge I lay before any politician is this

Do you, Mr. or Ms. Politician, have the courage and the audacity to get to the real core of not only how much is spent but how we spend it, because I can assure you that there is a REAL pot of gold out there waiting to be discovered?

Be forewarned that such a pot of gold is only available to those who have the guts to go after it – those who are not afraid to acknowledge the productivity/utilization-centric economic elephant in the room.

Those who have the courage to set out on that journey of discovery are the real heroes amongst the political corps.

But if you as a politician are afraid to go after that pot of gold and prefer instead to hide behind the safety of criticizing an executive’s expense here or there (or you do nothing at all), then I realize that you’re not really serious about making a difference.

You just want us to believe you are.

The question for the rest of us then becomes ….

Have we been fooled or do we dare to demand better?

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


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