Message from Your SEA President
Given the business background of President-elect Trump and many of his senior appointees, the incoming Trump Administration is reviving a question that has been asked many times in the past: “Should government be run like a business?”
To answer that question, the incoming Administration must rely upon members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and other career Federal government leaders to unravel the many complexities inherent in that seemingly simple question. For example:
- What are the business practices in the private sector that could be utilized in the public sector?
- What does “accountability” mean in the public sector?
- How does the absence of a profit motive affect business practices in the public sector?
- What motivates high performers in the public sector?
These and other questions are central to an understanding of how the new Administration will be able to turn its private sector expertise into public sector excellence. The last question, in particular, is of high importance because whether an executive is in the public or private sector, the key to high performance is motivating the troops to excel and advance the organization’s mission.
Business guru Jim Collins explored this question in his 2001 book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t.” Collins’ book is standard reading at business administration schools and is widely regarded as one of the most influential business books that focuses on how to transform organizations into high performing entities. I have no doubt that many members of the incoming Administration, which vowed to “Make America Great Again,” have probably read “Good to Great.”
But it would be a mistake on their part to think that Collins is advocating the same medicine for government that he prescribes for the private sector. In a little noticed 2005 monograph, Collins wrote, “Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer.”
In that monograph, Collins lays out the case that the social sectors, which includes government and non-profits, are sufficiently distinct from for-profit enterprises that they require special study and analysis. Attempts to take private sector practices and overlay them on the social sectors should be done with great care and should never be undertaken without a full understanding of the business practices of those organizations, Collin writes.
The one common theme that Collins found in “great” companies and social sector organizations was a relentless focus on discipline and mission. Disciplined organizations that have a clear mission and a clear path toward achieving that mission are the organizations that transform themselves into great organizations.
“We must reject the idea – well intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become ‘more like a business,’” Collins writes. “The critical distinction is not between business and social, but between great and good. We need to reject the naïve imposition of the ‘language of business’ on the social sectors, and instead jointly embrace a language of greatness.”
As we head into a new era of government led by a successful business executive, the Senior Executives Association stands ready to work with the Trump Administration to utilize the knowledge and experiences of both sectors – government and business – to create not just a “good government,” but a great government that delivers vital national services and resources to the U.S. taxpayer. Key to that will be making available to the new Administration the collective wisdom and experience of the career senior leadership corps.
As we move deeper into 2017, SEA will be announcing a series of opportunities for SEA members to interact with the incoming Administration to provide that advice and counsel. We will announce those opportunities soon, but during the interim, if you have thoughts about how to utilize your experience to create a great government, please do not hesitative to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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