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The road ahead for improving state government

By Rich Tomsinski
Results Washington Lean Fellow

After a year as a Lean fellow with Results Washington, I’ve been thinking a lot about the road ahead for improving government.

As an enterprise, Washington state government is working to deliver results and high performance by shifting culture to support front-line scientific problem-solving. That means fostering a continuous cycle of experimentation, trial-and-error, adjustment and re-experimentation. Such a culture engages employees – the most valuable and most important resource in government -- in doing their best work for the benefit of citizens.  We need to support and grow this effort.

Specifically, the efforts to shift the culture need support of:

  • Education of leaders at all levels of government to recognize that small improvements by front-line staff will add up to big improvements through the power of compounding – they need to be ready to listen, coach and lead to build capacity and to facilitate the quick processing of ideas at the levels where the work is performed.
  • Experimentation that includes continuous learning for improvement from the failures that are naturally expected to result from the acts of experimentation. Because innovative experimentation is risky, management processes must be designed to see some failure as an essential byproduct of experimentation and learning. Fear of failure stifles the spirit of innovative experimentation and the action needed to make improvements.
  • Developing and promoting a well-designed idea system to initiate daily Lean efforts and Lean projects.  Lean management relies on improvement ideas from engaged front-line staff, and measuring the number of good ideas is likely to encourage more of them. We can learn from organizations that have developed high-performing idea systems to track the generation, evaluation and implementation of employee ideas. I’m not talking about an electronic suggestion box – these rarely work well – but a deliberate system that nurtures good ideas and helps employees and leaders review ideas and shepherd them to implementation.
  • Integration of performance goals for continuous improvement into HR management processes at all levels – staff, supervisor, management and executive leader. Without well-integrated performance goals for individuals, the state HR processes may not support the delivery of results and high performance at all levels.
  • Integration and alignment of performance goals for continuous improvement into agency performance management systems. Each organization is vigilant in measuring how it is meeting its mission to its customers. Additionally, a vital part of meeting the agency’s obligation to the citizens of Washington should include its efforts for improving even the best organizational performance.

Every system can improve. I see these steps as the efforts needed to take Washington state’s operations to the next level.

Rich Tomsinski is a member of Results Washington's Lean fellowship program