Governing magazine has an interesting piece on what government can learn from the commercial sector – and the lessons are very applicable to political parties too.
How do these lessons apply to the Liberal Democrats?
[Mike] Salvino told the audience at a recent Governing event that when he took over as the group chief executive of Accenture Operations, he had an 87-page strategic plan for how to grow and manage that business. At the end of his first year, nothing had changed, so he scrapped the strategic plan and began to focus instead on the people in the organization. That emphasis is captured on a one-page card Salvino hands out that’s covered with phrases like “recharge your batteries” and “DO NOT miss events that mean something to you personally due to work.”…
Outstanding businesses offer less in terms of products, and that lets them reduce their costs significantly. They combine standardization of systems and procedures with empowerment of their employees, which allows the workers to be highly efficient and adaptive to customer needs. They cross-train their employees extensively, meaning they can respond well to variability in demand. And they operate with “slack,” deliberately erring on the side of overstaffing. That provides for better customer service and reduces costs by giving employees the time to engage in continuous improvement.
Unevenly, but there is a similarity between the lessons in the article and Norman Lamb’s comments during the leadership race that the party should act like a start-up. Five points worth highlighting from the article, which are also familiar to start-ups, are:
- Focus on the people: the creation of a new Director for People is one of the (sadly not quite numerous enough) good elements in the current HQ restructure. There’s plenty more still to do, as evidenced by how the party’s KPIs for target seats don’t really cover staff development, training and morale. Compare that with other organisations where the idea of excluding staff performance and support from KPIs would be anathema.
- Simplify what you do: templates, templates, templates. We waste far too much time in the party reinventing the wheel, and badly to boot.
- Standardise systems and empower individuals: there’s much more to do on this, but the introduction of systems such as Connect and MiniVAN show the way: providing easy to use tools for people which share data and store it safely. Especially when someone in the local party has first set-up easy to use scripts and forms for others less skilled with the tools to use.
- Cross-train individuals: this is one of the reasons why the English Lib Dem strategy review is misguided in some serious ways as, by breaking down staff teams to replace them with isolated individuals, it would make this sort of mutual support harder. Even if those proposals end up being rejected, there’s more the party can do to improve in this area, especially by mutual support amongst constituency organisers as their numbers start to pick up again during the Parliament.
- Have spare capacity: mmm… good idea in theory no doubt about it. Rather harder in practice to see how the Lib Dems can learn from this point.
Finally, to end on a positive note, here’s a reminder of some of the things which the Liberal Democrats go right for the May 2015 general election.