I found an article by Bob O’Neil, Executive Director of the International City/County Management Association, to be a window to a new era for management and spoke directly to my own understanding of how much government management needs to change. He wrote an article back in September of 2011 on “A New Model For Management” under ICMA’s News & Events tab. The article speaks volumes as to the difference in investment priorities between Singapore and China and the urban condition of U.S. infrastructure. In the former they are building double helix bridges, engineering design marvels that connect bustling urban centers to commerce and urban culture. In the latter, we have peeling paint on the elevated train stations in Chicago, IL that exemplifies the lack of reinvestment in our urban infrastructure of the past century. The weakness in bringing key decisions forward and planning effectively for reinvestment is, according to Mr. O’Neil, a lack or absence of professional management.
A study by IBM’s David Edwards of 100 of the largest U.S. cities in a white paper entitled, “Smarter, Faster, Cheaper,” compared council-manager forms of government to strong mayor government and found the former to be 10 percent more efficient. Essentially, the study suggests that promoting professional management that is non-partisan can lead to more effective and strategic decisionmaking regarding the operation and management of government.
Top down, pyramidal management structures that follow a traditional model of control, obedience and punishment for failure will need to give way to a new paradigm. The new management structure endorses the delegation of authority, communication with the whole organization, participation in decision-making at key levels, embracing new technology and social media, investment in employee training regimens, more risk taking by managers and learning from your mistakes. The manager will act as the visionary and champion of these new systems providing analysis of actual performance based on key metrics that allow decisions for prioritizing service delivery and capital reinvestment.
Local government is at a cross roads brought on more forcefully by the current fiscal environment. The old ways of decision making that favor central control are not flexible enough for addressing the new complexities of a modern society. Municipalities/cities today need to plan for long-term sustainability that emphasizes efficiency, technology and communication. This will be the new standard.