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Posts Tagged ‘Budget’

Cutting Won’t Fix Oregon, But There is a Solution

Oregon is broken, and if we don’t fix it, Oregon will be broke.

We cannot “cut” our way out of this. Yes, cuts are required, but cuts don’t solve the underlying problems we face and they only pretend to ward off the inevitable collapse. To solve the problem we must face three realities and address them—simultaneously and immediately.

REALITY ONE: Our legislative process does not work. Last session Oregon’s Legislature passed and the Governor signed 844 new laws. This added in excess of 25,000 pages of documents rained down on the state’s agencies to administer. Few of these laws eliminated or rationalized laws passed in previous sessions so the pile of regulations builds. No wonder the budget grows and the number of state employees has mushroomed.

REALITY TWO: Governmental agencies are full of waste, in no small part because of Reality One. There is no formal accountability to the citizens of this state other than the occasional dramatic and extremely absurd examples that end up on the front page of The Oregonian. What measures do the state use as a meaningful report card to its citizens.

REALITY THREE: Oregon does not serve its citizens, it serves special interest groups. In Salem it is commonly said among bureaucrats that it is far more dangerous to your career to anger the special interest groups than it is to anger your boss, the Governor.

Let me expose my biases before I share what I believe are the solutions. My company has begun in recent months working with two state agencies (Department of Administrative Services and the Oregon Youth Authority). We improve performance through the implementation of an integrated system of management. We change the focus and rules to help both public and private sector organizations speed fixing their problems. Typically we see gains in the 20-30 percent range within two to three years.

I am also a third generation Oregonian, married and have five children. I’m hoping this next generation will have a viable place to work and live, the undeniable beauty of Oregon aside.

So, what is the answer?

It begins with getting back to a state that is citizen focused and driven, not one driven by those organized better to demand attention. Leadership must step up and step in and clearly articulate and validate the needs of Oregonians, such obvious things as a good education, public safety, and care for the elderly and the disadvantaged. Once the focus in clear, the work beings:

  1. Each agency needs clear goals directly tied to what citizens need and expect from their state government.
  2. Agency goals must be translated into clear measures, with performance targets set, so government is accountable. Among these measures must be both the benefit to Oregonians and the costs associated with each goal.
  3. Performance on measures must be transparent and posted on line and in the media, so citizens can monitor them (at least quarterly) and give feedback on progress.
  4. Agency leaders must be then held publicly accountable for progress toward the targets. If they fail to move their agencies, leadership must be changed swiftly.
  5. State agencies must make clear what help they need from the Legislature to achieve the goals they have been given. They must understand their challenges and guide the legislation needed for a focused, clean and cost-effective delivery of changes needed to aggressively move toward our goals.
  6. Citizens must hold their legislators accountable to work with agency leadership to pass laws that help the state cost effectively achieve its goals and drive performance toward targets. Legislators must help to simplify the state’s laws and work collaboratively to reduce the incredible red tape caused by an unfocused, unaccountable Legislature which drives an unfocused, unaccountable state government.
  7. Special interest groups must be held in check to make sure their advocacy supports what Oregonians need from their government. In practical terms the clear goals of the state must trump the needs of any and all special interest groups.

Oregon has tried in the past what may appear to be some of these steps. Oregon Benchmarks look a lot like items 2 and 3. Unfortunately the accountability was disconnected from the agency structure. This didn’t and won’t work because accountability must be connected to authority for action, otherwise all people can do is point fingers.

I believe the key to all of this is that citizens NEEDS must trump all other needs.

Before I started working with the leadership teams of Department of Administrative Services and Oregon Youth Authority it was easy for me to fall in the trap of believing that bureaucrats care more about preserving their jobs than they do about Oregonians. I will tell you nothing could be further from the truth. Sure they are challenged as managers in these bizarrely complex and fast-paced times. But so is the private sector. But what’s unique about the agencies of state government is they get squeezed between a myopic legislative process and self-serving interest groups; it’s a debilitating combination. Until we break the cycle, state government will continue to need bigger budgets and more staff to deal more laws and more interests. Under the current system the needs of Oregonians are a distant third.

Our system of state government as it operates today is broken. Cutting won’t solve the root cause of a failing system. We have to put our house in order to get on a viable path to survivability.


Big Growth On A Tiny Budget!

When the going gets tough, the tough get…creative.  With the economy still gasping to catch its breath, survival is top priority for many business and organizational leaders or those looking to start up.  Struggling to just keep your head above water in turbulent economic waters can be terrifying, but it pays to heed the age-old advice of “Don’t panic!”  People still need products and services, and my guess is you’ve got a great one.  How do we get it into the hands of the right people?

Increased sales, more customers or a new business altogether… sounds good, right?  It is good and the even better news is that salvation is in reach of those with even the most modest of resources and it’s not difficult.

How do you grow your business during trying times?  By using a method of thinking called effectuation.  Scrappy entrepreneurs are often credited with being sharp effectual thinkers, but this nimble, bob-and-weave approach to growth can also benefit established companies, especially under tough circumstances.  Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

“OK, but what is effectuation? This sounds like something I need, stat.” you implore.

Effectuation involves using available resources in creative ways to reach a goal, iterating on strategy (and sometimes the goal itself) as the landscape and competition changes and doing all this with minimal risk (think car sharing via Zipcar instead of buying a new BMW).  In contrast, causal thinkers make plans and struggle to stick to them for better or worse, which means they may be missing out on unforeseen opportunities.

Seems simple enough.  For some people, this is a natural way of thinking, but for others (you control freaks out there might be nodding your heads), this is a major shift.

How about an inspiring example of effectuation?  A great professor of mine used the story of U-Haul—a company you are likely familiar with—to illustrate effectual thinking in action.  In 1945, Leonard and Anna Shoen scraped together U-Haul using the resources they had around them.  With barely $5,000 they collected from relatives, the young couple began buying used trailers and painting them bright orange in the family garage.  To maximize their purchasing power, the pair then had the brilliant idea to sell the trailers to family and friends who in turn leased the trailers back to U-Haul.  This dispersing of investment (and risk) freed up capital that was then applied toward the purchase of more trailers.

Newlyweds Leonard and Anna certainly didn’t have the resources to run their own nation-wide network of dealerships, so they arranged for gas station owners to keep and rent out trailers instead.  Now there’s a clever partnership.  Ten years later, there were over 10,000 trailers and today the bright orange U-Haul trucks are a common sight on roads across America.  Not bad with $5,000, even in 1945 dollars.

“OK,” you say, “but I’m not in the one-way trailer rental business and I don’t have $5,000.  What can I do today, on a shoestring budget, to yield great results like that?”

No matter what your goal, the Internet is littered with software-as-a-service tools (that are available for little to no cost) that you can use to build and grow a business.  And the big mother of them all is social media.  Maybe you are happily using social media or maybe you’ve heard of it but avoid it like the plague (many people are).  Regardless, with social media marketing, you get the world-wide, lightning fast reach of the internet coupled with personal recommendations made from friend to friend (also known as word of mouth marketing, which as any student of marketing will tell you, is the crème de la crème of all recommendations).

How about another, more current, example of a group using effectual thinking and social media?  In May 2009, the California State Parks Foundation used a social media centered campaign to raise almost $1,000,000.  Facing crippling budget cuts as the economy withered, the foundation had a goal of leveraging its tepid Facebook page with just 517 fans into a robust PR and fundraising machine with over 5,000 fans in just two weeks.  To their surprise and delight, they leapt to over 33,000 fans!  That’s an almost 64x increase in engagement and it paid off handsomely for both the foundation and those people that treasure our state parks.  It was a win-win.

“Oh! Oh!” you say, “I NEED that!” But then you pause.  Maybe you are too busy treading water right now to take on a whole new social media marketing campaign, or perhaps you don’t know a lot about social media (or even how to turn on a computer), or maybe creative thinking isn’t your strong point (sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, especially if the wolves are nipping at your feet).

Well, here is your first chance to overcome this obstacle using effectual thinking (and you haven’t even finished the article yet!): leverage your networks and ask someone for help.  Maybe you have a niece or nephew who is doing a business project for school or a tech-savvy friend or relative who can pitch in or recommend someone you can talk to.  Maybe you want to take the plunge and start your own social media marketing campaign (there are lots of great how-to books on the subject).

Or maybe there’s a creative, tech-savvy author whose article you just read that seems like a nice person to have on your side when the going gets rough.  Or maybe you’ll pass on social media marketing, thank you very much.  Either way, you can use effectual thinking to help you navigate stormy waters to calm, sunny seas.

Get scrappy. Get creative. Get going.

Have you used effectual thinking or social media marketing to grow your business or organization?  If so, tell everyone about it in the comments!