Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Leadership in Municipal Digital Makeovers

In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.
- Harry S. Truman

Leadership is a unanimously unquestioned necessity, save for the arguments of various teenagers and anarchists, particularly in scenarios riddled with the ambiguity of responsibility ownership. Quite often the problem with giving your town a digital makeover is that there is confusion about who's responsible. And let's face it, given the choice of maintaining a stable work routine or being the person where the buck of digital revolution stops, most people will jump through hoops for the former. Having the right leader in implementing a municipal wordflow system is foundational to its success.

Governments are businesses and businesses are made of people (not to mention created by the people, for the people). Never confuse those people for simple cogs in a machine. This arcane perception of corporate machinery can cause long term problems and foundational failure. It is because they are people that leadership must be fundamentally intent on making life better for everyone.

Clerical offices and IT departments (both made of people) in municipalities are not always very cohesive. This frequently is because they speak different languages (Geekish and Clerkanese) and see each other differently than they see themselves. Leadership's first goal should be to get both parties on the same boat sailing to the land of proficiency as a team. As elementary as this appears, time and again, city to city, I have experienced these two factions at odds with each other because one or the other tries to turn wordflow and workflow changes into a territorial pissing. Who wins? Perhaps only one ego. Who loses? The citizen. When the citizen loses, your municipality has failed.

This failure is to be avoided at all costs. Interpersonal friction is hard to overcome, but it is absolutely necessary. Believe it or not, those frictions are frequently smoothed by doing the exact opposite of the effect they have: collaboration. The leader needs to have the knowledge and expertise of both the Clerical process and the IT department. Make sure that tandem is in place. Designate the people who will provide that brain power and give your new team a name. If you call it the Digital Advancement Group, then have "Digital Advancement Group" meetings. Give the members ownership, thereby fostering individual leadership.

Finally, make the members understand that they are not doing this for the workplace so much as they are doing it for the citizen. Within the walls of a Village Hall, this may sound hokey, but people need to be reminded why they're there and they need to be doing the job for the right reason.

Leading a digital makeover in governments is building legacy for the leaders, the participants and the citizens. Take pride, do it right and lead for the people.

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