Authority without responsibility — only in government

January 8, 2012

Over the past 32 years, the last 18 running a small manufacturing company, I have learned a number of valuable managerial lessons.  I would profess that there are three basic elements that a successful leader of any company or organization must address, comprehend and embrace: structure, culture and product.

Structure is the organizational alignment of reporting relationships, departments, authority and responsibility.  First and foremost, I very quickly point out to all our employees that while my signature is on the bottom right corner of their paycheck, it is rather the upper left hand corner that indicates where the money is actually coming from.  Thus, regardless of who you actually report to, we all work for the same company. 

The real difficulty in government is that while we elect them they actually get much of their election funds from their respective political parties, and once elected, they make a lot more than what we are paying them from those seeking political favors.  So is it any wonder that they vote what the party tells them to and they propose legislation that the lobbyists’ desire? 

Second, authority must be matched with responsibility.  The greatest job in the world is the one with total authority and no responsibility.  I think it only exists in government. 

I am truly amazed how a regulator can actually come in and shut down my company if I fail to fill out a form.  When you give people this kind of power don’t be surprised of the arrogant attitude that results.  When I told a regulator once that if I did what he was requiring I would have to close our 70+ year old business, he replied, “We close businesses every day.”

  Now I hear the elected officials repeatedly state how valuable our small businesses are so I can only assume that they really don’t want them closed, but I see absolutely no responsibility placed on the regulators to insure that we stay open.

Culture is the attitudes, traditions, perceptions and channels of communication within the organization.  While I truly believe that this is the hardest thing to change, I’ve always been amazed that managers can’t understand why their department staff is always late to work when they themselves never routinely show up on time or why their company just can’t make any money while they continue to spend as they did before the economic downturn. 

Performance will tend to follow what is accepted and rewarded.  If you reward longevity and continuity, don’t expect a lot of dynamic thinkers.  This requires true leadership to manage and I’m not sure that exists in government any more.

Product is the item or service that you are selling.  There are three components of any product or service that you are offering: price, quality and customer service.  From a consumer’s perspective, the best you can do is to get two out of three.  In other words, it’s impossible to get the lowest price for the highest quality backed by the greatest service. 

I feel most consumers are lucky to get one out of three but will become quite dismayed with your company if they are continually getting zero out of three. 

I once called the IRS to ask a question — it took me three days and I don’t remember how many people I talked to who either couldn’t help me or gave me a different answer than I had already heard.  Ultimately I called a private CPA.

When you look at the things the government offers, they seem to cost a lot with suspect quality and little to no customer service.

 Thomas E. Secor is president of Durable Corporation, a manufacturer/master distributor of loading dock bumpers and floor matting based in Norwalk, Ohio.

 

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