In the same way that e-commerce has fundamentally altered the way we shop, we need to reimagine how federal agencies should be delivering services to the public and managing their own internal operations. This change must be driven by top government leadership, but it also requires innovative thinking and a push forward from managers at all levels.
“Helping Government Deliver: Transforming Mission and Support Services,” a new report by Deloitte and my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, provides case studies of agencies that have begun to alter old ways of doing business by sharing multiple support and mission-critical functions within a department. This represents an effort to use employees more strategically, to eliminate duplicative efforts and to become more efficient.
The NASA Shared Services Center, for example, is a fee-for-service unit that performs some 55 administrative support functions for the space agency’s 10 research, space and flight centers across the country. Instead of each of the 10 entities acting alone, they rely on the service center to provide assistance with human resources, finance, IT and procurement, strategic sourcing, drug testing, payroll processing, retirement application processing, survivor benefit counseling, bill payment and grants management.
Another example is the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Environmental Management, which has provided centralized support to improve procurement and other business processes for the managing the cleanup and closure of numerous nuclear weapons and hazardous waste sites. The center provides assistance across DOE units on legal and environmental issues; project, safety and financial management; human resources; IT and procurement.
For agency leaders and executives, it’s time to explore opportunities to conduct business in these ways. This means supporting changes to agency operations so that shared missions and services can be delivered collectively and collaboratively rather than individually. Initially, this can take place within departments, but can and also should be expanded across multiple government entities where there are shared missions and common administrative functions that can be combined.
Career leaders and managers need to be the champions and sponsors to help institutionalize these initiatives, even in the face of changes in political leadership.
Although this isn't easy and can't happen overnight, the report offers a number of tips when considering mission-support and mission-critical service transformation efforts. These include:
Creating a clear and compelling business case — In building support, emphasis should be placed on the financial benefits as well as the potential for non-financial benefits, such as realigning staff positions, identifying and consolidating common or similar infrastructures, and highlighting opportunities for improved service to internal customers and the public.
Focusing on activities and processes that organizations have in common — Goals that are clear to those who provide or receive services can help rally support for new ways of doing business and overcoming resistance. It pays to focus first on the many activities and processes an agency has in common, not trying to build consensus for consolidating dissimilar activities and processes that can slow or halt transformation.
Putting in place an organization-wide plan for effective governance — To break down silos and inefficient service delivery models, agencies need to create an organization-wide plan for how they will develop a strategy and implement decisions. This approach requires strong governance with clearly defined roles, responsibilities, authorities and accountability.
Encouraging trust by rounding up stakeholders — All those with a stake in the effort must be involved early in key aspects of decision-making about new management approaches and changes in service delivery. It will help build the trust that is crucial for overcoming resistance.
Continually measuring performance — It is crucial to identify key performance indicators from the start, to rely on data for decision-making and to regularly evaluate outcomes and make adjustments as necessary.
Recognizing the importance of experienced leaders — Those put in charge of transforming service delivery should have experience leading government agencies, know how to deal with the various constituencies, understand how to change bureaucracies, have strong negotiating skills and be willing to tackle the status quo.
Do you have examples of the successful use of shared services in government, or other ideas to make government more efficient? If so, share your thoughts in the comment section below. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.