If this is what “running government like a business” looks like, it’s no wonder President Trump’s companies kept going bankrupt.
One week into the presidency, we’ve gotten a taste of Trump’s management style. And so far it’s been plagued by many of the bad habits common to poorly run businesses.
Take, for example, his administration’s clear indifference to — or outright rejection of — good measurement and analytics.
One of the first things you learn from talking to management experts and successful entrepreneurs is the importance of having a clear set of objectives, as well as good, consistent metrics for determining whether those objectives have been met.
Or, as Trump’s commerce secretary nominee, Wilbur Ross, argued not once but twice in his confirmation hearing last week: “I have a very heartfelt saying in management that anything you can’t measure, you can’t manage.”
Ross, arguably the most business-savvy of Trump’s Cabinet picks, has not yet been confirmed. In his absence, the administration has not exactly been taking his “heartfelt saying” to heart.
During a news conference Monday, for instance, White House press secretary Sean Spicer refused to answer a simple measurement question: What is the current unemployment rate?
The answer is not exactly a secret. Three weeks ago, the Labor Department publicly announced its latest reading as 4.7 percent.
But Spicer — whose boss has variously claimed the rate is “a total fiction” and as high as “42 percent” — ducked. Instead of providing the figure, or even citing alternative metrics he thought could be better gauges of economic health (such as measures of underemployment or labor force participation), Spicer pooh-poohed interest in quantitative gauges altogether.
“The president, he’s not focused on statistics as much as he is on whether or not the American people are doing better as a whole,” Spicer said.
He went on to admonish “Washington” for fixating on numbers and forgetting “the faces and the families and the businesses that are behind those numbers.”
Bully for Trump for caring about helping real people (people with faces!) rather than statistics (notoriously lacking in faces). But numbers are the best tool we have for assessing whether the administration actually lives up to its promise to make sure “the American people are doing better as a whole.”
If you pulled this kind of stunt in business — arguing that, say, growth targets or other quantifiable metrics don’t matter, and only some ineffable sensation of “success” does — you’d probably fail.
With Ross as a possible exception, Trump’s personnel decisions also bear many of the hallmarks of badly run companies.
He’s made hiring decisions based not on qualifications or experience, but on whether candidates are members of his family or have the right “look.” Funny facial hair, inadequate height and absence of “swagger” reportedly disqualified some contenders.
He’s likewise instituted an indefinite, across-the-board hiring freeze, despite the fact that the federal government has clearly identifiable, critical needs for staffing up in select areas, including for the 2017 Economic Census and preparations for the 2020 Census (I know, those pesky numbers again).
Not to mention that a Government Accountability Office analysis of across-the-board hiring freezes implemented by earlier presidents found that the resulting agency disruptions increased costs to taxpayers in the long run. Targeted freezes and cuts, the report said, are more effective.
Addressing bureaucratic bloat with a chainsaw rather than a scalpel isn’t leadership; it’s laziness. Yet that’s how his administration has thus far approached regulation, too.
Rather than thoughtfully assessing rules and regulations coming down the pike — by, say, conducting a cost-benefit analysis, as you might in a real-life business — Trump halted them across the board. They include one related to keeping airplanes from crashing. (It’s about inspecting aircraft fuselages for cracks.)
Finally, Trump has recently committed to spending billions of dollars on pet projects that are essentially expensive solutions to problems that don’t exist: a border wall with Mexico, despite the fact that we’ve seen a net outflow of unauthorized Mexican immigrants in recent years, and a “voter fraud” investigation into the “millions” of illegal votes that he believes — with zero evidence — were cast in an election he won.
Again, hard to imagine that such costly, low-upside executive windmill-chasing would fly at a competitive business.
Needless to say, there are major differences between running a business and running a government; it’s a myth that aptitude at one necessarily translates to aptitude at the other.
But with ineptitude, maybe it’s a different story.
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