Much has been written about what governments can learn from the private sector, from cutting costs to investing in innovation. Very few of these conversations have focused on people, and specifically, what can be learned from high-functioning employee cultures.
At this year’s World Government Summit, my company (Butterfly) was honored to participate in the Global Dialogue on Happiness, where speakers proposed that the foundational role of government systems should be to promote the happiness and well-being of their citizens.
In this understanding of the role of government in society, it’s possible to explore parallels between high-functioning workforces and effective governments. The popular term “employee engagement,” a prominent buzzword in HR and talent circles, is really just a fancy way of measuring how motivated and satisfied employees are within a given organization. What if we measured the efficacy of governments in a similar vein, by way of civic engagement?
Corporations track employee engagement for a variety of reasons: to actively monitor the culture, to keep their best people happy and, most importantly, to help drive business impact. Studies show that engaged employees who function within healthy cultures end up driving the bottom line.
In fairness, governments and workplaces have many obvious differences. For one, the fluidity with which most people can change jobs is far greater than an individual’s willingness or ability to pack up and move to a different country. The borders are more defined, therefore the individual has less choice and, arguably, less power. Moreover, in democratic societies at least, the premise is that elected officials work for you, and not vice-versa. Thus, the parallel between worker and citizen is not a clean one.
Yet if we can imagine citizens as individual contributors to society, analogous to workers as individual contributors to an organization, then we can borrow some learnings from effective workplaces and apply them to governments.
Transparent communications channels
In the U.S., it’s not unlikely to see people sharing out telephone numbers with instructions to “Call your elected official and leave a message.” It’s hard to help but think that this is somewhat of an arcane way to approach feedback in 2017. Twitter is another place where “feedback” (I use this term loosely) is abundant, but very little of it is actionable. Only when movements swell to a tipping point (i.e. they can no longer be ignored) does this kind of communication resonate with government officials.
Let’s contrast this with an effective workplace. In these workplaces, it’s not uncommon to see technologies in place that empower workers to provide actionable feedback to managers and leadership on an ongoing basis. (Full disclosure: My company built a software that does just this.) These types of open and transparent communication channels make giving feedback part of the overall culture, and acting on feedback part of the leadership’s culture.
Most governments would view feedback in its most binary terms, in the form of a single vote made during a campaign cycle. But imagine a system in which citizens could formally voice their opinions on a more regular basis, with that data being transparently shared for all to see?
Embedding employee engagement in the boardroom
At the Global Dialogue on Happiness we heard from UAE’s Minister of State of Happiness, a newly created role designed to give the well-being of its citizens a seat at the table and promote “social good and satisfaction.” In 2013, Venezuela named its own Minister of Happiness. Still, these appointments made headlines because most countries do not have such cabinet positions.
The creation of these roles at the government level have occurred synchronously with the advent of similar roles at leading organizations. A search for “Chief Happiness Officer” produces more than 600 results on LinkedIn. And while most companies still lack this role, many leading organizations are shifting the way they approach HR from “people management” to “people development.” This trend has created an increase in titles like “Head of People” and “SVP of Talent” at forward-thinking companies in place of traditional HR titles.
Governments might benefit from building teams to approach its citizens in a similar light. At the government level there is more “people management” necessary, but what if formal resources were placed against the happiness and development of people at that level? Currently, few countries have formalized systems in place to make this a priority.
A data-driven society for good
Being adept with data has become core to political strategy for most elected officials. Citizens become numbers within geographic areas, and campaign resources are planned using probability and statistical inferences. This approach to data catapulted Nate Silver onto the scene during Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, when he successfully predicted the result of 49 out of 50 states. This data is great for politicians, but what about data that’s leveraged for the good of the people?
At forward-thinking companies, we’re seeing talent teams and organizational leadership look at employee data en masse to assess dips in morale or identify problematic areas that span more than just a few individuals or teams. Butterfly, for example, makes it easy for leadership teams to view how its people feel about key drivers like office environment and work/life balance over time. Viewing these trends at a birds’ eye view gives leadership teams the strategic insights needed to make shifts (or perhaps double-down in positive areas) before the opportunity is lost.
Currently, beyond casting a vote or participating in polls, most citizens do not have the opportunity to formally present their pulse on the contemporary circumstances in which they live. Providing a system to do so, while complex, would give elected officials more insight into broad stroke trends occurring at a regional or national level.
So, what’s blocking a new approach to citizen engagement? Governments are inherently complex and can be fraught with mistrust. Further, privacy remains a hot-button issue, making systems designed to capture data all the more contentious. However, in spite of these challenges, governments can be taking smaller steps to make it easier for citizens to deliver feedback, and for elected officials to turn feedback into action.
Apps like Countable have emerged in the U.S., designed to reduce the friction needed to share feedback with elected officials. This is certainly a step forward from Twitter rants, which seem to fall into the void and rarely incite action. Perhaps it’s time for governments to work with citizens and emerging technologies to make it easy and safe for citizens to provide feedback. The first step: Embracing a mindset shift that demonstrates to the public the importance of civic engagement.
Source WorldGovernmentSummitNetwork Blog By Simon Rakosi, Co-Founder, Butterfly