Book recommendation: Extreme Government Makeover by Ken Miller

Posted on May 17, 2011 by


Extreme government makeoverKen Miller’s latest book Extreme Government Makeover discusses how to address the problems that are affecting government.  The book is based on three underlying principles –the work of government is noble, government employees are amazing, and the systems in government are a mess.

Ken builds an analogy based on the “house of government”, and it is in need of an extreme makeover.  Over time, the plumbing has become clogged and twisted and no longer has the capacity to carry the amount of water that is being put into the pipes. The pipes represent the business systems and process that have grown and develop over the years.  He also points out the mold that has grown in government.  The adverse effects of mold are not always obvious, but over time mold can make you sick and sap all your energy. The mold in government are all the programs and restrictions that are placed on people that make it hard to get excited about work, tough to get work done, and slowly sap our desire and energy.

Never one to point out a problem without a solution, Ken focuses attention of the systems of government, the pipes that deliver services to the public. He points out that efforts to “pay for performance”, “motivate employees”, “create accountability” and other let’s fix the people initiatives are misguided. These programs fail to deliver the desired outcomes, because in his opinion, the problem is not with the people, but with the system that they work in.

So, how do you fix the systems?  Easy, make them faster.  You say, “but I am working as fast as I can”. If I go faster quality will suffer and I will undoubtedly make more mistakes.  How can this be good?   The book draws an important distinction between completing tasks faster and speeding up the system.  The key to speeding up the system isn’t to complete tasks faster, but to find the kinks in the pipes. What are the kinks? The kinks are anything you do that doesn’t benefit the customers.  Of course the trick is identifying those things.  I think I will leave the details on how to do this to the book.

The book is a good read, and is full of real world examples based on Ken’s career in and around government.  He has a story to tell that recognizes that public employees are amazing and want to do amazing things.

Written by Chris Reh. Chris is the Be the Difference Program Director.  He is responsible for coordinating activities countywide related to the Executive employee engagement and continuous improve reform initiatives. 

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