Friday, October 11, 2013

3 Things Business Can Teach the Government

I know we’re all sick of the government shut down. Mostly I’m sick of how painful they’ve tried to make it for us, regular people. Who does that to their customers?

Which makes me wonder about a few of the operating policies of the government. Businesses don't take revenue for granted, don't treat their customers poorly, and don't let their employees refuse service; at least, not if they want to stay in business.

So here are three valuable lessons business can teach the federal government (because bloggers love lists!).

1. Grow only when you have the revenue to do so.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I worked in businesses that didn’t expand without the revenue to support said expansion. So the whole raise-the-debt-ceiling-so-we-can-keep-borrowing-so-we-can-keep-growing is ridiculous.

Understand I’m not saying that means we should wind up in a playground-style name-calling partisan stand-off until someone agrees to stick his tongue to the frozen flag pole. 

Smart businesses earn revenue and then spend based on their earned revenue. 

When they borrow it’s to invest in projects they believe will earn more revenue. In the government that might look like investing in technical colleges to provide two-year degrees to people who can fill the gap in employment. Then those people get jobs and start paying taxes. See? Revenue.

2. Hire only the people you need.

I don’t know any business owners who employ “non-essential” employees. 

If a role is non-essential then it’s non-existent. 

In business we have a very clear idea of our mission and how to achieve the strategic goals that fulfill that mission.

Every organization in the government has a mission statement and strategic goals, right? So what are all the non-essential employees hanging around for?

I’m pretty sure if I had a non-essential job in an organization that was funded by my own tax dollars I would feel pretty silly. Seriously. Fire me and reduce my taxes.

But the non-essentials I know say things like, “Well, my salary doesn’t really make a difference.”

You’re right. But the salaries of all those non-essentials evidently do and, by definition, we can do without them.

3. Serve the customer even when you're short-staffed.

When your coworkers don’t show up, you don’t close the doors and tell your customers to go away. You cover for your missing coworkers.

You find a way to do their work. (Then you bitch at them when they come back.)

What business says, “We can’t sell you fries because our fry station guy is out today.”?

The dentist might do that. “We can only clean your teeth today, not verify their health or make recommendations for further treatment. The dentist is in a golf tournament.”

But not the tire guy. Not the book store. Not the sports bar or the bank. Schools and police departments cover for their people. Hospitals and daycare facilities shift responsibilities around.

My mom's a nurse and she said on her floor the phrase went like this: "It's not the patient's fault your co-worker called in."

The business that sends customers away is the one that wants you to get back in your car and ride down the street and get what you need elsewhere. (See also the entries for “shortest-lived business ever,” “bad business,” and “crappy entrepreneur.”)

But the government offers things we can’t get from another provider, right? Like forest fire prevention. Air & Space Museum tours. Social Security checks

I promise you there are college students in parks and recreation majors and history programs that would be more than willing to work for free. Let them fill the gaps. 

If you’re the only one providing the service, then it doesn’t have to be the best service ever, does it? It just has to get done.

On the Social Security bit, someone in that office showed up. That’s the person that needs to stop whatever else he’s doing and cut the fucking checks.

When our government forgets that it needs real revenue to operate and that its customers are the ones providing that revenue, you get what we have here: too much government, not enough funding, and no one with the good sense to lead these people into better operating principles.

For all those candidates who got elected saying they’d run the government like a business, I call bull shit.


  1. Government is not a business. I don't vote for candidates who don't have the good sense to know that little basic fact. Government cannot and should not be run as a business.

    1. Hi, Sabra. Thanks for coming by. Any organization that provides services must be funded to do so. Until the government is organized by volunteers, it will need revenue. These basics characteristics, services and revenue, make it a business. It may not be a "for profit" entity, but it still ought to be managed with a balance sheet in mind.

  2. Thank you for putting my thoughts on paper, Kasie. The word "non-essential" means something/someone is NOT essential. If they are not essential then the work should still be getting done whether the person is there or not. I agree with you if a business was run the way the government operates then the business would be bankrupt in a matter of months. The people we have elected to run the country have apparently lost sight of the basic principles of leadership and ALL of them have become so mired in their own self-importance and opinions that NONE of them appear capable of leading. Since I have always been considered an essential employee wherever I was employed I have no tolerance for the phrase "non-essential employee." My main heartburn with the title is that it is being used to excuse work not being done and services not being provided to the people who have been paying the salaries of these "non-essential" employees. I know these non-essential employees pay taxes too and some/most of them want to be working because they have bills to pay too. As you are well aware, not having enough staff is NEVER an excuse for poor service as far as I am concerned. As a government employee, at one time in my career, I signed an agreement which said I serve the people. I took the obligation seriously and did my best to serve the people. Our elected officials should be doing the same. Once again, you have made me so very proud to call you my daughter, Dr. Kasie Whitener!

    1. Thanks, mom. I think some simple values and principles could improve the operation. For example, rather than working to exhaust all funding available, how about rewarding groups that come in under budget? Or forecast correctly.

      There is a theory in business scholarship that says a manager seeks primarily to increase his/her influence by growing his/her team. That growth must be responsible and intentional. When an entity's only source of revenue is the legal compulsion of taxation, irresponsible growth is stealing.


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