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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 7 September 2012

Why You Can't Run Government Like A Business

Here' the thing; Rob Ford IS playing by the rules - the rules of business.  He who has the gold makes the rules; if the rules don't work, free market competition either kills the business or shareholders look at the declining value of their shares and boot the bums out.  It's all very natural selection, survival-of-the-fittest.
Part and parcel of this process is the "so what?" concept.  Time is money and money is a commodity; you don't get someone's time or capital unless you can answer the question of why your issue is deserving of the boss' attention.  Particularly in today's climate where everyone is so busy all the time, the real trick is to package that message in as brief and compelling a narrative as possible and reflect the established interests of the decision maker.
If you're pitching a new process or asking for a raise, there might be merit to demanding employees prove their worth (though the best bosses build loyalty out of anticipating and proactively supporting their teams).  When you're a soldier that has to prove you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or a mother trying to explain why local social programs will help keep your kid out of gangs, you don't necessarily have the tools, training or energy to build and sell the case to the boss - i.e. the Mayor.  Thing is, in a democracy, it's actually the voter who's boss - not the taxpayer, which would be a shareholder and imply a financial interest, but the voter, who has a social stake in governance.
Look at all the problems Rob Ford has had as Mayor; Council that won't vote as they're told, bureaucrats that challenge his positions, media that treat him (poorly) like a public figure and quibbling things like whether or not he's read briefing notes or rule books.  Look - if the details were that important, he's Mayor.  Someone would have come to him with the "so what" answer and he'd know about it.  If they can't convince him in 30 seconds, it really wasn't that vital, was it?  Certainly not to the bottom line, which any good business operator is always focused on.
I wouldn't say that Rob Ford is dumb or incompetent - he seems to do well at coaching and his business isn't dead.  I would say that he is functionally fixed on the wrong rules and the wrong game, if he wants to continue as Mayor.  His trial isn't about ignorance, so much as it is about a culture clash between business and politics.
Politics is not the same as business.  Yes, we do need better financial management and better integration/efficiency of services, however the end goal of government isn't to build a profitable society but a strong one.  Money's just one piece of that puzzle; leadership, community building, infrastructure and yes, social programs are another.  It's been that way since the day of Kula Rings and potlaches.
To be successful in the long run and not run afoul of the actual rules of politics (frequently known as "the law") it is incumbent on politicians like Rob Ford or Tim Hudak to remember one key thing;
Being a Political Leader isn't the same as being a CEO - instead, it's more about being Chief Civil Servant.


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