74 – More books to read if you are interested in local government management.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              660 words

Leahy and Greene books

I have previously posted on books every local government manager should read (see here and here). Again I will acknowledge the difficulty in getting people in local government to read and learn especially senior management. My earlier posts started with what I call ‘bread and butter’ reading. This post looks at some more focussed reading on specific aspects of management relevant to local government.

1. Management in 10 Words by Terry Leahy 2012. Terry Leahy is something of a reluctant expert. As the Chief Executive of Tesco he took the company from the third largest retail chain in the UK to the third largest retailer in the world. His approach was simple:

“We focussed relentlessly on delivering for customers. We set ourselves some simple aims, and some basic values to live by. And then we created a process to achieve them, making sure that everyone knew what they were responsible for”.

His book has a chapter for each of his 10 words; truth, loyalty, courage, values, act, balance, simple, lean, complete, and trust. The simplicity of his approach is potentially misleading and could lead to underestimation of the value of this book for local government. Leahy says that clever people often mistake ‘simple’ for ‘simplistic’. My favourite chapters are ‘act’ and ‘simple’. It seems obvious, but in local government we often fail to act and when we do it gets too complicated.

Leahy starts the chapter on ‘act’ with the question, ‘why is it so hard to get things done around here?’ He says that plans mean nothing if they are not delivered. Intention is never enough. The worst ailment, according to Leahy, is ‘lack of clear purpose and strategy, manifesting itself in people frantically ‘doing something’ as they labour under the delusion that activity equals progress’. Welcome to local government. Leahy provides neat advice on turning words into action.

The chapter on ‘simple’ discusses the increasing complexity of the world and the implications for organisations. Leahy says that most powerful ideas and solutions are incredibly simple. However, simple is not always popular because people confuse it with ‘simplistic’ or they think that simple means easy. To the contrary, Leahy discusses the difficulty in creating simple ideas. It threatens people who like the inefficient and the unnecessary because it makes them accountable. Leahy provides practical and illuminating examples of ‘simple’ from his work.

Read the book, chapter by chapter, and it will transform the way you think.  You will start to see how someone changed a monolithic organisation without damaging it.

2. Design is How it Works – How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons by Jay Greene 2010. I bought this book not quite knowing what to expect. It has proven to be quite a useful book and one that I have lent to many people. Each chapter discusses the use of product or service design by a specific company, including Porsche, Nike, LEGO, and Virgin Atlantic. The final chapter covers ‘the intersection of business and design’. Greene describes design today as ‘creating experiences that consumers crave’. He isn’t talking about just the style and form of products. It is the way that products and services are brought to life. Greene believes that the companies that build the most enduring relationships with customers often do so by ‘creating an environment where design flourishes’.

“To really grasp design is to intuit what customers want, often before customers even know they want it”.

The many ways that customers are involved in the creation of new products and services are a feature of the case studies. Experiences matter to customers, and design helps to create the experiences they expect. This includes the design of processes to deliver services. Greene believes that the future is in designing experiences. Read this book if you want an insight into how this happens at successful companies.

In local government we rely heavily on history having been right in the design of the services we provide.  Not a lot has fundamentally changed in Victoria since I first started working in local government almost 30 years ago.  I think it is time for a re-think about service design in local government to meet contemporary customer expectations.  You may agree after reading this book.