What Government Can Learn From Business


Government can’t solve problems if they don’t know what the problems are.

Health care and immigration are just two of the problems being highlighted this campaign season. Incumbents and challengers bombard us with ideas. Legislation has been or will be proposed, debated, amended, and maybe — in today’s political world if we are lucky — passed. However, the provided solutions are band-aids, based on emotion, party-line politics, and what will sell to the voters.  But until formal problem solving techniques, based on analysis of fact with an open mind are used, there will be no real results.

Most business leaders know what problem solving is. They know you have to identify the root cause and address it to minimize the chance of the problem recurring. Recurring problems cost money and affect profit. In a recent article on PolicyMic, pundit Christine Harbin argues a position I disagree with, that there are inherent differences between government and business that prevent government from running like a business. Ability to solve problems makes or breaks a business. Isn’t that what we want our elected officials to do, solve problems so they do not recur and create a budget surplus (profit)?

Problem solving and root cause analysis aren’t difficult. They can be time-consuming depending on the familiarity of the process of those involved and the complexity of the problem. In the long-run, however, time is saved since the likelihood of having to address the same problem is remote.

Once a problem is identified, the real cause of that problem must be identified. It is only by identifying this root cause that a real solution can be implemented. Going through the formal problem solving and root cause analysis process will prevent the impulse decision making that is so prevalent.

ISO standards — international quality standards that address areas from manufacturing to the environment — all base effective quality programs on their use of root cause analysis and continued improvement. These two factors are major components of all ISO audits. There are federal agencies certified to ISO standards. Shouldn’t we hold our lawmakers to similar standards of quality?

There are many tools available to help decision makers navigate these processes. They all follow the same steps:

Identify and define the problem. This involves analyzing information. What happened or is happening that make you believe there is a problem?  Organize measure, and analyze data to determine you have identified the true problem.  Form a strategy and identify a solution. This also involves identifying resources needed to implement the solution.  Finally, implement the identified solution then monitor and evaluate the action put in place to verify the desired result(s). 


It’s critical to remember not to jump at the obvious or let emotion or personal bias direct these efforts as more often than not, the real problem is overlooked. That is what is happening today. That is why we address the same issues year after year. 

Do I believe that problem solving as I’ve outlined can be implemented in today’s partisan environment? No, because it requires everyone involved to have an open mind. Do I believe this is how we should expect our elected officials to solve problems? Yes.

Photo Credit: _Davo_