In April 1992, the company I had been working for made me the offer of moving to Germany for a year after my Junior year at Princeton to work on the extension of a UN consultancy project. I accepted, and spent three months in intensive German classes in Cologne, before reporting for work in Dusseldorf in early September 1992.
I remember walking into the MD’s office and getting my first assignment. It was the organisational merger of the Kriminal- and Schutzpolizei of the Federal State of North Rhine Westfalia. The Kriminalpolizei were the detective force dealing with crime; the Schutzpolizei were the uniformed police who comprised the first-responders and patrol force.
East and West Germany had joined into the Federal Republic of Germany in October 1990. Since that date, the Federal, State and Municipal governments embarked on a massive programme of cost-cutting and organisational restructuring in an effort to manage the costs of reunification.
That first project was excruciating: my job was to wade through dense reports on operating procedures and develop an organisational analysis of these two police forces, and in conjunction with the senior consultants determine what kind of organisational merger and synergies were possible.
Over the years, I was to work on any number of public sector restructuring projects. In 1990-1991, I worked as a research assistant on the UNDP Senior Management Restructuring in New York. In 1992, after the NRW police project, I worked on a team studying the organisational and cost effects of moving the UNDP and UNFPA from New York to Bonn. After that, we worked on the strategic restructuring of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation.
The lessons I took from that time are that if you want to restructure an institution, it is absolutely necessary to take a systems approach to the case. In our work, we would develop extremely comprehensive workflow modelling, decision mapping, headcount analysis, alignment of workflow with organisational strategy, financial analyses and IT systems audits.
When it came time to make recommendations, we started with the organisational mission and strategy, and then moved down into details. At the end of the process, we could quantify and qualify the organisational impact of a restructuring, whether this was expressed in headcount, budget, decision-time, or other factors.
This is not rocket science: it calls for a systematic and clear-headed approach.
Ever since moving back to Greece, I have been hearing repeated calls to “restructure the public sector”, “improve efficiency”, “reduce bureaucracy”, etc. The latest move to close the Greek public broadcaster is only the latest manifestation of this, although there are any number of nontransparent political issues involved as well.
But in all this time, I have never seen an actual strategic and organisational analysis on the scale necessary to make a sustainable and logical change to public sector operations.
· There is no assessment of what its strategic goals should be in practise, and how these translate into performance indicators.
· There is no agreement on how the organisation should be financed to an acceptable degree or what a public broadcaster should cost. There is no agreement on what a Greek public broadcaster should invest in, or what its financial return should be.
· There is no framework as to the general operation of media in Greece. Given that neither the justice system nor the media regulatory authority are working effectively, it is impossible to understand how the basic value system and competition in this sector should operate.
· The public sector as a whole no longer has the financial resources to reward successful performance or attract competent staff, even if could agree on what the definition of successful performance or competent staff are.
· There is no acceptance of a public sector employment code and code of operations which bears any resemblance to state-of-the-art in the European public sector. As a result, unacceptable behaviour, most of it due to political interference, is the norm.
· Public broadcasting is particularly sensitive: a broadcaster needs to find the right balance between investigative journalism, creativity, objectivity and risk-taking to be relevant in a very fast-changing, difficult world. I don’t know anyone who believes this balance is possible in the Greek public sector.
· The role of accepted productivity solutions, e.g. IT-based workflow, transparent recruitment and procurement processes, arbitration or resolution mechanisms, or any other facets of work in a modern organisation.
· When changes are made, they are spasmodic, politically-motivated, and unsustainable. Even when not motivated by some nefarious ulterior intent, they are usually totally miscommunicated. There is no effort to build consensus or a clear vision of the present and future.
· There is no sense of ownership or over-riding motivation for why changes are necessary. There is no strategic vision discernable which works in the real world. There is no understanding of where Greece will be 5 or 10 years from now, and why change is necessary. There is never a single reference to the fact that Greece has competitors, and that unless a real competitive advantage is developed, it doesn’t matter how many loans or EU funds Greece receives: it will continually fail.
Quite simply, the basic homework is not being done. And in the cases where someone else does it, e.g. by the efforts of the Task Force to Save Greece, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group initiatives, or other projects, it is often simply ignored.
It took Germany 20 years to digest the costs of reunification. The process was extremely messy, often corrupt and often inefficient. But to their credit, the first round of reforms which occurred in 1991-1998 were done largely using their own resources.
I have yet to see the same level of preparedness in Greece. Whether we look at the privatisation efforts of TAIPED; the perennial restructuring of the public education sector; the various public sector IT projects; the public sector restructuring announced: the results are the same.
Albert Einstein said that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I usually see this used to justify why various Troika initiatives should not be followed.
Yet sticking to the same politically inept and corrupt system is exactly the same behaviour. Are we really so happy to be insane?
© Philip Ammerman, 2013