I believe in government as a necessity to ensure things happen for a large group of people. In fact I live in a country where government is a big part of our lives (more than 50% of our income goes to taxes) and we get to say we live in the best country in the world measured on many different metrics.
I have also been fortunate not to have worked in the government. I know that sounds counter-intuitive. A “cushy” government job is a dream of so many people. My husband does have a government job and he is thrilled. But as an entrepreneur I am looking for different freedom than is offered inside a large bureaucracy.
You Know Who
The Government works for the people. But who are the people? The government does not have a target market. They do what every entrepreneur is taught not to do; they say, “I work for everyone.” (Everyone in the country, everyone in the province/state/city/etc.) The problem is, even in government you cannot work for everyone. They don’t even work for the majority on any issue. Finding a balance between what needs to work to run a country and what people want is always a challenge. Being a political leader has to be one of the most difficult jobs around. Less than half the people like you because your vision and goals for the future don’t align.
In business we focus on our core target market. We know who we are supporting with our products and services. We understand what they need and why they buy. We know who our suppliers are and what their biggest challenges are. We are close to our issues and the solutions. Everything is more personal. We know these things because if we didn’t we wouldn’t be in business.
The government is in business because it has to be. We are in business because we choose to be.
The Green-Light Manager
Approximately 92,000 people work for the Ontario government. If one person finds an issue, has some feedback, wants to change a process, sees an inconsistency, etc. how loud does their voice have to be to get heard? There are processes that are meant to handle this very question, but who knows about them? Usually not the person wanting to bring the change. Often not the people they would ask for help to get the answers. Great ideas are so often lost in a bureaucracy. The mindset of management (in any setting, not just government) is to err on the side of safety, meaning they would rather throw out a good idea then be responsible for giving the “green light” to a bad idea. Since it is not management’s job in government to bring change, it is to make the status quo work smoothly, listening to new ideas is not even an option for most managers. The voice of the least person in government usually goes unheard, and they often have the best view of the issues that are hard to fix.
In our business we can see all the moving parts. We have access to all the people that have the different perspectives. We can be open to new ideas because we are the ‘green-light manager’. We can say yes to change and we should because we are small enough to be able to make change happen when we need.
We are not caged, like in the government, to only do the status quo. We are free to grow, add, change, and stop what we are doing.
No Cement Shoes
The money invested in ideas is accountable to everyone when you work in government. When you answer to everyone, you need to be more sure of everything. Once a plan is put in place, there is no going back, or at least not without major controversy. Some years ago my government placed an order for new planes for the military. We are not a military-focused country so as soon as the government changed, the order was cancelled. The cancellation fee cost the tax payer billions of dollars. Thank goodness this does not happen often. The reason it doesn’t is because of the “cement shoes”. Once a plan is put into works, it is like everyone involved is standing in fresh cement. They cannot leave without ruining the concrete plan, but they don’t want to stay because the plan doesn’t look right to them. There is no going back.
The money invested in ideas for your business is accountable to you and your investors. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan to stay the course, but with a smaller size business, there is more room to pivot. The weight of the ‘cement shoes’ is less and the cost of change is less. In fact, it is possible to build change into the plan initially to be able to make the changes needed, when they are needed, at a cost that is not prohibitive.
I almost got myself elected to a municipal Councillors position a few years back. I do want to make a difference and I love my city, but I am very thankful I did not get in because I don’t think I could make the impact I wanted with the tools available to anyone working in the government. I can do more from inside my business and so can you.
Remember as you grow, look for the areas in your business where you may lose sight of your entrepreneurial spirit. As you build your systems to manage a bigger business, don’t let bureaucracy sneak in and block you from doing the work you first intended to do. As you bring on new people, don’t let your size stop you from getting the perspective of everyone on your team. After all they are your brand managers (all of them) and they can make your business look successful or they can make it feel broken. You have this ability and the government, which runs one of the most successful countries in the world, does not. Take advantage of it.