Why Can’t Politicians Learn From High Performance Businesses?

As I read today’s CNN headline, “Obama Signs Healthcare ‘Fixes’ Bill,” I’m struck at just how backward politicians of every stripe are compared to what’s becoming standard fare in the high performance business world.

In the high performance world, something that needs to be fixed after you’ve made it is called a defect. Defects represent a form of waste. They represent waste because defects have to be either scrapped or re-worked. Scrapping something represents money down the drain. Re-working it adds unnecessary costs. 

In the high performance world, when you produce defects you understand that as long as the systems remain the same you’ll reliably keep building defects. So in order to stop building defects, high performance organizations change their systems and processes so they won’t produce more defects.  They try to get the right results the first time. 

But in the political world, when you produce defects you first try to find someone to blame for creating the defects. It’s especially convenient to blame the other party.  That’s in part because politicians are often less concerned with the results as they are with the process–especially the process of getting re-elected. (That’s why Kennedy and Deal in their book Corporate Cultures referred to bureaucracy as a process culture out of control.)  “Just work the process; we’ll fix the problems we created later,” they say. 

That’s foreign thinking to high performance organizations who understand that customers won’t pay for those fixes and that everyone needs to accept personal accountability for continuous improvement.  

It’s hard to think like this unless you have a high level of emotional intelligence and maturity. Given the spectacle we’ve seen in Washington lately, this may be the primary reason politicians can’t seem to learn from high performers.

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