by Mark Nusbaum
The New Yorker posted an article asking in a round-about way: what's wrong with government? Why on earth do we need a band of citizens like the Cajun Navy to address monumental floods that destroy hundreds of thousands of homes? Katrina in 2004 and Baton Rouge in 2016 and Houston in 2017 highlights the woefully perceived inadequate government responses to needs.
Government, on a large scale has power and resources to meet people's needs. They lack the core values that private citizens are capable of displaying:
Entrepreneurial value means you think and act like an owner. Good individuals inside governing agencies do not own the property or community they are serving. Nothing personal is in jeopardy. They don't think and act like owners because the crisis and problems at hand are not personal--the trained bureaucrat gets a paycheck. That's what this all too often means regardless of what happens. This crisis is another impersonal number in another impersonal city.
Agency decisions are not made necessarily based upon what's good for the fellow citizen and his property. It's made based upon what works for the regulations within the bureaucracy. Where the church, neighbor, or private citizen might be inspired to meet the needs of others with excellence, the bureaucracy has no incentive to think and act like owners. Even good people inside agencies doing their best get overwhelmed by culture of entrepreneurial neglect and can't move any faster or effective than the other parts of government allow.
People care. Bureaucracy doesn't care. People invest, share, give, help, and plant into other people's lives. Bureaucracy mass produces and delivers resources slowly. Bureaucracy lacks transparency and accountability. Bureaucracy has nothing to invest, nothing to share, or plant into people's lives. When things don't go well, the bureaucracy gets blamed so the individuals in the bureaucracy can get their normal paychecks and slide by to the next disaster.
People give from their heart. Bureaucracy has no heart. It can't. It's shrouded unaccountable processes. At best, larger governing institutions like FEMA are a utilitarian entity trying to do their best. But bureaucracy, by nature, lacks the accountability, transparency, and personal
Investment to be wholly effective. Instead, the bureaucracy is housed with internal quirks, power struggles, and territorial ambitions unknown to the naked eye.
Consider Baton Rouge in 2016 and Houston in 2017 with thousands of Dunkirk type private citizens with boats descending at places of devastation going to work rescuing lives around the clock without stopping. These folks are inspired and have a sense of urgency. They use process to produce results, not as an end to itself. Leaders displaying Human Capital are never forgotten because they display a powerful and personal effectiveness that makes the lives of others better. Human Capital is about being timely, personal, and effective. It's about making people's lives better.
The New Yorker stated, "After the floods, the Cajun Navy became heroes in Baton Rouge. Newspapers celebrated them; they were the grand marshals of local parades; the lieutenant governor of Louisiana took a special interest in their project. There were hundreds of families like the Bells, who felt that they owed their safety not to the distant forces of government but to a neighbor who had put himself at risk to help them.
Government is defined by bureaucracy. Government can be effective in large operations. But bureaucracy doesn't do human capital well. It can't. Bureaucracy has too many boxes to check, rules to follow, and objectives to accomplish. It's inflexible and uncaring because the tyranny of forms, procedures, policies, and unaccountable figures outstrips the ability to employ human capital.
Tacit Market Knowledge
Learning through experiences to become better to gain an advantage--
Alexander Middle School in Katy, Texas marked the location where local efforts gathered for command and control decisions to address extreme flooding. Receiving hundreds of calls and Facebook posts, directing volunteers with boats to these stranded people, transporting them, and finding shelters was a spontaneous effort of local citizens. It cropped up out of chaos. Lots of heart, urgency, and flexibility fueled the goal which was to save people and get them into local shelters.
FEMA then arrived 3 days after the hurricane and took over Alexander Middle School. They took half of the building and let the volunteers know they could move to another part of the building. FEMA was taking over. Disaster is their main focus. It's their turn to shine and do what they have been preparing Year-round to do.
Volunteers who were focused, energetic, inspired, and working with a sense of urgency were now marginalized. As volunteers offered to leave the premises, the FEMA director said that wouldn't be good--we don't know where to go, how to deploy help, where the existing shelters are, or where to direct incoming distress calls. We don't know anything about the local terrain, people, churches, or food pantries. We only have other 1-800's to other government-created departments to talk to. They won't be of any help.
The reality was director walked into an established culture of effective operations working at maximum capacity with a full knowledge of resources, terrain, people, and leaders in the community. His team from, all parts of the country, recognized that without the organic order and systems that sprung up, he would be ineffective.
FEMA is a powerful organization. But they lack Tacit Market Knowledge. FEMA saw early they had to import the specialized knowledge of local citizens who were inspired, knowledgeable, focused, prepared, and urgently working to save lives.
Hurricane Harvey has leadership lessons for us all. Low levels of entrepreneurial value, human capital, and tacit Market Knowledge exists in typical government activity. But individuals who are growing leaders exhibit the 3 core values in high amounts. Thinking like an owner, caring personally, and continuously learning to be better marks impressive people and organizations.