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Building Trust In Public Officials - Draiman

Building trust in public officials - Draiman

In trying to develop, a series of ballot initiatives designed to improve government performance. The discussion about the relationship between better performance and getting more revenue for government programs. It was concluded that better performance was important because it promoted more trust in government, and was argued that the lack of resources available to government reflected the fact that people did not trust government to spend their money wisely. He was right.

Trust is essential not just for obtaining resources but also for making government work effectively. Often, we get lost in the techniques of management and forget about the essential bond of trust between the public and their governments. We focus on outsourcing, performance management, cloud computing and other techniques while we ignore the basics. I believe that there are six factors that are paramount in changing the public's perception of government and regaining their trust:

Honesty: Ethical behavior is often taken for granted until there is a breach. Ethics training in government is like sex education in middle school: Everyone has to take it but most people do not think they need it. Promoting honesty must go beyond mere ethics training. It has to be built into a culture that will not tolerate even small lies or a little bit of cheating. Schools of public policy and management should make the study of what constitutes ethical behavior mandatory.

Efficiency: This is making sure that government delivers "value for money." Producing high-quality public goods and services should be done as inexpensively as possible. All the techniques of private industry should be utilized, and measurement of efficiency should be rigorous and comparative.

Transparency: In my younger years, I would not have included this one. However, if you are trying to gain people's trust, they have to be able to see what is going on for themselves. Perception is often reality, so showing the public what is really happening can inspire more-positive perception. New developments in technology-including geospatial mapping and rapid feedback communications-enable government to operate both efficiently and transparently at the same time.

Accountability: This is simply telling people what you are going to do and then giving them an accounting of how you did. It works at the level of outputs and at the level of outcomes. Many performance-management systems have been tried and found wanting. Often they are seen as something from the outside that is imposed on managers. That is backwards. Performance management should stretch from "the shop floor to the top floor" and should allow managers at every level to demonstrate how well they are doing their jobs. Pride in doing a good job and performance management should go hand in hand.

Good policy choices: These start with good policy-development processes that translate public needs and conditions in the external environment into a coherent set of actionable strategies. Reasonable people will differ on what constitutes good policy, but the electorate knows it when they see it. Again, bringing transparency to policy development and even including the public in developing policies will lead to greater trust.

Positive outcomes: Implementation of policy choices honestly, efficiently, transparently and accountably should produce positive outcomes. If it does not, managers should rapidly evaluate why the expected outcomes were not achieved and take corrective action. Program evaluation has fallen out of favor, perhaps because it was seen as something done to managers, not by them. As with creating an accountability framework, evaluation of outcomes should be in the hands of managers themselves, aided by technical experts if needed.

All of that sounds very simple, does it not? If the process were purely linear with no random events, it might be just that easy. However, government is both nonlinear and often random.

Another element of complexity is that the factors described above have to be executed simultaneously in a dynamic environment. Public servants are sometimes compared to jet mechanics working on the engines while the aircraft is in flight. This may be going a little too far, but feedback from the public can be instantaneous, and change is often the only certainty.

We cannot control all of the variables, and the hardest to control is the public's perception of our actions. "Tell the truth and trust the people." Today, we have no choice but to go back to basics and try to regain the people's trust.

Every single one of us makes mistakes. Nevertheless, public officials have to pretend that they never do, and when missteps are uncovered, honest errors are treated as carrying malicious intent. The result is a situation that is toxic and at its core truly dishonest.

It is true that just about every management guru tells you to acknowledge your mistakes. I can tell you, though, that most of those folks never held elective office. When an elected official admits an error in judgment, he or she generally is ripped bloody - with or without the obligatory apology - and learns not to do that again.

"while we are transparent, sometimes we are not open" and that openness is the key to honest conversation and problem solving.


We do not know ourselves as a people. Even though our country is almost entirely composed of immigrants, there is a distinctly American character that is profoundly good. In the introduction to an article it was written, "I have come to love America and what it stands for. Not that there are not a thousand points of criticism or disagreement. Nevertheless, I have a settled belief that was once intellectual and political and is now emotional, that the essential values it embodies are so much more fundamental to our fortune than even Americans themselves may appreciate. I have also seen more closely the parts of the world where those values are not in place; and I perceive more plainly the difference."

A public official's view of how people act shapes policy choices and political strategy. At a discussion forum, a recurring theme was the need to communicate with and connect with citizens. Moreover, toward the end of the forum there was a bit of pushback to this in the form of a debate about whether the form of government in our states and cities and counties is representative democracy or direct democracy. Some of the officials were saying, in essence, "Wait a minute, ours is a representative form of government in which we were elected or appointed to make decisions, and set and implement policy."

Nevertheless, policy decisions breathe life into our values: Our values do not become realized until we put our money and our power behind them. Therefore, in a democracy, the people need to have a real role in making important policy decisions. The good news is that, in values and in common sense, we are a good people--better even than we ourselves know.

There are good reasons for our misperceptions. First, there is the basic nature of media. Normal behavior is not news.

So the public believes, based on what they read and what they see on TV, that people are bad. The second is in the basic nature of our day-to-day relationship with our governments. Nobody calls city hall to tell the city leaders or staff what a good job the city is doing. People who are happy do not come to public hearings--only people who do are outraged or anxious. Therefore, bureaucrats and politicians can come to see citizens as a bunch of whiners and complainers. Finally, there is basic human nature. We gravitate naturally toward folks who are similar to us, not just ethnically and by income but also those who share our views. Since we do not know the folks who are different from us, when things seem to be going wrong it's easy to blame them for being lazy, stupid or greedy.

The little debate at the Cost of Government meeting over direct democracy versus representative democracy obscures the critical facet that is common to both: democracy. The essential fact of democracy is that the people are ultimately the boss. Good political leaders use methods of communication that are horizontal as well as vertical, meeting and talking with members of the community, particularly including those with whom they might not agree. Moreover, it has to be in significant numbers to affect the community. The key to effective governance is allowing citizens to experience for themselves the "essential values" that world leaders see as embodied in the American character.

To our elected leaders:

You have tough jobs. So do us. There is a lot we would like to tell you, but let us start with four observations.

"We're in this together."

We need each other, so we need to be on the same page. Too often, we feel whipsawed by contradictory directives. Do not just get in your corners and try to out-do each other. We can better deliver for you when you act in concert.

We thrive when great elected leaders stick around. This work requires long-term culture change, and sustained leadership makes a big difference. When there are transitions, please do not just throw your predecessor's initiatives--or appointees--overboard because they are not yours. Build on the good ones. Pitch the bad ones. We can help you identify which are which.

To work as a team, we need to value each other. So it is important that...

"You do your job; we'll do ours."

Please begin by taking the time to understand what we do. Campaigns, the 24-hour news cycle and social media create a lot of misinformation. Please do not trash our work without understanding it. We know we need change, but it needs to be change that makes things better.

Understand your role. Tell us what results you want us to accomplish, give us parameters, and then do not micromanage. (It is particularly troublesome when you try to manage by statute.)

We do need to clear away barriers to performance. Only you can remove the structural barriers; we need to remove the cultural barriers.

Be strategic. Not everything can be a priority. Across-the-board budget cuts are not strategic. You need to make choices. We can help you frame better choices.

Think of yourselves as public sector CEOs and boards of directors. Many of you talk about running government more like a business, but then do not do it. For example, support your public employees. We have taken many hits lately. Moreover, hundreds of millions of dollars of campaign ads each election cycle tell us how awful we are. When you were running your private-sector business, you probably did not think it was a winning strategy to dump on your employees.

Our best people leave or tune out when they feel ignored or abused. We want to stop having to apologize for doing our jobs. We also know that we need to be more aggressive in helping our poorest performers either improve or move on.

You set the tone; you lead the culture. You can pander, or you can inspire us.

"Don't run from results."

We all agree that governments should be focused on results. Performance measures, results websites and "stat" programs abound. However, excessively many of us--you and us--fear the data. It can and will be used against you; we get that. Nevertheless, either we are committed to results or we are not. We both need to own the data, make it transparent and, most important, and use it.

Lead regular conversations about results. What is working? What is not? Make decisions with us, and then support our best efforts to improve results with the dollars we have. Challenge us to come up with better, innovative ways to achieve results. We can give you the evidence and data to support good decisions. Better results make you look good, validate our work and build trust in both directions. Until we show we are getting the best results, we can for the dollars we have now, why should anyone give us more money.

These conversations work best when they focus on learning and improvement. A tongue-lashing at a hearing is not the kind of conversation that gets better results.

Our effectiveness suffers when, for example, your initial enthusiasm for "stat" sessions gives way to enthusiasm for other initiatives. Do not start something like that if you are not going to make it consequential throughout your term. How you spend your time--along with how you spend the money--tells us what is most important.

One excellent use of time is for you to get to know each other, and us. A wise leader said frequently...

"If you build the relationships, the work will get done."

More and more, our success depends on webs of relationships not only between you and us, but also across the landscape of governments, nonprofits and business.

Building relationships means getting to know each other and that does not happen in the fishbowl of public meetings. When elected officials get to know each other--really understand each other even though you disagree--you will be much more likely to find common-ground solutions. Those you serve expect you to do that.


When moderators were asked over the appropriateness of a debate question concerning the candidate's marital record, it got me thinking. What is an appropriate question for a campaign debate? More important, what kinds of questions would give voters useful insight into how the candidate might lead a government-not just from a policy perspective but as an executive?

At least in this year's political race, evidence is available to gain insight into the remaining candidates' leadership styles and abilities. Nevertheless, available evidence is not being plumbed to draw meaningful distinctions about likely executive decision-making style. We are well aware of ideological divides, but we do not really know how a new Mayor for Los Angeles previous leadership might contrast with the previous mayor.

It would be nice to think that this glaring knowledge gap will be rectified in the general-election campaign. The Mayor is not just the politician who happens to occupy the top position in the city's executive branch. The Mayor of Los Angeles must be an executive, leading the large, complicated enterprise that is the Los Angeles city government, which is larger than many countries and has a greater population. Why then do questions asked in Mayoral debates, and rhetoric on the campaign trail, almost never provide any insights into the leadership style and philosophies of candidates?

This is not a phenomenon limited to all campaigns. City elections also feature precious little discussion of leadership and executive decision-making. Candidates for Mayor are people competing to take jobs that require not just political skills or likeability, but also executive ability. Ask yourself, however, if you can remember the last time that a candidate's capacity to actually lead a government was a central issue in a political campaign.

Often, if a particular candidate has been a successful private-sector leader, that experience is cited. Even in those cases, however, there is rarely a discussion of how transferable that experience is to the job that the candidate is seeking.

If I had my way, every mayoral debate would include a required question designed to illuminate the candidates' executive leadership and decision-making style. Of course, there still could be the usual questions concerning the tax returns of the candidates, or their stand on marriage, or whether they think that food stamps make people overly dependent on government. Beyond those questions, however, here are some (by no means an exhaustive list) that I would argue are more important. These suggestions focus on skills and behaviors relevant to governing (as opposed to politicking):

• What qualities do you look for in members of your executive team? Are there particular qualities that you are seeking for all positions? How important is it that those selected for positions have deep knowledge or expertise in the relevant area? (Does the secretary of the Treasury, for example, have to have Wall Street experience-or would a record of accomplishment of sound economic judgment, compliance with tax laws and demonstrated management skills be sufficient?)

• Are you tolerant, even encouraging, of dissenting views? Alternatively, are you unable to manage yourself in the face of pushback, and therefore discourage it in those who serve you?

• More generally, how do you use evidence when you make decisions? When pursuing a particular policy course, will you consult with stakeholders and available data and analysis, both inside and outside of government, prior to making a decision? Which factor matters more: whether an approach has proven effective or whether it keeps a political constituency happy?

There is frequently a tremendous disconnect between what it takes to be elected and what it takes to govern. Sometimes candidates' campaigns do provide glimpses of executive style, but usually unwittingly.

The fact that leadership, and executive style, are not discussed in political campaigns is just further evidence of the inadequacy of our prevailing political discourse. As a constituency, we fail to take responsibility for the reality that when we elect a mayor or a county executive we are electing a leader-in-chief and a decision maker-in-chief. Trying to gain insight into how that leadership would be exercised-and the extent to which data, analysis, and reasoned debate would influence decision-making-seems a topic worthy of at least one question in a campaign debate.


Public issues; the need to improve the perception of public service. We feel that the times were ripe if the right energy, organization and messages could be focused on the problem.

What is the leadership agenda?

We should be concerned about the dangers of eroding trust in public leaders and public service. In the 1960s, Gallup polls consistently showed that something above 80 percent of the public felt that government leaders made the right choices "most of the time." Today, only a little over 10 percent report that level of trust.

Part of the erosion of trust is a side effect of negative political advertising. Going negative clearly works. Given that it does, why we do not see one business going negative on another competing business. The reason is that the private sector knows that you do not "kill the category." Negative ads about one business soon would kill the competing business as well.

In politics, going negative does not kill the category. Nevertheless, it does make it much harder to be successful. When government is seen as incompetent and illegitimate, governance suffers. To get the government and governance we need, we must attract many of the best from every generation into public service.

Fundamentally, we need public servants with the strengths that some of our famous successful leaders had in great abundance-compassion, intelligence, courage and enthusiasm:

As a public leader, willing to be both a representative (reflecting the expressed interests of the constituents) and a trustee (educating constituents and pursuing their true interests where the understanding and expertise was ahead of theirs). The leader should focus strategically on issues of productivity and the role of technology in shaping our future. These were often issues where a leader is set apart, out in front of many constituents and other public leaders. To be willing to lead, and to absorb the criticism that makes such leadership dangerous. The leader should promote the distribution of resource-allocation policies and exert great influence on how innovation and information technology is managed.

YJ Draiman