Apr 2, 2007

There's a two-way street in Fort Wayne

As I noted a few days ago, I’m learning what’s happening in the city of Fort Wayne, where Mayor Graham Richard is applying lean and six sigma concepts to government. He has a few words for both government officials and business leaders about what they should be doing.

Richard says the “convening authority” of the mayor is underestimated and undervalued. “If you’ve got a problem,” he says:

Call up five or six CEOs and ask, “Would you give me a person for a half day a week for the next six weeks, to help understand the nature of a problem and make suggestions for improving it?” If you clearly state what you need, show you understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and what is the end point -- I’ve never been refused.

Every politician knows you can’t raise any money for your campaign unless you ask. But then all of sudden they get into office, and they quit asking for help. Part of it is the fear that there will be bad stuff uncovered and it will all get in the papers. And I say to people, "Uncover it yourself first and announce it, ask for help, and you’ll look really good.”

At gatherings of business leaders, Richard asks a few tough questions:

"How many people in this room have ever asked a member of the local school administration, the county government or the city government to come and have a brown-bag lunch at your plant, your factory, or your business, and take a tour? Have you ever done that?”

And rarely do I get anyone whose hand goes up. You have so much to offer. Maybe one of the cheapest ways you can get your taxes at least stabilized instead of going up is to offer to help improve local government.

Just opening a dialogue – not even applying any tools – is the first step. Link the supplier -- the city -- with the customer -- the business that pays taxes and wants services.

Of course, readers of this blog are more likely to be the business customers of local government, not the public officials who need to start paying attention. So get the mayor, the police chief, the fire chief, the head of the department of public works, or all of them, over to your plant. You’re not going to instantly convert them to lean, but you’ll find something in common and begin laying the groundwork for a better community.

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