Deloitte's Helfrich: What can business leaders learn from government best practices? I plan to find out.

After more than 20 years working with government clients, Deloitte's public sector leader Dan Helfrich is about to become CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP. Here he reflects on what he's learned and how it might help the firm's commercial clients.

After more than 20 years working with government clients, I am preparing to assume the role as Deloitte Consulting LLP’s chief executive officer in June. Inevitably, as with any big change in my life, I’ve been reflecting a bit on what I’ve learned over my time in the government market and what it means for my new role.

A few thoughts stand out: “Commercial best practices”.

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Any of us who work in this government market can get numb hearing comments that are implicitly or explicitly suggesting a chasm between the private sector world (modern, technologically advanced, efficient) and the public sector (antiquated, 10 years behind technically, inefficient and bureaucratic). Sometimes these descriptions are probably fair. Throughout my time supporting the government, I’ve loved working on projects that bring a cool innovation from our commercial business to help a government agency adopt more modern methods.

My favorite examples include the initial stand-up of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, when we joined with so many talented public and private sector leaders to bring modern technology, analytics, risk management and customer strategy concepts to life in a few short months.

Today, this recipe is alive and well as the tremendous innovations in cloud, artificial intelligence, and legacy code modernization from the private sector are catalyzing transformation in nearly every state government, higher education institution, and federal agency. The impact on our nation will be profound, as service delivery quality improves, and the citizen experience is elevated.

BUT:

One thing has become abundantly clear: This narrative is far too simplistic and intellectually lazy. In fact, there are several ways in which the government is leading in a way that leading private sector organizations can and should learn from.

Top of my list:

  1. Focus on mission above all else. Time and time again, I have seen how government leaders connect and motivate their people based on the mission of their department or agency. Whether it is an intel analyst or a caseworker, his or her understanding of what their work means to national security or to the health and welfare of people in their community is inspiring. Leaders of private sector organizations can learn from government on how to better connect their workforce to their own organization’s mission and impact.
  1. Many government organizations understand that they can’t do it alone. They reach out to other government partners – whether it is states working with the federal government or federal government working with local municipalities. Government is also eager to look to the private sector, international partners and higher education institutions to advance their missions. The private sector is starting to see that their company may not have all the answers and are figuring out how to create interesting new alliances to deliver new products or services.
  1. Service at scale. There’s nothing like the size and volume of government operations when it comes to citizen-customer contacts. For example, according to analytics.usa.gov over 332,000 people are interacting with the federal government online as I write this article. An average of 2.2 million people encounter TSA’s screening workforce every single day. The government’s effective use of segmentation enables service to people with all needs. Private industry can learn to challenge age-old operating models and develop businesses that serve wider and more inclusive populations more profitably.

These are just a few highlights of how government can be an example for private sector organizations. As I settle into my new role, I plan to share these ideas with private sector clients as well as build stronger connections between private and public sector leaders.

So….onto my new mission: Exporting “Government Best Practices”. Has a certain ring to it.

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