Let’s try a thought experiment together, just you and me. First, we’ll set the scene. You own a company. A big company with thousands of employees, a budget big enough to choke a team of Clydesdales, and a customer base that numbers in the tens of thousands. Sadly, most of those customers are at least somewhat dissatisfied with the quality of the service your company offers.
And there’s another problem. You don’t actually have enough cash on hand, or credit, to purchase the supplies you need to provide some of the services you’ve advertised to your customers.
Oops. That’s not good.
Fortunately, you have supporters. Better yet, you’ve got motivated supporters who have the means to help your company. At least a handful of them see an opportunity to feed your company the cash it needs to purchase the supplies that will make it possible for you to deliver on your promises.
There is hope!
So one day one of those supporters walks into a branch office of your company, whips out their checkbook, and says, “I’d like to write you a check to fund the purchase of the supplies your company needs in order to deliver the services you advertise. Who can I make the check out to?”
If you’re like most people, your heart is doing a little happy dance right about now. Your problems are solved, or at least mitigated. Unfortunately, your glee is unfounded, because your company is mired in a repeating chorus of the bureaucratic boogaloo that prevents you from finding real success.
“I’m sorry, we can’t accept your check,” your employee explains with no perceptible facial expression or vocal inflection.
“But I’m here to solve the company’s financial problems,” your supporter says.
“I understand,” your employee responds with all the excitement of an automaton working on a lower than rated voltage, “but we can’t accept your check. We have no means of accepting or distributing money.”
“B-b-b-but…” your supporter stammers.
“Could you please move along?” Your employee remains as detached from reality as is humanly possible. “I can’t spend any more time with you discussing an impossibility like the one you’re suggesting. I have other customers to serve.”
Your formerly festive supporter walks dejectedly through the empty lobby, exists your building, and vows to never return.
That’s the end of the scenario. It’s also the beginning of real life. Because you really do own a big whopping company that is increasingly finding itself unable to provide the quality of service they’ve advertised to their customers. Okay, you don’t own the whole thing, but you own shares in the firm. And that ought to be troubling, because the exchange outlined above actually happens in the bureaucratic jungle of government offices on a disquietingly frequent basis.
If you’re in disbelief, go ahead and try to cut a check to your local school, or city hall, or the county administration, or the dreaded Division of Motor Vehicles. Give it your best shot. Maybe you’ll succeed. Perhaps they’ll be good enough to let you contribute to the public coffers and take some of the fiscal pressure off your friends and neighbors. Then again, maybe they won’t. It’s almost unbelievable, but there is a mindset in many circles of government that it’s easier to say “no” than it is to say “yes” and have to explain yourself to a supervisor. “No” is a perfectly understandable response to almost any question in government circles. “Yes” is much harder to defend — so “yes” is a rare response all too often.
Brewster Higley and Daniel Kelley wrote the American classic, “Home on the Range.” Their use of the phrase, “seldom is heard a discouraging word…” suggests neither of them spent much time trying to get anything done in a government office.
To be fair, this sort of scenario can play out in private business, too. In fact it does so often, but not for long. The private side has a powerful self-limiting factor that government does not enjoy. A private business can simply go broke. Once it has run out of money and credit, the issue of poor customer service solves itself. The company closes its doors and ceases to exist. The solution is brutal, but it’s simple and clean.
All is not lost for the government side, however. There is hope. And that hope resides in you. It’s not in your neighbor, or your best friend, or the lady down the street who’s always bitching about barking dogs, or even in the wonderful warm-hearted people you refer to as your family. It’s up to you and you alone.
If you become familiar with the people in positions of authority, become conversant on the issues, make it known that you’re focused on achieving progress more than you’re interested in getting credit for the work, and maybe you become a wee bit more persistent in your visits to government officials, you’ll start to find a way around “no” and work your way to “yes.”