September 24, 2013
If the state employee behind the counter is the "customer," what does that make you?

Gov. Jay Inslee hosted a Twitter town hall on Sept. 12 to solicit feedback about the Results Washington initiative, his lean management project that seeks to be "an innovative approach to make government more efficient, more effective and more transparent." Well behind schedule, Results Washington was described by Inslee as "an effort driven by the priorities of Washingtonians." A week later, Inslee announced a new online forum for people to offer ideas and vote for ones they like.

So what idea has received the most votes so far in this lean management project "driven by the priorities of Washingtonians"? Pay raises for state employees.

That's not really surprising. Such efforts are typically dominated by interest groups and ideologues looking out for their own agendas. Inslee sent an e-mail to all state employees last week directing them to visit the website and give their feedback, and few regular citizens have the desire to participate in Twitter town halls and visit websites about state government. It's probably not the message the administration was hoping to send, though, in this effort to reach beyond the Olympia crowd.

That pay raises for state employees is the top idea on a lean management website soliciting citizen ideas for a more efficient state government may strike many as odd or ironic. It is emblematic, though, of the fact that the Results Washington team is trying to keep interest groups happy while also engaging with "regular people."

One of the goals of Results Washington is to increase "customer satisfaction" in state government, but it's notable that Inslee includes state employees as one of the "customers" [goal 5, 1.2]. That is a curious way to describe them. A business may try to serve its customers and keep up employee morale, but it wouldn't confuse the two or lump them together in the same category.

Only government conflates customers and employees as being essentially the same. It raises the question, when you interact with state government (to renew your license, say, or purchase government records), if the state employee behind the counter is the "customer," what does that make you?

For what it's worth, the second-place idea on Results Washington so far is measuring "the effectiveness and efficiency of the Legislature."

Posted by Adam Faber at September 24, 2013 04:49 PM | Email This
1. I think you have misread the website. It seems to me that they consider employee morale a factor toward increasing the satisfaction of the actual customers (who are not employees). If employees were considered customers, then why would goal 5/1.2d begin "Increase percentage of state employees who believe we are increasing customer value..."?

I'm not saying it makes sense to organize the goals this way, but I don't think they're considering employees to be customers. Is it possible that you are starting with the assumption that government is bad and fitting the evidence to your assumption?

Posted by: Bruce on September 24, 2013 10:11 PM
2. "A business may try to serve its customers and keep up employee morale, but it wouldn't confuse the two or lump them together in the same category."

In fact, large American businesses have had employees in one section of the company refer to appropriate employees in other sections as "customers" for decades now; it helps remind everyone of their responsibilities, both internal to the company, and to the actual paying customers outside the firm.

Also, "[a] business may try to serve its customers ..." makes me wonder what experience, if any, the author has with the private sector.

Posted by: tensor on September 25, 2013 08:12 AM
3. We are 'all' each other's 'customer'...think about it. :)

Posted by: Duffman on September 25, 2013 08:43 AM
4. "The beatings will continue until morale improves."

Posted by: tc on September 25, 2013 10:06 AM
5. Whether someone is a customer or not seems to be mincing words. If a Washington State Trooper and his family visit a state campground or a high school teacher pays a toll on the 520 bridge, they would be "customers" to use these very simplified examples.

The real question about this very inside-baseball topic is how much did this state run website cost to create? How much is it costing to maintain? How many "clicks" is it getting? And does any of it really matter in the end? Are we talking a multimillion dollar effort here? Or is this something that was slapped together by one of Inslee's communications staffers?

Personally, I don't get too worked up about this sort of thing (you'll never see me whine about franking privileges for instance) because the spoils do belong to the victors. And I'd prefer to engage the fight on battlefields that matter - say - on transportation.

Posted by: Don Ward on September 25, 2013 04:31 PM
6. I guarantee you the average Washingtonian is not asking for more money yet for state employees. That is clearly a 'stuffed' ballot box, so to speak, by the public employees group.

Look---the democrat who stole hundreds of thousands in campaign funds even made the London Daily Mail---

Posted by: Monterey on September 25, 2013 09:21 PM