Have you ever asked yourself why the government operates the way it does? Are you a small-business owner and it just doesn't make sense to you how an organization can stay viable that operates so inefficiently? I get this all the time from small business owners. "If I ran my company that way, I'd be out of business!" So let's take a step back and look at the government slightly differently.
First, the government is made up of ordinary people like you and me. They sleep in their beds, drink their coffee in the morning, kiss their kids goodbye, and go to work. They live in our communities and eat at the same restaurants we eat. You should realize they are normal people, simply working in a different capacity. Treat them as such. Don't be scared to have a conversation with a government employee just like you would any other normal person.
Secondly, and most importantly, the government is not just one big "thing". Those who try to explain or think about the government in terms of fifth grade civics are doing a disservice. Hopefully this will illustrate how the government operates so those in small business can understand. Have you ever worked with venture capitalist? Do you really understand how that world works? Generically speaking, you realize you need cash. You turn over some part or equity of your company to the venture capitalists. In return, you get the operating capital or whatever value agreed upon from them. Consider thinking of government agencies like this. I'm only talking about the unit or organization level. Way down on the food chain, not the headquarters.
When a small business engages a venture capital (VC), they become beholden to that venture capitalist. The VC will probably take part in major company decisions and spending plans. This is to ensure they get their investment paid back. Strategic direction for the company is influenced by the VC. Our small business owner no longer has full autonomy to operate as they did previously. Same thing in the government. Think of that unit or organization like a small business engaged with a VC. The organization is run by a handful of dedicated individuals. Those individuals have the organization's best interest and future in mind. The VC, in this analogy, is the headquarter's staff. All government organizations get their funding in a "trickle-down" budget structure. With that in mind, the organization you are working with is beholden to their headquarters staff for their annual funding. Policies from headquarters must be adhered to, procedures must be followed, and strategic directions must be implemented. The organization, just like a small business, might have their own ideas about what they want to do, but headquarters must be taken into account and followed if they want to stick around.
Bottom line, understand the government is not just one big company. Thinking about it that way will cause you much frustration. Consider the government as a bunch of small organizations that often operate as small businesses with venture capitalist engaged. Competing interests and multiple stakeholders must be included in any significant decision making process.
Cover art for this post: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net