I was a one-trick pony

As a long-time civil servant I knew the ropes. Lots of problems that I knew how to fix—more or less. Opportunities I knew how to exploit. But after I retired from federal service and became a consultant I had to try to help organizations I knew little about:. But I had one trick I’d learned at the Pentagon.

When Rick Cole, then Santa Monica city manager, asked me

what I might do to help, I told him I had just one trick: ask people actually doing real work this: What would make you happier and more effective in your work? Then get them what they wanted.

Rick responded that if I only had only one trickthat was a pretty good one to have. So I went to work in Santa Monica, asking the same question I had asked front line workers in Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, Oakland, Washington, Maine, and Los Angeles.

The answers were as different as the places: a navigation app for sanitation truck drivers, a government credit card for electricians, instant hiring authority for first line supervisors, things that their boss’s boss’s boss would never have thought of.

There’s no reason that any organization should have to hire a consultant to ask front line workers such a question. People from the CEO to the first line supervisors should be doing this continually. But too many of them don’t.

It’s never too late to start.


Check out my brand new book: Ostentatious Time-Wasting: Tales from The White House, Pentagon, and City Hall. Tom Peters calls it “as fine a leadership book as I have read in many many a year.” Look here.


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