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Monday, June 22, 2009

Guerrilla Governance

In the March 14, 2009 post "Guerrillas and Governance" I introduced the notion that, because of long-time inattention to the needs of the people/workers on the frontier (organizational boundaries), systems of governance will have been developed there and may have been in use for a long time.

In most cases, this governance will be relatively crude and inadequate. In the modern context, it might be something as simple as "We don't accept those after 2 PM so that we give ourselves time to get them done before 5:00."

What we, as guerrilla leaders should perceive is in two parts:
  1. This group is dealing with a problem and has a "process" in place for doing so.
  2. There is a problem. It is recurring. It has a cost.

If we feel the need to introduce a new level of governance that eliminates the problem rather than dealing with it on a repeating basis, we must take into account both of these parts.

There is a ready-made community here and they have banded together for mutual protection. We dare not dismiss that fact or we will create opposition that will resist us to the bitter end. Until we take the time to make them feel (not just understand) that we really want to help them with their problem--not ours--they will resist all of our efforts.

The dialogue goes something like this:

you: It looks as though you are experiencing problems with [form, file, request...].

they: You wouldn't believe the kinds of /@#*(^ we get. And it's most of the time.

you: So what do you have to do when you get one like that?

they: When that happens, we have to [lists multiple process steps needed to remediate]. That's why we have to have a cut-off at 2:00.

you: So, if I understand this right, you are getting unusable or unacceptable input from [another boundary function]?

they: That's right. They just don't seem to care how much we have to work.

you: What happens when you complain to them?

they: They just say that it's their job to generate [forms, files, requests] and it's our job to process them.

you: I think there's a good chance that we could guarantee that you wouldn't have to do any of those process steps you told me about or, if you did, it would be rare. Would that make your lives easier?

they: Absolutely. How would you do that?

you: First, we should put together a meeting. I've already talked with them and, believe it or not, they are dealing with similar problems and similar frustrations. I think the solution to your problem is the same as the solution to theirs. To make sure we need to meet because there are still a couple of things I need to get clarified. Will you help?

they: Tell me when and where. I can't meet on Tuesdays at all.

And so it begins. You will use their pain to elicit their cooperation. Their cooperation creates a new community. Community action guarantees compliance. A newly empowered community is a breeding ground for improvement of many kinds.

This is guerrilla governance. The only requirement to get started is a goal. You will need to be able to articulate the goal over and over again in many different dialects. In many cases, you will only want to expose the part of your goal that your audience is able to comprehend. Never try hide the fact that there is more. You'll simply answer all questions openly and honestly and never insist that anyone needs to understand your perspective. "We'll improve our understanding as we go." is a good way to postpone dealing with difficult questions until more education has occurred.

Always remember, you can't do this without them. Their commitment is vital. Talk freely to management about progress and remember that management has pain as well. You're a leader.

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