Friday, August 22, 2008

The Motivating Power of Transparency

I just watched the trailer for the Flow documentary -- and followed it up with an article on the April 2000 privatization of a Bolivian city's water supply.

Normally I'm a real pro-privatization kind of guy, especially because I work with a federal agency at my (other) day job and see the night-and-day difference between government work and private work.

But all things told, I think non-profits are the clear winner. I'm especially impressed by Mozilla and how they've managed to beat Microsoft at it's own game -- and by the numerous successful credit unions (WECU, ICU, GAPAC, etc) that have better rates and better service than commercial banks (though my recent experience trying to get a usable HSA has dampened my enthusiasm -- Jessica and I ended up settling for an account at a bank).

So my advice to Bolivia would be to turn over the city's water to a non-profit. The trouble with non-profits is that they need a bunch of passionate people and a good leader-and-manager who is consumed with the Cause. Getting the passionate people is easy (the residents of Cochabamba). It's the leader that's the hard part. He (or she) has to be so passionate he's willing to give up the higher wages of the for-profit sector in exchange for promoting this Cause.

It may sound easy, but try knocking on the doors of the few Cochabamba residents who have the leadership and managerial skills to turn around a large organization. Ask them to give up their job to revitalize an indebted-and-poorly-managed water organization and see what their response is. The few who have the necessary skills are -- you guessed it -- already CEOs and Presidents of small (or large) businesses. They take home big paychecks and have already adjusted their lifestyle accordingly. As large as their heart may be for the poor, it's much easier to write a check than to change your career... and your standard of living.

I don't know, but I'm guessing the person they actually hired was likely the same sort of person TFC hired: somebody with a lot of potential but no real experience. How does this one person turn around an organization and get it healthy?

One secret I've learned from my work with the government sector is the motivating power of transparency. When you open up the books and show the world what's working and what's dysfunctional -- and expose the details so everyone can see whose department/region/office is to blame, it's then that people start moving.

The first obvious shortcoming of this strategy is that you can measure water distribution and soaring rates, but you can't measure spiritual growth. Or... can you? Granted, spiritual growth itself is subjective. But there are also indicators of growth -- and indicators of decay.

We could take quarterly surveys asking the teens themselves (on a scale of 1 to 5) if they've grown in their understanding of the Word, in their love for Jesus and in making their faith their own. We can look at how many students are being actively discipled -- and how many are growing from those mentoring/coaching relationships. We can look at how many non-Christians are hearing the gospel from friends. We can look at how often the public hears about the ministry (formally or informally, the public has to hear about Teens For Christ or it will gradually die out).

In the end, we have to remember it's not about getting the survey results and other numbers up. It's about addressing the problems and opportunities represented by the numbers.

-- Peter Rust

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