In Search of Business Models for Public Managers

By Elliott, Sheri | The Public Manager, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

In Search of Business Models for Public Managers


Elliott, Sheri, The Public Manager


Kessler, Thomas G. and Patricia Kelley, The Business of Government: Strategy, Implementation and Results, MANAGEMENT CONCEPTS, Vienna, VA 2000.

"Entrepreneurial," "value to customer--value to public," "customer-centric--results-driven," are all business terms from government reform and reinvention initiatives that have been flung at public managers over the last decade. Usually when they land, a state of confusion, fear, or other largely negative reaction sets in. Some may argue that many reform and reinvention activities have failed to fulfill their desired outcome due to the sheer inertia of government's ability to react to change rapidly. I believe that failure is equally due to the lack of practical innovative tools that would arm managers for successfully tackling change initiatives. After all, if new methodologies aren't provided, old habits kick in, leading to same approach, same results.

Unique Business Planning Model

Thomas Kessler and Patricia Kelley, two consultants with extensive public sector work experience, have provided an innovative approach, creating a new method in the form of an old practice--"business planning"--but in this case a unique business planning model for the public sector.

Strategic business planning, they maintain, forces organizations to focus externally and manage for results rather than process. It's a strategy that has been successful for many years in the private sector. The question is, could strategic business planning create a fundamental change in how planning currently operates in government?

Everyone knows the business of government is different from the business of the private sector. The authors point out this observation; however, they also assert that the same basic business principles and concepts can apply to government. They present these clear distinctions while challenging the reader to think about the application of these concepts in the public environment.

For example, several times throughout the book they refer to the "bottom line." Private sector businesses develop their strategic business plans while focusing on a bottom line that equates to increased profits. We all know the government can't make a profit but does the idea of focusing on a "bottom line" still fit? Yes, say Kessler and Kelley. They describe the bottom line of a government business plan to be that of the business goals--what the public sector organization intends to achieve over time. And just as private businesses are held accountable to the bottom line, so should government agencies.

Concepts Seem Cloudy

Still the concepts of strategic business planning in government seem a little cloudy. Would you know how to develop a strategic business plan for your government operations? Read further. Kessler and Kelley offer in their words a "practitioner's perspective" to this daunting task. They outline the business planning process and elements in an easy to read, step-by-step process. Business planning is not about the written plan, it is learning about your business, through critical thinking stages in the development of the plan.

The book doesn't end with the planning process. It takes readers beyond the development phase and into implementation and ongoing evaluations, hence the "Strategy, Implementation and Results," In addition to this complete business cycle, readers are exposed to actual government examples, case studies, checklists, and other formats to depict the concepts and models being described.

The book begins by describing the current state of affairs in strategic planning. The authors point out the inherent flaw-that traditional strategic planning focuses on the operations and day-to-day processes of the organization-expending resources, managing activities, and producing quality outputs. …

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