Category: Client Service

What are the Brown M&Ms for the Public Service?

Dan Heath and Chip Heath have drawn inspiration from some interesting sources in their article “Business advice from Van Halen” published in Fast Company .  The story talks about early warning signs and eventually explains that Val Halen had a no brown M&Ms clause in their contract. In addition to requiring a bowl of M&Ms backstage, the contract contained Article 126 which read:

“There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

This simple requirement buried deep in the contract, a contract spelling out detailed technical requirements, allowed Van Halen to quickly determine if the production crew had read the contract and whether or not a technical error was likely.

So what are the brown M&Ms for the public service?  Here are some ideas:

  • No thought of the citizen / the public in service delivery, policy development and implementation
  • Little or no focus on the future just dealing with immediate problems
  • Absence of alternative view points being presented in discussions
  • Lack of a bias for action, just lots of planning
  • No mistakes
  • People who use the sentence – ‘we can’t raise expectations’
  • Units with an over-representation of 50+ year old men
  • Strong hierarchies
  • People uncomfortable with even a little brainstorming, who divert conversations to frameworks, processes and resources
  • Units that never describe the ‘outcomes’ from their work.

But how do we get the same immediacy as Van Halen’s brown M&Ms?


Meeting the needs of citizens and the community

I read a really interesting article on client service entitled “What happens when you really meet people’s needs” by Tony Schwartz on the Harvard Business Review blog. Takeaways for me:

  • employees understood the goal or what success looked like and could explain how their role/actions fits within that goal;

Do all public servants understand their role? How their actions contribute toward the priorities of their Division, Department or even the whole of government priorities?  Public servants are the instruments of implementation for government policy but it seems too often they don’t understand why they do what they are doing.

  • employees were trusted and given specific delegation to fix problems; and

Often is seems that the accountability of the public sector is paramount and delegations to fix things are set at to high a level.  The result? Poor client service and a front line with no delegation or ability to fix things that should just be fixed.

  • regular times to connect with each other and reconnect with the goal through examples.

Such a powerful and simple tool: taking time to reconnect with the goal and work through examples that team members have actually experienced provides a great opportunity to learn, to improve service delivery. The public service is all about serving the community and it should be leading the way in terms of what citizens expect from a government. regards, Jason A public servant since 28 June 1999.