“Are you really sure you want to do that?”
We’ve been getting that question a lot lately, as we tell people that we’re pushing forward with a new, more highly focused strategy in which we’re offering one major program across each sector of society—private, nonprofit and public.
The first two areas seem to make good sense to most folks. But that we’ve chosen to play in the government arena—marked, in many minds, by administrative inefficiency and partisan gridlock—has left plenty of people scratching their heads.
Our response is simple: Peter Drucker, while famously critical of bureaucratic bloat, contributed to all three sectors through his writing and his consulting. And so it is appropriate that we aim to do the same.
What’s more, we aren’t trying to serve all levels of government. For now, at least, Washington isn’t in our sights (though, Lord knows, they could use a healthy dose of Drucker in the nation’s capital).
Rather, we’ve zeroed in on what we believe is the perfect sweet spot: midsize American cities, which we define as those with populations of less than 1 million but more than 100,000. In developing the Drucker Playbook for the Public Sector—a series of workshops covering Vision, Management, Performance and Character—we have kept three Drucker principles in mind:
- “Innovate. It is the only way to convert change into opportunity.” “In many ways, America’s midsize cities were the hardest hit by the economic transformations of the past 50 years,” says Lawrence Greenspun, the Drucker Institute’s senior program manager, who designed the Drucker Playbook. “But the stagnation that depleted these cities of their past vibrancy has also left them more open to new ideas and approaches.” (Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution calls this phenomenon “The Metropolitan Revolution.”)
- “Build on islands of health and strength.” “Unlike larger cities,” notes Katharine Frase, vice president of IBM Public Sector, “smaller municipalities have more agility to maneuver around bureaucratic obstacles, creating a more direct line of communication between citizens and their representatives.”
- “Design a product or a service which is specific to a given market segment and optimal for it.” We are currently piloting the Drucker Playbook in South Bend, Indiana, with an eye on eventually taking it to many other of the 280 or so midsize cities across America.
“The metropolis has become the habitat of modern man,” Drucker wrote. “Yet paradoxically . . . we have no effective political institutions to govern it.” Here’s betting that the Drucker Playbook can help.
Rick Wartzman and Zach First
Executive Director and Managing Director