CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Email sent 7/12/07

Mr Adam Lewis,
Managing Partner,
McKinsey and Co

Leading Governments Up the Garden Path?

I should like to provide some feedback in relation to your recent article, 'Crash through, don't crash - what Rudd does now is crucial for leadership' (Australian, 30/11/07). In brief I interpreted this as advising incoming CEOs to (a) recognise embedded power structures (b) not make impossible promises (c) not distain others' knowledge and wisdom (d) build internal relationships and (e) not pay too much attention to external voices.

Who could disagree? However the bad news is that Mr Rudd's history as an executive apparently involved ignoring almost all of those principles (see Toward Good Government in Queensland, 1995 which evaluated the Goss Government in Queensland in which Mr Rudd had a central executive role, and Smart Casual Kevin: 'Learning' in and 'Outgrowing' the Queensland Public Service?, 2007).

What was intended to be a reformist administration became in fact the leading contender for the hotly-contested title of Queensland's Worst Government in terms of a lack of practical accomplishments and the dysfunctional legacy it left for later administrations.

But, while inexperience and inept management were major sources of the Goss Government's failure, another significant issue involved the widely-shared but defective assumptions about what is now needed to improve the performance of governments (see Decay of Australian Public Administration, 2002). One key source of failure is viewing government as a business, because:

  • government's core function ('governing') is quite different;
  • challenges are emerging to effective government that can't be evaluated by 'business-like' analogies;
  • the goal of a government's 'board of directors' is popularity, rather than effectively meeting the needs of its clients;
  • the intrinsic compexity of government's somewhat 'business-like' functions often make 'business-like' methods inadequate.

I note that Mr Ian Davis, Managing Director of McKinsey and Co, has recently published an article on improving government performance (Government as a Business). This seems to be a combination of much wise advice and some of the same defective assumptions about the nature of government that have led to serious failures.

While I understand its intentions, I respectfully suggest that there is a need to re-think the advice that McKinsey and Co is giving to its government clients.


John Craig