Parkinson's Law and ROWE in Government

I was recently found Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion.” So I got on Amazon and bought a used copy of the book since it’s out of print. It was written in 1957 and is largely about the problems with government administration. Nothing much has changed since then. Parkinson talks about how bloated the British Admiralty became between 1914 and 1928. Ships in service decreased by 67.74%, men in the service decreased by 31.5% and dockyard officials increased by 40.28% while Admiralty officials rose by 78.45%. He says there are two reasons for this. “An official want to increase subordinates not rivals” and “Officials make work for each other.” 

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India

Let’s look at San Francisco, in 2008 we had a population of 809,000 and we had 27,844 employees. In San Jose, we had a population of 974,000 with 6992 employees. Though in SF both city and county employees are counted. Does that seem ever so bloated to you? Hell yes! In SF that’s about 1 government employee per 30 residents! Are the services in SF 4 times better than in SJ? I think not. Have you tried to get anything done in San Francisco? How about a building permit or inspection? I have some friends who ended up in building inspector/inspection hell last year while trying to open a new restaurant. They were trying to bring money and jobs to the city and in times of financial strife, you’d think the city would want that sort of thing. Not so much.

If cities like San Francisco were to move to a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), not only would we end up with the correct number of employees, but they’d be doing a better job and be delivering better services. One of the hallmarks of a ROWE is that you very quickly find out who’s doing the work and who’s just punching the clock because employees are judged on results and not solely on the hours worked. ROWE employees work when they want, with who they want in the way they want. The only caveat is that the work gets done. ROWE employees are happier, more engaged and have a much lower voluntary turn over.

Your thinking, “That could never work in government!” The folks in Hennepin County Minnisotta and at the Office of Personell Management in Washinton DC would beg to differ. That’s right we have a state and a federal agency doing it now.