As we all know, metaphors can be useful aids for understanding abstract concepts. Recently, as I was enjoying my “windshield time” on a long drive on Interstate 81 it occurred to me that the small “non-audition” church choir to which I belong shares many characteristics with public sector organizations that strive for performance excellence.

Here are a few of those common characteristics:

•    Both a choir committed to excellence and a results-focused public sector organization have missions and goals, which can be broken down into outputs and various levels of outcomes, ranging from immediate outcomes to ultimate outcomes (and linked outcomes in-between).

•    Both a choir committed to excellence and a results-focused public sector organization comprise human beings, each with her or his unique KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities), wants, needs, motivators, and challenges.

•    Both a choir committed to excellence and a results-focused public sector organization break out into component parts – the choir into the soprano, alto, tenor, and base sections; the public sector organization into senior management and various business units, including procurement (or another business unit that executes the procurement function.)

The primary desired output of the choir, of course, is anthems and other special music, while the desired outcomes of that music include entertainment, reinforcement of the message in the homily or sermon, and inspiration. Public sector organizations, by comparison, provide a variety of services, which as outputs ultimately are intended to promote and support the common good of the organization’s stakeholders.

The human element and the complexity of both the choir and a public sector organization demand management.  Both the choir director and managers in a public organization must engage in planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgeting, although the director of the choir to which I belong typically has less responsibility with regard to reporting and budgeting than a public manager.  Perhaps the most significant shared challenge is to get the various individuals and the various “parts” to blend and coordinate their outputs as seamlessly and efficiently as possible – especially when the public manager, like the choir director, typically has to deal, for the most part, with the cards (the people and the organizational structure) he or she is dealt.  

What are you doing to enable your organization and your procurement business unit “sing together in perfect harmony”?

Stephen B. Gordon, Ph.D., FNIGP, CPPO is Academic Program Director, Procurement & Contracts Management at the University of Virginia.


To get connected and stay up-to-date with similar content from American City & County:
Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter
Watch us on Youtube