It’s Not Over! Genghis Khan’s Rules for Digital Government

Lots of new technology lies ahead in 2016 and the pressures for digitizing government will increase. My own iPhone6 Siri is actually recognizing what I say after years of horrifying responses—forget a better camera, a better Siri alone is worth the upgrade!  In our personal lives, we think little of changing technology every few months because of peer pressure or personal desire to optimize our lives. In our governments, however, we consistently hang on to aging, inefficient systems, processes, or software just because it’s too hard or too expensive to change. And, for sure, because the people interacting with those systems, processes, or applications are loathe to do things differently, we prefer not to fight those battles.

Government organizations have been seriously talking about Digital Government, transformation, and digitization and many have taken steps to “digitize” beyond websites. However, our collective attention span is crying out for us to “get on to the next” before we’ve even begun to experience the benefits or, more likely, actually make the fundamental changes necessary to become truly digital.

Both the international analyst firm IDC and Genghis Khan offer guidance for the year ahead. Here are a few of Khan’s leadership principles that can help all of us in government embrace true digitization over the coming decade.

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Genghis Khan conquered the world’s largest empire by improving communication on the battlefield—through a precursor of the Pony Express—and across his expanding empire to unite commerce along the Silk Road utilizing emissaries and the first passports. Breaking down organization silos is almost as challenging but the only way to build trust, collaboration, and unity is to have a shared enterprise vision and involve everyone in achieving it. Digitization brings with it fear of obsolescence, retraining/ relearning/rethinking the familiar. Further, IDC’s Top Technology Predictions for 2016 say: by 2018, 67% of developers will be focused on business innovation, up from less than 33% today. Hence, only by accurately providing employees and stakeholders information on new directions, goals, and the options available to employees moving forward, can we promote lasting transformation of our institutions in an environment, like Khan’s, of constant change.

  1. Be quick to acknowledge and adopt the positive aspects of other cultures

For Genghis Khan, this involved synthesizing the best of those cultures his armies conquered. But, for all of us looking globally for ideas and incorporating the best of cultures in the organizations, provinces, states, or nations far away or right next door, enables us to optimize quickly as well as build flexibility into our own organization.

  1. Offer resisters the opportunity to get on board or suffer the consequences

Today, the prospect of being fired from government for resisting change (or worse, as was the case in Genghis Khan’s time) is highly unlikely. Yet being left behind, not influencing the future while others do, or failing to find a fulfilling new role in a transformed organization are unwelcome prospects for anyone. As we all know, inertia and the other challenges of adoption—the people part of the equation—are the most difficult to overcome.

Khan knew that essential human nature was to support an effort in which you played a role and he used that knowledge and the recognition of merit from any quarter to attract strong players to his team, regardless of their former allegiances. We should all recognize how open, transparent changes driven by good ideas from all sources as well as systematic efforts to enable everyone to be part of the new solution will greatly enhance the odds of success in moving to new, digital processes.

  1. Feign retreat to bring out the opposition

Similarly, openness should not preclude craftiness. In the same vein as keeping enemies closer, even when you think the way forward may be obstructed, step back and take stock, then ask resisters to assess their options and/or the new process strengths and weaknesses. Meet with stakeholders to evaluate progress from multiple perspectives. For those who think that status quo is secure, I share IDC’s prediction that by 2018, over 50% of developer teams will embed “Cognitive Services” (i.e., data analytics) in their apps, up from 1% today, providing U.S. enterprises $60+ billion in annual savings by 2020. Some of those enterprises will inevitably be government agencies. Listen to what they all say and ,if necessary, retool, regroup, and move ahead, armed with what you’ve learned.

  1. Plan your long-term strategy for the best interests of all

Just as Genghis Khan used these tools to institutionalize his empire’s legacy, your Digital Government strategy must look to a legacy of good government, continually improving, adapting to, and anticipating the world around it. Across the globe, IDC predicts sweeping changes in how we all will work—in less than five years (2020), 60% of the [top 2000 global companies]will double their productivity by digitally transforming any processes from human-based to software-based delivery.  Governments can no longer resist these changes—as dramatic as those during the reign of Genghis Khan. If we want to continue to thrive, government must look outside organization silos to fundamental changes to how we serve via digital means to deliver smarter, more productive, more agile government. Our agencies must know their citizens personally and deliver customized experiences, protection and services fast and transparently utilizing shared information and consolidated support services.


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