“Results-oriented and apolitical — both gratifying and exhilarating”

Frank Muller, Senior Consultant, Crust Young New York Inc.

Guest writer Frank Muller, Senior Consultant from Crust Young New York Inc., reflects on the skills he brings from banking and the benefits of pro bono service.

Frank Muller, Senior Consultant, Crust Young New York Inc.
Frank Muller, Senior Consultant, Crust Young New York Inc.

The result-oriented and apolitical way Civic Consulting USA approaches public sector challenges has exceeded my expectations. Their stakeholder management is cautious and effective. They determine with a sharp eye areas where an outside-view would add to the public cause. Then they offer concrete and topical pro bono services, with modesty and with great respect for the people in charge.

It is both gratifying and exhilarating to be part of a team with the brightest minds of some of the world’s leading strategy consulting firms.

Civic’s approach is to let each person and firm work on problems in their core strength, which maximizes leverage and enables Civic USA itself to remain agile and cost-efficient.

In my case my background from change management in the financial sector appeared to be very helpful in achieving public goals for New York City. I would encourage other companies to take the opportunity to work with Civic Consulting too: you can make a difference.

When they approached Crust Young New York to assist with an historic opportunity in New York City, I did not have to think long. Civic’s reputation from their work in Chicago was promising already.

I had come to NYC to gain international experience in the public sector, having an MBA background and working as a senior manager for a European bank. My work with Civic USA has been among my most rewarding activities in America. I gained a deep understanding of the way government organizations are run in the US.  I expect to be able to apply that in my career upon my return to Europe.

Imagine no more waiting in line

Imagine government without waiting lines.  Government where you were never put on hold when you called.  Government where you got a permit or license in a few days instead of a few months.   Well, it’s beginning to happen – and one of the tools governments increasingly use is a process called “Lean.“

Michael HickeyLean was developed on automotive assembly lines as a strategy for building cars faster with fewer defects, but Lean has applications for any process.  Going step-by-step through systems, programs and regulations, Lean seeks to improve or eliminate parts that are prone to waits, rejections and resubmissions, bottlenecks, or doing more than what the customer really wants.

Here’s an example from the private sector, where Lean grew up:

Western Union had a problem.  In order to add a new sales agent to their network, applications went through a labyrinthine 19-day process.  Applications passed through the hands of dozen staff who sorted, recorded, reviewed and batched the paperwork before sending it to the next person.  Surely it could be sped up a bit?

So Western Union decided to bring the team together – everyone from bosses to the sorting clerk – and take a hard look at all the steps.  Was there a better way to conduct the handful of required background checks and schedule training with the new sales agent?

Using Lean, the team spent two days reviewing the entire process, asking, “Does every step help us deliver exactly what our new sales agents need, while complying with federal agencies and our own business requirements?”  If not, they took that step out.

They found that by calling the new sales agent first (instead of at the end of the process), they could verify most of the information over the phone.  Better still, one person could do the entire process, eliminating all that waiting as the application passed from hand to hand.  In the end, the new process went from 19 days to… 22 minutes

As you can imagine, Lean is common in a variety of industries including manufacturing, finance, and health care.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could use Lean to help government do its job more effectively as well?

It turns out that a number of cities and states are doing just this:

These may seem like small wins, but the effects are cumulative.  For instance, Fort Wayne has been rigorous in implementing Lean, applying it to over 100 projects and saving they city some $30 million, or nearly 16% of their total expense budget!

What’s incredible about many of these public sector efforts is that private corporations in manufacturing, finance and health care are donating the expertise to teach Lean to state workers, coaching them to use the same process the private sector folks use routinely.

If you’re reading this and you have expertise that you’d like to offer, then contact us and we’ll work with your firm to make a difference right in your home town.

There’s a new way to change the world

Why isn’t trying hard good enough?  These days, we all seem to expect more from our lives.  Whether you’re just leaving college or about to retire, we want to make a difference.

Alexander ShermansongIt’s no longer enough to volunteer on a board or at a youth center.  Of course, we still want to do that, but now we want something new too.  We’re looking for innovation and impact.  We’re looking to turn our talents into results we can see.  The problem is, most of us just don’t know how.

And unfortunately with volunteering, the old adage “it’s the thought that counts” doesn’t hold true.  Far too many volunteering efforts don’t really make a difference.  Sometimes you offer your skills to a good cause, but you end up writing a report that goes nowhere.  Or you find the right role, but it turns out to be a three-year project and you have only three months.  What do you do?

Welcome to the new world of pro bono partnerships.  Imagine thousands of people, from college grads to retirees, from consulting wonks to open-collared designers, working together and getting results like cutting youth violence in half, connecting hundreds of thousands of patients to primary care, increasing community college graduation rates 80%.  That’s energizing.  That’s impact.

It turns out this kind of pro bono partnership has been quietly succeeding in Chicago for 30 years.  That’s why we want to take the model national.

How you do it is all in the name:  Civic Consulting.

  • It’s civic – we make a difference on things that matter, like jobs, education, and safety
  • It’s consulting – we help those with the ability and responsibility (our clients) make better decisions.

The model’s success hinges on finding a great client and trying to help him or her do an even better job.  Beyond writing reports or grassroots advocacy, taking a client-oriented approach deploys your skills in a framework already geared to action.  City leaders run massive operations, serving residents and businesses everyday.  By volunteering with such a leader — rather than, say, writing a letter to the editor — your skills have an immediate outlet for implementation.  And with city leaders as clients, you’re able to affect entire systems.

You need to think big to inspire.  Tackling an issue like community college graduation inspires thousands of people to volunteer their skills, not just a few hours at a time – but full time and for months.  That’s what happens when you focus on impacts, not just outputs or projects.  Incidentally, companies sponsor such volunteers in part because they share that inspiration.

Implementing such inspiring ideas requires coordinating efforts over time.  These ideas are bigger than any one volunteer project, no matter how big.  How do you find the right size of the right project for the right partner – and then do it again and again?  That’s the Civic Consulting secret: aggregating and focusing your talents so that, over time, with many others, you make a difference.