Saudi Conference: Lessons for Us

I’m back from my first visit to Saudi Arabia.  I can’t say I saw any camels, but I did seen plenty of McDonalds and Starbucks!  Conference participants were treated royally and we were treated with great hospitality, including an outdoor banquet with traditional Arabic sword dancing. 

Khalid Al-Gunaim
John Kamensky and a Conference Host

While the conference was seen as an international celebration of the Saudi Institute of Public Administration’s 50th anniversary, it became clear at the final closing session that this was also a serious event for them.

The closing session was chaired by a senior minister from the government and there was a set of recommendations and a discussion of impressions of the conference led by several of the invited guests from around the world (including the IBM Center’s Jonathan Breul). 

Jonathan Breul on main podium
Jonathan Breul on Main Podium

Interestingly, these recommendations and impressions have relevance for us, as well, and they probably have a familiar ring to them.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Put customers first.  Use customers as the focal point for performance and service improvements.
  • Decentralize implementation and service delivery.  Centralized, top-down reform efforts don’t work over the long run and evidence shows that local implementation leads to greater productivity and innovation.
  • Measure what you do and make fact-based decisions.   Performance measurement and fact-based decision-making are hard to do, they are the drivers of excellence and a performance-based organizational culture.
  • Use benchmarking and technology as tools to help drive change.
  • Create a performance culture.  Create an environment where employees are professional, committed to public service and creative.
  • Link reforms to budget.  Any successful reform effort should be linked to budget priorities.  If not, the budget will likely overwhelm the reform efforts.

So, while the U.S. is talking about new cutting-edge management challenges such as greater transparency, citizen engagement, and collaboration, it is useful to see that the basics are still important . . . .and that we can’t say we’ve mastered them yet!

The Saudis use their Institute of Public Administration to provide training and research, but they’ve also created a committee to champion the development and use of performance measurement to help drive their change efforts.  They’ve put a smart man in charge.  He’s been given five years to put in place measures that took the U.S. government nearly 20 to produce.  It’ll be a steep hill to climb before they will be ready to create a Chief Performance Officer, but it looks like they are on the road.  Hopefully, they’ll be able to learn from our experiences!

2 thoughts on “Saudi Conference: Lessons for Us

  1. John – very interesting, and thanks for sharing some highlights with us!

    FYI, I’m returning to public service on Mon, Nov 9th — will be working downtown two blocks from the White House.

    Best regards,

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