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'The two cultures re-examined: a perspective on leadership and policy management in business and government'.

Telstra Corp is Australia's leading telecommunications and information services company. It offers a full range of services and competes in all telecommunications markets throughout Australia, providing more than 9.6 million Australian fixed line and more than 9.3 million mobile services, including 3.3 million 3G services.

Phil Burgess is Group Managing Director, Public Policy & Communications, at Telstra, where he is a member of the senior leadership team, and is responsible for public policy, regulatory affairs, government relations, media relations, corporate communications, and executive and business unit services.

Business Asia provides you with an edited transcript of a speech he delivered earlier this year to the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) in Canberra on his experiences as a student of governance working in the academy and as a practitioner or clinician of the same working in the US, East Asia, Europe and Australia, and his observations about the key differences between the political cultures of the US and Australia as they relate to public policy making.

The two cultures of business and government

For a long time I have been fascinated by the decision-making environments of public administration and business administration. I believe the differences are much more important than the similarities.

These differences are many. For example:

1. Goal setting in the enterprise sector--to delight customers and reward shareholders--is relatively narrow compared to the comprehensive "public interest" objectives pursued by government.

2. Enterprise sector leaders almost always enjoy the support and encouragement of their policy board. By contrast, public sector leaders are nearly always opposed by a vocal segment of their policy board--the legislature--which tries to embarrass, trip up or otherwise undermine the authority and standing of the leader.

3. Enterprise leaders have enormous control over the decision process--the who, what, when, and how of decision-making. The CEO can decide who will participate on what issues at what time in what arena. Public sectors leaders do not have this kind of control. [1]

4. Enterprise leaders have substantial control over staffing and other "factors of production"; public sectors leaders are much more constrained in the hiring, sacking, and assignment of people.

As a result of these differences, there is a lot of room for misunderstanding between the wealth-creating institutions of society and the institutions of government. It is often difficult for the CEO and his enterprise leadership to understand and take account of the fact that the public sector leader typically needs:

* a public interest rationale (i.e., "cover" or an inspired or "creative" explanation) for doing something that involves or benefits the enterprise sector--because everything is public, the mission of the public sector is the public interest, and the public is often skeptical (not without reason) of government-business relationships. [2]

* time--because public leaders need to make sure key stakeholders are on board. This is a process that takes time, especially when some have a formal or informal "veto" power.

* occasions for decision (or decision situations) that bring distributed benefits (what the game theorist calls "side-payments") for relevant stakeholders--because the building and maintenance of coalitions require benefits (what the game theorist calls "pay-offs") for everyone participating in the winning coalition.

These decision making needs of the public manager--for a public interest rationale, time, and a distributed benefits to players beyond the buyer and the seller--are not a typical consideration to the "let's do it now" orientation of most enterprise leaders who value results and often devalue or don't understand process requirements of coalition building.

Therefore, we should not be surprised that the two sectors sometimes find themselves on a collision course--and occasionally even collide, usually with a loud crash, when it happens. And we should also not be surprised that the two cultures often find it hard to cooperate.

The two cultures of the enterprise sector and the government will never be totally comfortable with the other. Nor should they be. They have different missions and a different modus operandi. Instead they should make things work in the context of a healthy tension.


The public order and the civic order

But let's look more deeply at the public policymaking equation in a democracy--one that involves a relationship between:

* the public order--which includes government and other public authorities (legislative, executive, judicial, and quasi-judicial regulatory agencies) at every level, and

* the civic order--which includes the private or enterprise sector (e.g., business enterprises) as well as voluntary and non-profit organizations such as neighbourhoods, sports clubs, peak industry associations, think tanks, service clubs, churches, mosques, synagogues, centres for the performing arts, museums and other cultural resources indeed, all the things voluntary associations do.

A strong civic order is a key element of a healthy and resilient democracy. The enterprise sector is a key element of the civic sector--not the least because it is the primary wealth-producing segment of society. Hence the domination of one over the other--in either direction is not good for democratic governance, and we should all work to keep the relationships in balance.

In my view that relationship is out of balance in Australia, where the public order dominates the civic order through agenda-setting, money, and expectations.

The political cultures of the US and Australia

I have been in Australia for 34 months, having arrived in Sydney on 4 July 2005 expecting to stay only a month or perhaps two at the outside.

The first question people typically ask is, "How do you like it here--or what do you like most about Australia?" That's easy.

* The people--the upbeat, curious, welcoming, and the down-to earth character of the people,

* The dominant values--like "mateship", "a fair go", and a willingness to call "rubbish" for what it is; the "no worries" spirit that embodies a forgiving temperament and gives people a lot of latitude; the "good onya" that encourages, heartens, gives confidence and shows appreciation; and the whole concept of "stuffing it" that shows an ability to impose standards without disparagement; and

* The breath-taking natural resources the land, the flora and fauna, the coastal waters and ... the mines. I love mines ... especially open pit mines.

Invariably, the second question people ask is, "What has been your biggest surprise since arriving here?"

I have to say the media haven't been a surprise. I have spent most of my professional life in public positions so playing the role of the spear carrier--with the spears sometimes in my back is something I'm used to.

Nor have I been surprised by the politics. For 15 years, during the academic part of my career, I taught comparative politics. We always covered the various forms of parliamentary government, including the Westminster system practiced in the UK and throughout most of the Commonwealth.

Put another way, I understand very well the differences between the presidential system of the US and the parliamentary system of Australia--and I especially understand how the "fusion of powers" in the parliamentary system concentrates enormous power in the hands of a minister. That is very different from the US. [3]

Now, let me turn to the "roughness" of politics in Australia, I was not surprised because we have a saying where I come from that "politics ain't beanbag." I've learned that is also the case here. I think politics is rough everywhere--and, in a way, it should be. After all, a lot is at stake. [4] So even though there are differences, the media and the politics have not been a surprise.

However, there have been two other surprises.

First, I have been surprised by the lack of interest in real dialogue and debate by public authorities--regulators, elected official, and public servants--with the industry on matters that extend beyond laws and regulations.

The lack of dialogue between government and business is not ever a healthy situation--but especially not in a sector characterized by intense global competition and rapid technological change.

My view is different: When people disagree, we should welcome argument and seek to resolve it, relying as much as possible on facts, data, and reason pushing emotion and prejudice as much as possible into the background. That way, more times than not, we will reach the right decision. And if we don't, we fix it.

There was a second surprise. I was gobsmacked by the timidity of civic leadership and the lack of robust civic institutions.

Put another way, I am most surprised that think tanks, peak industry groups and other nongovernmental organizations are not more assertive about the work they do addressing many of the critical issues of the day.

Many of these issue areas, where decisions will have an impact for generations to come, are too important to be left to governments. They deserve broad public dialogue that is both civil and informed.

I believe that democratic societies are stronger when the civic order can challenge the public order.

The civic order must provide venues where serious people can come together to investigate and discuss issues of national importance around the rule of reason informed by facts and data.
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE; Telstra Corporation Ltd.'s Phil Burgess
Comment:'The two cultures re-examined: a perspective on leadership and policy management in business and government'.(BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE)(Telstra Corporation Ltd.'s Phil Burgess)
Publication:Business Asia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2008
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