I enjoyed Steve Radick's blog post on Govloop about implementing the Plain Writing Act.   Steve speculates that it will take years (actually, he says “decades) to implement the Act.  He gives several reasons, and they’re all good. 

I’ve read a number of opinion pieces about the new CustomerService Executive Order, saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah – Clinton tried…Bush tried…what’s different now?”  Good question. 

The truth is this:  no one is gonna make you do the right thing for your customers.  

There are no OMB customer service police.  There won’t be any budget consequences if you don’t write so your customers can understand it the first time.  No programs will be cut or jobs lost.   Indeed - we’ve had these initiatives before.  We created plans.  We posted reports showing how we’d completed our plans.  No one cheated.  We did what we were asked to do.  We met the requirements.  But those requirements didn’t change anything.  These new ones won’t either.   Only YOU can do that.

Government employees can create change, when they are passionate enough and courageous enough to figure out the right thing and do it.   Just last week, Facebookers and Tweeters were all a-flutter about an extremely clever blog piece published by the Centers for Disease Control, Preparedness101: Zombie Apocalypse, written by Ali S. Khan.  There you have it:  a government employee in an agency willing to do something out of the ordinary, to serve their customers better.  They tried something new to get the public’s attention about being ready for emergencies…and it worked! Bravo to Ali Khan and the CDC. 

Other examples are everywhere.  Look at the government winners of the recent Clearmark PlainLanguage Awards (and use them as models!).   Look at some of the fantastic mobile apps popping up like “Ask Karen,” where you can get advice on food safety, whenever and wherever you are.  There is progress.  We can serve our customers better.

So here’s the thing.  It won’t be a law or an Executive Order that will create a culture of customer service in government.   YOU have to figure out the right things to do and then do them. 

You have to work together, across government…across governments.  You have to find others who share your vision and your passion.  You have to go to other agencies with similar or related customer tasks and figure out how to make it easier for customers to get great service across government, without having to know which agency provides it.  You have to help one another, share strategies, find ways around obstacles, and prop each other up when the going gets tough.  You have to be gutsy.  And when something works, you have to replicate it…again and again…until it’s common practice.  That’s how you change the culture. 

The law and the Executive Order are important.  They serve notice that Congress and the President care about great customer service.  But don’t limit your efforts to doing what they say to do.  That’s just a baseline.  Focus on their intent.  Seize the opportunity to change the culture. 

No one’s gonna make you do the right thing for your customers.  You’ll have to do that yourself.