Interview with 2019 Keynote Speaker Leonard Brody, Business and Technology Visionary

We're looking forward to hearing from Leonard Brody, our Monday morning keynote speaker at the 2019 Annual Conference.

Oct 18, 2019 | ARTICLE

Leonard Brody has been recognized as one of the top 30 management thinkers in the world. He has also been called “a controversial leader of the new world order.” We were eager to chat with him before the conference to hear how his message translates to local government management.

You’ve talked about the importance of empowering the workforce for the future of work in an automated world. How do you feel that translates to local government—both within the United States and around the world?

I believe that governments at all levels are functionally in place to serve the needs of their constituents. Seems simple, but it is very hard to execute. If automation allows for better understanding of those needs, along with better delivery, it is in line ideologically. In addition, if it can allow employees in the public sector to be put to higher value purpose, even better.

Local governments know just as well as major corporations how uncertain times can affect every aspect of their work. You’ve spoken before about how organizations can “harness the uncertainty they’re faced with and turn it into excitement, innovation, and success.” How can local government approach this as well?

This is completely tied to output. Local governments have such close touch points with their constituents, it is imperative that they are consistently testing new products and mechanisms to connect and serve. That success is generated with a mentality around testing new forms of contact, service, and input.

How can your guidance about improving the customer experience be translated to local government and how they serve their residents?

This is very simple. It is rare for governments to treat their citizens as customers. It’s talked about a lot, but rarely done. This seems strange to me. If an elected office wants to stay there…it seems obvious that they need to focus on customer success. The first thing I would do is kill the ombudsperson position and hire a chief customer officer. That is a great first step to changing the tone.

How can local government managers use the principles from your book, The Great Re:write, to help make life better for the residents they serve?

I think this is about understanding that what we are living through now is both historically unique and not so unique. The best opportunity for governments at the local level is to ground themselves in the historical realities of where we are and use that as an opportunity to serve differently. It’s about having a framework. Arguably, most local governments are often firefighting and don’t have the luxury to think from a foundational perspective other than simple policy. I believe that is a mistake. Without a framework, you’re dealing with one problem to the next. The first step is revolutionizing customer input. If we can look at vehicles like digital pre-voting and sampling, there is a much better foundation.

ICMA as an association turned 105 this year. What should we take from such an enduring legacy?

To me, the most interesting lessons are from the organizations and companies that have survived multiple rewrites of our planet. We are living now in the fourth rewrite of Earth. There are huge lessons to be learned from those that have survived the others and embrace their collective best practices.

What are some issues to keep in mind as ICMA, and the local government profession, look toward the next 100 years?

I believe that the biggest issue is going to be handling the shift from human dominance to shared intelligence with machines. Ethics around that shift are going to be of massive concern to local governments. I think the second biggest issue at the municipal level will be affordable housing. As the world completely urbanizes in the next 50 years, it will lead to huge issues around people being able to sustain meaningful shelter. This will put great pressure on local governments. It’s time to prepare for that now through legislation and technical solutions.