When Rick Snyder officially takes office on January 1st 2011, he will inherit a $1.42 billion budget deficit, an economy that has lost over 600,000 jobs in the last eight years, a mess with the Michigan Business Tax and an electorate of angry, pessimistic and exhausted citizens. But it is what he will not inherit that may well be his saving grace. At the time of this writing, the final numbers are not in, but simply on term limits alone, there will be 81 new House members and 38 new Senate members. Incumbent losses will add to this number which means Snyder will come into a State government that will still be trying to figure out where the restrooms and copy machines are at the same time they are dealing with some of the most serious issues ever to face Michigan at one time.
Given that he has only until March 6th to submit a state budget, Snyder will need to start transitioning from one tough nerd to one tough teambuilder from the very beginning. Snyder's leadership skills will be much more important than his finance or law background during the transition. Specifically, Snyder will need to focus on four key areas:
Take Action Quickly: There will be a period of time where Snyder's biggest asset is that he isn't Granholm. He will have an opportunity, albeit a brief one, to use the momentum of his win to establish the direction of his administration and begin building his team. There are over 130 positions that he can appoint directly to lead his various departments and staff positions. He start making those decisions immediately and as transparently as possible. When January 1st arrives, Snyder should not only be ready to get started, but the public should be confident that he has his team in place.
Articulate a Vision of Hope: The "Reinvent Michigan" ten-point plan served the purpose of helping Snyder get elected. From the opening of his inauguration speech, Snyder should take this plan from a campaign pitch to a vision of the future that public can embrace. For the new governor to break the political gridlock and gain the support of the public, he has to be able to inspire us with his vision of the future. Which means (a) he has to have one and (b) he has to be willing to go all-in for it. The vision of the new Governor shouldn't be about reconciliation or compromise, although both of these will have to happen in order for any plan to work. But the MESSAGE has to be one of commitment and a sincere belief that the vision can be attained.
Build Coalitions and Momentum: Starting immediately, Snyder needs to become familiar with his new legislature, their needs and their positions. There will surely be those who refuse to collaborate, but if the new Governor avoids being distracted by partisan politics and focuses instead on enlisting the efforts of representatives and senators on all sides of the aisle, he stands a chance of moving his plan from the abstract to reality. The challenge is that many of these team members will come from factions of government that are designed to protect the status quo. While it will be impossible for Snyder to change Lansing on his own, he will also have to have the courage to move with those who want to follow. If he can build a significant coalition from the beginning, and begin making things happen quickly, it will be difficult to stay embroiled in partisan bickering
Support the Private Sector: Michigan politics have become stagnant in large part because the economic generators have been stymied by an entitlement mentality. As an executive and venture capitalist, Snyder will need to loosen the reins on entrepreneurship, not just through changes to the Michigan Business Tax but through his message of free enterprise and job creation. Snyder has an opportunity to exhibit leadership, not just to he politicians of Lansing, but to the business leaders of Michigan through his policies and through his initiatives. This means creating avenues to expand business in Michigan while at the same time holding the business community accountable for its impact on the state economy. His message of support will go a long way in encouraging investment in the state which makes his plan of responsible taxation even more appealing.
When Rick Snyder was a Gateway executive and later CEO, he became known for his ability to make things happen and make tough decisions. He proved that he could not only do what needed to be done, but that he could build a team that would execute on the hard decisions, and maintain the change to the point of making a difference. To be successful as Governor, Snyder will have to focus on leading change again and building the infrastructure and the momentum to move from talk to action.