Decisions within US Congress: How Human Resource Management principles can help

What is the Issue?

Oftentimes, decisions within the US Congress are not made in a straightforward, transparent manner. Although elected Congressmen and Congresswomen are representatives of their respective constituencies, multiple external factors influence their decisions. Corporate lobbies are a major external factor intruding on the democratic foundation of the Congress. Likewise, political ideology, as in staunch conservatism or liberalism can play a key role in the decision making process. As the text by Denhardt et. al. suggests, applying Organizational Behavior theories to the working of Congress can help get to the root of the issues. One can then proceed in designing strategies for countering the issues.

Strategies to ‘fix’ the issues

Denhardt et al is show how ‘the power of vision’ is the precursor for the smooth functioning of organizations – be it private, public or non-profit. (p.26) The US Congress will thus have to envision an ideal and noble goal for itself. Or, at least, it should renew its commitment to its raison d’être as conceived in the Constitution. After envisioning an ideal goal, the attendant steps of self-assessment and increasing self-knowledge can be adopted. (p.36)

Often, the US Congress suffers from its ossified ways of functioning, whereby law is always playing catch-up with loopholes in civic order. As Denhardt et al propose in Chapter 3, ‘fostering creativity’ can revitalize an organization and its work culture. In the case of the Congress, it can modernize itself by creating a challenging work environment, encouraging supervision, managing workload pressures and resources, and creating positive emotions among teams (committees). (p.73) This can be achieved through techniques such as Matrix Analysis, Synectics, Mindmapping and Design Thinking. Although Congressmen and Congresswomen might be reluctant to try these novel initiatives in the beginning, they will eventually come around to seeing their enormous benefits for the decision making process.

A generic stress-reduction program is also the need of the hour, for the highly combative and high-stakes environment of the US Congress can exhaust people mentally. Congresspersons can reduce their stress by making changes to their lifestyle, modifying their attitudes toward work, availing of social support programs and learning to regulate their emotions. They can also think about fine tuning work/life balance and seeking out job portfolios best suited to them. (p.107) All these little changes will have an enormous impact on the decision making process within the Congress.

The US Congress also needs to improve its ethical standards. Reconfiguring its decision making model is a good strategy to adopt. The existing Government Politics Model noted by Denhardt et al can be adapted to the particular requirements of the US Congress. (p. 137)

Rationale for the strategies

It goes without saying why a healthy and smoothly functioning Congress is good for all of us. Being one of the two houses of legislature, the Congress is a vital institution for the nation. The Congress is not only mandated to carry forward the principles enshrined in the Constitution but also shape future policy directions for the country. The organizational mechanisms within this key institution will have to be streamlined and robust for it to fulfill these expectations. Since the laws passed by the Congress impact citizens and corporations alike, the decision making process will have to be made hassle free. The strategies suggested by Denhardt et al are very salient in this regard.

Denhardt, R. Denhardt, J. & Aristigueta. M, Managing Human Behavior in Public & Nonprofit Organizations, Sage Publications: USA, 3rd Edition, 2013.