redline

redline

PARABLE OF THE BOILED FROG
by
Charlie Harris

"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."
Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

I wrote the following article with one purpose in mind: to attempt to stimulate some thought on the subjects of vision, leadership, strategic planning, and process knowledge. Undoubtedly, I will antagonize many people; I apologize in advance as such responses are not my desire. In addition, I have gradually felt a growing sense of frustration that we have not tried to keep up with what is happening around us. We seem to have an insulated mentality that constantly looks for ways that rationalize why the Coast Guard is "different" and that organizational science and methods don't apply to us. This frustration on my part is what has motivated me to try to leave some thought-provoking words behind as I walk out the door. Please indulge me.

INTRODUCTION:
There is a phenomenon in nature that if one puts a frog into a boiling pot of water that frog will jump out. However, if one puts a frog into a pot of water at room temperature and gradually raises the temperature of the water to boiling, the frog, oblivious to his circumstances, stays put and succumbs.

DISCUSSION:
I have watched with increasing concern as the Coast Guard swims blithely around in an ever-hotter pot of water, oblivious to the very real threats to our organizational survival. There is much compelling data that indicates an organization in trouble. In many cases, that data is very unpleasant. There are parallels in industry for what we are going through; indeed, there are companies that have failed - gone out of business - that have experienced the same sorts of internal trauma that the Coast Guard is experiencing right now. This is not simply a case of "decremental budgets" as cause for alarm. I am talking about the ability of the Coast Guard to deliver evermore effective goods and services in an evermore efficient manner to an evermore discriminating public. I am amazed that this threat is not considered very real; our people are all intelligent, highly motivated folks. Why then the disconnect? I've done extensive research on this topic and I have found that there are a variety of reasons, not the least of which is complacency.

CAUSE:
In "Leading Change", John Kotter makes a strong case for complacency as a large impediment to meaningful insight and therefore drive to change and adapt to emerging threats/markets/environments. One major factor that promotes complacency is "human nature, with its capacity for denial, especially if people are busy or stressed." Kotter states:

"...those who were relatively unaffected by complacency and thus concerned about the firms future were often lulled back into a false sense of security by senior managements "happy talk": Sure we have challenges but look at all that we’ve accomplished... People who were around during the 1960’s will remember a terrifying example of this: the many reports of how the United States was winning the war in Vietnam..."

In "Competing for The Future", Hamel and Prahalad write:

"...senior managers must first admit to themselves and their employees that they are less than fully in control of their company’s future....(when they fail to do that)... the urgent drives out the important; the future goes largely unexplored; and the capacity to act rather than the capacity to think and imagine, becomes the sole measure of leadership."

For us, actions taken in the name of efficiency have not panned out; organizational effectiveness has suffered and there is a reluctance on the part of secure, "successful" leaders to admit error. Indeed, mistakes are anathema to a CG officers psyche! Furthermore, as any of today’s spokesmen for management science will attest ( Peters, Hammer, Hamel, Bennis, Wheately, Crosby, etc.) individuals who have been rewarded by the existing organization are predisposed not to effect major change. Albert Einstein said it best: "No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it." Like Pavlov's dog, if one has pushed on the organizational bar for 20-30 years and received the organizational food pellet, he/she knows that doing "A" results in "B". Asking people who are psychologically incapable of effecting major transformation to do so is foolish and seeks an impossible state of nature. This is not an indictment of our people - it is a recognition of scientific cause-and-effect. I certainly suffer from this malady as much as any CG officer!

Hamel and Prahalad in "Competing For The Future" note that the majority of firms that engaged in "Downsizing" or "Rightsizing" in an effort to control costs are worse off today than when they started:

"Imagine a chief executive who, fully aware that if he or she doesn't make effective use of corporate resources someone else will be given the chance, launches a tough program to improve return on investment. Now ROI (or RONA, or ROCE, and so forth) has two components: a numerator - net income - and a denominator - investments, net assets or capital employed. (In a service industry a more appropriate denominator might be head count.) Managers throughout our not-so-hypothetical firm also know that raising net income is likely to be a harder slog than cutting assets and headcount. To grow the numerator, top management must have a point of view about where the new opportunities lie, must be able to anticipate changing customer needs, must have invested preemptively in building new competencies, and so on. So under intense pressure for a quick ROI improvement, executives reach for the lever that will bring the quickest, surest improvement in ROI - the denominator. To cut the denominator, top management doesn't need much more than a red pencil. Thus the obsession with denomination.... Restructuring seldom results in fundamental improvement in the business. One study of 16 US companies with at least three years of restructuring experience found that though restructuring usually did improve a firms share price, the improvement was almost always temporary. Three years into restructuring, the share prices of the companies surveyed were, on average, lagging even further behind index growth rates than they had been when the restructuring began....Downsizing, the equivalent of corporate anorexia, can make a company thinner; it doesn't necessarily make it healthier."

In the Sunday February 9, 1997 Washington Post, an article in the business section stated:

"...Now that they’ve chopped away millions of jobs in moves to lower their costs, US companies are finding themselves short-staffed and suffering because of it. That’s the finding of the William Olsten Center, an organization that’s affiliated with the Olsten Corp., an employment company. The center said it surveyed executives at 640 firms, and found that 52 percent expect to be understaffed this year. Eighty-six percent of the respondents said there is more stress at their firms because of short staffing, and 48 percent said their companies are having a harder time meeting deadlines. Thirty-eight percent said their customer service levels have declined as a result of job cuts."

Thus simple payroll reduction (i.e. treating employees as costs instead of investments) is probably more harmful to an organizations well-being than originally thought and probably speaks eloquently to an organizations lack of effective strategic planning.

From my personal perspective, my recent tour in the "Streamlined" Headquarters was, in a word, disheartening. We were so overcome with "firefighting" that we had no time to achieve any forward-looking efficiencies. Our staff was literally consumed with fighting off efforts by functional entities who had parochial interests to pursue that would have caused even greater inefficiencies and non value-added workload. These interests were not diabolical; they were only pursuing what had been passed down by an evermore disconnected, isolated senior staff. For example, we were told by the financial folks that we were to all use Oracle software for capturing our financial data. We attempted to counter with the argument that they should first define their requirements and then we would use the most appropriate system to accommodate those requirements. However, those efforts were not considered and we are still en route on a questionable journey to "one size fits all" IT systems. Other examples abound: we still struggle today with "hardware in search of a requirement" such as the RU-38 aircraft, the HU-25 aircraft, etc., etc. Indeed, many years ago as we were getting ready to replace the HU-16 with the Medium Range Search (MRS) aircraft, a very wise lieutenant told me that before we replace the HU-16 we probably ought to define what the HU-16 did. We didn't and now we have struggled to find a home for the Falcon ever since. Even as I write this efforts are underway to "get some UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles)" and "V-22 is the best thing since beer in a can." In my perfect world, my ops buds would tell me the outcome they are trying to effect: "I want to be able to have constant, covert surveillance coverage at area X, etc." They would then leave the room and let the support/acquisition managers solve that functional requirement problem. They would not be allowed to stick around and tell me they wanted system Z or aircraft Y. That’s my job; maybe balloons would work better - who knows?

DATA POINTS: One way to combat complacency (and to transform the organization into one that is prepared to meet the future in a proactive vice reactive mode) is to recognize data - signals - that the organization is transmitting. However, we must be intellectually honest in considering the data, not actively seeking reasons to discredit the data or the messenger! Consider some compelling data that we are choosing to ignore:

Gilbert I, II: The concept of looking at organization charts, seeing where there are redundant functions and then centralizing those functions is fundamentally flawed. Today's successful businesses are actively de-centralizing into relatively autonomous business units. If you review some of the old critiques of Gilbert I, there is a comment from a long-since retired 0-6 who remarked that not much was accomplished by Gilbert I except to offer some flag positions not previously available. I would offer that the next step of Gilbert II only exacerbated the problems of Gilbert I.

Streamlining: Streamlining was doomed from the start. It was a body harvest, plain and simple. In my early conversations with the team, I asked why processes weren’t examined to see where inter-functional transactions were the highest and then co-locate those functions into business units. The answer was always: There isn't time. What occurred instead was that intra-functional transactions were analyzed and co-located under the specious logic of economies of scale. Such models completely miss the requirement to analyze business processes - processes that might include many functions that are now only available remotely (pay, legal, supply, telecommunications, personnel, etc.). The sad truth to this is that the resources needing to be surrendered were available, the workload could have been simultaneously reduced, and the workforce could have been actively engaged in effecting change. Once again, the wrong people were designated change agents. However, they did their very best.

Workforce Cultural Audit (WCA): An old friend of mine once said that you shouldn't ask the doctor if you don't want the doctors advice. In the case of the WCA, I have received briefings from folks who were very sincere in their premise that we were not massaging the data prior to its release to the rank-and-file. If that were true, I asked, why then wasn't the data being released? I was told that that was a tough question but that the data might be misinterpreted and that the flag corps wanted a chance to prioritize efforts based on the reduced data. Fair enough except for one thing: those who were the architects of the organizational structures that caused the disaffection of the employees were now assuming the role of change agents. This, remember, is an impossible state of nature. The problem with the data was explained. For example, 60% of the workforce liked their supervisors. Well, that could be misinterpreted to 40% hate their supervisors. In another case, 80% of the workforce said they were proud of the fact that they worked for the Coast Guard; again, that could be construed that 20% hated the Coast Guard. I submit that we blew it; at the very least we could have reduced the data to an A-B-C-D-F grade scale to give the rank and file an assessment of how our internal audit came out. Now we have the very real PERCEPTION that the data is being managed. Remember, if you are managing the data then people will think you are managing the data! If one of our warts is that rank and file don't trust us, how is that problem mitigated by withholding the information that says that? I had experience doing customer surveys and accepting the very painful truth that the data showed. However, what worked was first laying the data out in front of all the troops, engaging in a very lively debate as to what it meant and then seeking organization-wide solutions to those problems. One thing we were warned about very early by the union officials was not to hide the data - it would promote more of the very distrust we were trying to eliminate.

Now I know the nature of many of our senior leaders and I can say without reservation that they are good, honest, intelligent people; their integrity is above reproach. How then do we find ourselves the victims of such personalized attacks such as a lack of trust, not listening, etc.? The answer of course lies in the dysfunctional processes that have grown up around us and our predilection toward maintaining the status quo; i.e. the boiling frog!

EFFECT: There are likewise many data points that I call effects; behaviors that the organization has literally designed in through faulty logic, subjective or capricious decision-making, or (usually) from a specific, functional (stovepipe) bias:

Work Ethic; i.e. "Weekend Warrior": CG HQTRS is a great place to observe the negative aspects of behavior engineering. Watching several hundred uninspired people arrive in the dark each morning, go through the motions of work with little concern over customer satisfaction or cycle time, race for the door at quitting time and then magically transform into inspired, energetic members of society when they are working on what they love after hours or on weekends is educational. One wonders why we can't have that same level of involvement at work. I submit that these people did not arrive at CG HQTRS discouraged but were made that way by the stultifying, functional, stove-piped, non-value added processes they are forced to work in.

Sea Duty: I have observed with interest the ongoing debate about enticing people to seek sea duty. This discussion is peppered with comments referring to the travesty of being a sea-going service and having to bribe people to go to sea. That argument misses the point. I served at sea a long time ago on Ocean Station Patrol - a more pointless exercise I could not have designed! As a lowly Ensign I wondered why we were doing what had long ago been outmoded by technology. I think at that point I started to vaguely understand the concept of Job Satisfaction. In the case of the seagoing problem, trying to solve the seagoing incentive with monetary rewards - including points on SWEs - will only Band-Aid the problem. We will then have a totally entrepreneurial workforce instead of one dedicated to the higher-order self-actualizing rewards of job satisfaction. The concept of money as a satisfier and not a motivator is not a new one; yet we continue to use money as the inappropriate lever. Interestingly enough, there are pockets of intense satisfaction with certain sea-going units; is the element of "visionary leadership" at work there? Are the job metrics clear, obvious, and real-time? Do those COs understand the need to articulate the outcome as opposed to driving for output?

High Year Tenure: The need for upward mobility in a military organization is accepted. However, HYT, by taking a vertical slice through the organization (i.e. E-9 through E-4) simultaneously caused us to lose experienced junior people and then turn right around and train new enlisted folks at "A" school to replace them. The result: spending more to get a less-experienced workforce. The question asked me by my junior enlisted troops was: "What kind of business decision is that?" By taking a HYT cut on E-9s first, shuffling the ranks, then cutting on HYT for E-9 and E-8, shuffling the ranks, and so on, we could have achieved our upward mobility goals and insured a better allocation of training investment. However, some senior interests protected their ranks at the expense of those who could not fight back. The point was not lost on our people.

Early 0-6 Continuation: At the risk of sounding like sour grapes, the recent (August 1996) combining of two 0-6 year groups for continuation could have been prevented several years ago. The recommendation made then to senior leadership was that 50% continuation rates be implemented. However, that recommendation was turned down on the subjective logic that we would lose too many senior managers. Move ahead to 1996; now we combine two year groups and eliminate 45 0-6s at one swoop. My point is this: by listening to data, we could have reached our goal in a measured fashion instead of reacting in virtual panic to a numbers situation that was no longer tenable. Indeed, I was notified of the plan to combine year groups on 15 May 1996, two weeks before my movers were to show up! Sure seemed like a "house-on-fire" scenario to me! I even got a letter from the HQTRS telling me it was OK to make "alternative career plans" in lieu of my orders! Reactive management?

REMEDIATION: There is hope. One of the inspiring things about this home-grown research effort of mine has been the discovery of many exciting, innovative initiatives to attack the very problems of organizational leadership and management described herein. I have had the unique opportunity, in the course of attempting to "Reengineer" (an abused word) the Aircraft Repair and Supply Center, to work with some cutting edge minds in the field of management science. There are wonderful examples of what can happen when old paradigms are shattered and subject matter experts/front line workers are truly empowered. We benchmarked with numerous private sector and government agencies. In addition, we participated in the Lean Aircraft Initiative with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the New England Suppliers Institute. One model that is easy to understand and focus in on is the Lean Enterprise Model as developed by the MIT. I will not bore you with the details of the LEMs history except to say it was rooted in the study of how Toyota changed the automobile industry. MIT has developed a model that captures the inter-connectivity of organizations using a measurement- and outcome-based approach. There is a logical cascade of items that will force organizations to be process-focused and outcome-based as opposed to the traditional functional hierarchy. For the sake of this article and in the interests of brevity, lets focus on what our organization needs to be about.

Customers: We need to begin our journey by first establishing exactly who our customers are. This simple task is one that is studiously overlooked, particularly by our HQTRS elements. Customers are different depending on where in the organization one is. For example, the Commandant might consider the American taxpayer his customer with SECDOT and Congress two stakeholders. The engineering officer at an airstation would most likely consider his operations officer his customer. Likewise, the EO on a cutter would likely consider the CO his customer; there are subtle differences in how airstations and floating units work. In the case of HQTRS, I challenge elements like CPA and CPM to consider who their customers are. The answers might be situational depending on the transaction. For example, if G-A is required to obtain new hardware at the behest of the Commandant, is not CPAs role one of marshaling the necessary resources to support that? My experience has been just the opposite. With no trust and no data, CPA generally runs roughshod over program managers budget requirements. By considering that there is a service to be provided to the program manager, there might be more partnering and fewer adversarial relationships.

A better way to illustrate this is to consider Tom Peters view: Look at what you do and if someone needed to buy your service, would they do so? If the answer is no, you should be doing something else! I can hear the sound of the rationalization wagons circling already! Were different; what about our oversight role, what abut congressional scrutiny, what if bad news gets in the Washington Post? The very best counter to that argument I have come across is one put forth by Warren Bennis in "The 21st Century Organization":

"In most organizations, each transaction has its own responsible person and department as well as unique work methods and ways to measure performance. Each transaction is designed around certain assumptions, standards, and strict accounting and management controls that create an enormous number of exceptions. The exceptions necessitate special rules for handling, which then drive the need for more standards, more procedures, more controls, and more personnel - all of which require more organizational layerssomehow the voice of the customer usually gets lost. When it is heard, it is ignored, diluted by the organization, or misinterpreted. Service and the trading relationship become secondary; the perpetuation of the organizations model primary."

If we stopped fretting about the externalities (relatively uncontrollable or unmanageable) and instead focused on who our customers are and what our competencies are, perhaps the Washington Post would lose interest in our errors.

Processes: We next need to consider what our goods and services are and then what processes we use to deliver them. For example, we enforce laws and treaties, we serve as a safety at sea enterprise, and we oversee maritime shipping. I'm not articulating these too well; the major point is that we should attempt to "roll up" the "whats" into as few high-level items as possible. We can then easily cascade down the more functional sub-elements (like SAR, LE, International Ice Patrol, etc.) into linked businesses that are not at cross-purposes with other elements of the CG. This process will, by necessity, force us to abandon the specious concept of "economies of scale" when it comes to support elements. We will be forced to quantitatively apply those support elements where they will do the most good.

Strategic Vision: Once we have defined and refined our processes, eliminating as much non-value added activity as possible, we can then go to the next step of building a coherent strategy for the future. I must emphasize that this strategy must be process- and outcome-focused. It must also be clear and meaningful to everyone in the organization. In other words, for it to really work, people must believe it. Kotter writes of imagining three groups of people in a park under threatening skies: The leader of the first group says "Follow me!" After he walks a few steps he turns and seeing few people following him, yells "I said follow me NOW!" The leader of the second group says "We need to leave this area. Please pick up all your personal belongings, form up in groups of two, and keeping in step, follow me over to that apple tree, being careful not to talk or be out of step." The leader of the third group says "It is going to rain. We need to leave this area at once. Please follow me over to that apple tree where there is shelter."

This little anecdote illustrates methods often employed by organizations to effect change. The first method, Authoritarian, rarely works well even in simple examples, like the apple tree. It never works in complex organizations. The second method, Micromanagement, is likewise used for changing organizations. In most cases, micromanagement is used to change ("Tweak") existing organizations, not to create transformation. Kotter writes: "Only the methodology used in the third example has the potential to break through all the forces that support the status quo and to support the kinds of dramatic shifts found in successful transformations."

I submit that all of our historical "changes" of recent memory are of the second category: Micromanagement. By now an honest assessment of Gilbert I, Gilbert II and Streamlining show that value-added work was not optimized, layering was worsened and stovepiping is more widespread than ever before. My HQTRS telephone was a constant litany from disgruntled commanders about how hard it now was to perform even the most mundane of tasks.

The third Kotter scenario, Clear Vision, is a simple articulation of the need for action. It clearly ties desired outcome to existing state of nature and the vision to reach that outcome. I submit that our present vision does not galvanize the Coast Guard rank-and-file into action. Indeed, ask 25 random members of the Coast Guard what our vision is and I doubt any could describe it. That vision, lacking grass-roots buy-in at the most and senior management acceptance at the least, is not going to reap the sort of effectiveness required of a 21st century government agency. An attempt to straddle many horses creates a vision that is disjointed and tries to be all things to all people. The rank-and-file are very keen to that. For many years we had the key elements of a strategic vision in our motto: "Semper Paratus - Always Ready." We need to use that as our cornerstone for strategy; it certainly says more about how we do what we do than what we do. Furthermore, the somewhat nebulous Core Values of "Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty" are not better than what the old chief said so many years ago: "You have to go out, you don't have to come back." (Forgive me, George Krietmeyer.) That latter concept seems a lot clearer to me than trying to put a personal frame around the Core Values; there is no ambiguity about the stark reality of sacrifice implicit in trying to do your very best to take care of your fellow man. Action breeds enthusiasm. When we say: "Everything we do will be measured by the descriptor of 'Always Ready'", our members can rally around that flag. Those bureaucratic elements that refuse to recognize a leader-sponsored "Semper Paratus" will righteously be swept aside as they cling to a position counter to the culture of the organization. Right now, I fear that we have no rallying culture; we are a diffuse group of individual interest units that are together only because of budget appropriations! Trying to rally around "The premier maritime service" is too abstract for mobilizing effect. Being the premier responsive maritime service might be a little more helpful.

Michael Hammer writes of the new strategic plan for organizations being about processes rather than products. What does that mean? Well, what you do is less important than how you do it. Hammer uses the old chestnut of the buggy whip factory. Freshly minted MBAs can tell you that the Buggy Whip Company didn't know the market for buggy whips was gone and as a result the company went out of business. Hammer argues that such thinking misses the point. Our buggy whip factory forgot that its core processes or competencies were probably leather finishing or small lot manufacturing. If they had used that as the cornerstone for their strategic planning, then the buggy whip market is less relevant; they would have logically taken a broader look at potential customers for leather finishing, etc. In the case of the Coast Guard, the parallel is easy: "Always Ready". Our taxpayer customers want an agency that is always ready to do...whatever! Our organizational measurement system should be about those metrics that link directly to our core business processes: Readiness. Whether it is SAR, Law Enforcement, Environmental Protection, or Migrant Interdiction, what carries the day is our "Always Ready" core business. Therefore, when we are plotting our strategic plan, we should stop trying to be the Premier Maritime Service and focus instead on being the premier responsive maritime service. All supporting processes should then be measured against the higher order metrics of Customer Satisfaction, Cycle or Flow Time, Stakeholder Satisfaction, and Resource Utilization.

PROCESS-CENTERING OR PRODUCT ALIGNMENT:

We must seriously reconsider our mania for centralized functionality. No, let me go further than that; we must stop it! It is literally killing our workers innovation. The subjective argument that there are economies of scale in centralization of functionality must cease! Without any kind of data or metrics, and more importantly, no customer research, such arguments cause more harm than good. The stovepiping after Streamlining is far more severe than before. My observations of HQTRS service is that we now take much longer to do poorly what we used to take too long to do well. Having Program Managers rely on a centralized functional entity for resources, policy, etc. with no control over requirements satisfaction is paralysis. For a look at how we do things properly, look at how we prosecute SAR missions. Our efforts have always been to empower the On Scene Commander; the logic being that that individual is most knowledgeable. Why can't we carry the same logic to our support "missions"? Other organizations have done so with mind-boggling results. Indeed, I have met with business owners who have eliminated their Purchasing Departments! In some others, the suppliers - the contractors themselves - are resident at the company, managing their customers inventories and initiating purchases to meet demand on a just-in-time basis. Are these companies concerned about being ripped off? No, they have the necessary measures and data in the hands of front-line managers so that such actions would be immediately flagged. However, in the Coast Guard, we have a constant press by G-CPM to further consolidate procurement activity in HQTRS even though the data indicates that those efforts are 1/3 as efficient as those nearer the "point of sale".

Support Processes: There are numerous support processes that presently work in opposition to my concept of Always Ready. I am picking on some that are fairly obvious but rest assured there are literally hundreds more. For example:

G-CPM: This procurement policy shop is an entity that serves as the watchdog on our procurement and contracting shops. Their business is checking. As any disciple of Dr. Deming will attest, one cannot inspect in quality; one must go to the front end of the processes and design in quality. Thus G-CPM should be designing systems that will eliminate their raison d'ętre. That should be their goal. Right now business as usual is booming in CPM and that metric should be an indictment of how we do our business rather than something to be heralded as good activity! For example, I was recently given an outbrief by CPM as to some weaknesses in a support facility's small purchase area. Specifically, that facility appeared to be "splitting" procurements to, in CPMs words, avoid higher contracting thresholds. This, of course, is verboten! Instead of marshaling a new detailed audit team to go on a witch hunt (which did occur) why couldn't we realize that 1) workers are not predisposed to break the rules and 2) workers want desperately to get the job done. If we could accept those two premises, then logic would indicate that the policies or procedures or processes that those workers were laboring in were not allowing them to get the job done. Why not fix the process? Are the workers trained? Is the procedure understandable? Is it logical? Have we made a concerted effort to eliminate non-value-added activity? When we adopt the usual premise that workers are engaged in a conspiracy to trick-bag higher authority, the bureaucracy becomes something to be avoided, gamed or even ignored. Naturally, innovation is stifled, creativity is blunted and "dotting the i's and crossing the t's" becomes the new business mantra.

ORGANIZATIONAL SETUPS: In the case of the G-S organization (Assistant Commandant for Systems) I labored under a concept that I could not rationalize. For example, I assumed that G-S was about support and sustainment of our operational assets and infrastructure. All of our energies were to be focused in that direction. If that were so, I reasoned, wouldn't our organizational alignment match that? Nevertheless, the Logistics Directorate, Resource Directorate, Information Directorate, Telecommunication Directorate shared equal status with the Systems Engineering Directorate. The business entities - Naval Systems Support, Aeronautical Systems Support, and Civil or Infrastructure Systems Support were all subordinate to the support directorates that were in theory, there to serve the businesses! This lashup was counter to efficient business processes. In other words, we were able to sustain our products despite the organization not because of it.

INFORMATION MANAGEMENT: I was taught in graduate school that information in all of its forms was there to assist managers in making good business decisions. Accounting, for example, was defined as "Management Information". Nonetheless, I was struck by the "tail-wagging-the-dog" effect of how our information is now a separate business entity. The finance types are insisting on specific software across the board with no real concern as to what decisions are needed by front-line managers. As anyone who has tried to buy software for specific use can attest, the bureaucracy is formidable! Indeed, we are very successful at hindering workers from being efficient. All is not lost however. I must congratulate our folks for Standard Workstation III. It is a fine, user-oriented machine that allows the front-line worker considerable flexibility. What is instructive here is that the Microsoft Office applications are extremely useful to the majority of our folks. I think we can learn something from this in that those items are "state-of-the-market" as opposed to "state-of-the-art".

TRAINING: Our centralized management of training resources is counter-intuitive. If, in fact, training is viewed as an investment and not a cost, our treatment of it would be considerably different. In addition, training in the absence of job and task requirements knowledge is a total waste of time. How many of us during our careers have been involved with the unit training plan? What was it based on? I submit that in many cases our training plan was foisted off on the junior guy who then canvassed the population to see "What training people wanted." Sort of like the joining the softball team: "Who wants to go to T-56 school?" "Who wants to play third base?" In the aircraft maintenance business, new engineering initiatives (new test equipment, new maintenance procedures, new parts, etc.) usually have a training and education element attached to them. However, I had access to training only by going up my chain of command and then back down through the G-W chain. The financial and staffing resources that produced my training were centrally managed by G-W and their interests were not necessarily aligned with mine. I could not begin to capture the number of missed opportunities for improved productivity simply because we could not quickly engage our training resources. Indeed, we have created a culture that doesn't even consider the leverage factor that training provides - we look there as a last resort!

Of course, the perversions abound: I recently witnessed an email conversation between two HQTRS managers congratulating each other on the success of "centralized resource management" under Streamlining. The reason for the euphoria? Our quarterly carryover rates were very low. I submit that such a metric is appropriate if our higher order business is the spending of money! The hard truth is that things change: projects get realigned, difficulties emerge, new emergencies occur. When we establish a metric that rewards low carryover rates, well get low carryover! Of course well spend money on things we don't need to the detriment of those things we do need.

Tangible success for working level troops is essential for success. Eliminating billets and leaving the work to the disheartened few is action in opposition to the vision.

THE CLIMATE:

Government is becoming more and more competitive and ruthless every day. There are some pockets of government where this message has taken hold with a vengeance and they have used this situation to their advantage. For example, GSA representatives have visited me in my office in Aeronautical Engineering to inform me they could easily provide all the Information Technology contracting effort I might require. Indeed, they were apologizing for taking as long as eight weeks to secure a contract. I was dumbfounded when a similar action by the Coast Guard might take more than 12 months! I was prevented from using GSA only because of the strong lobby on the part of our organic contracting function - a position that will not survive the more competitive future. Incidentally, I asked our procurement policy folks what the metric was for a successful contracting officer and whether it included "Customer Satisfaction." The response: a weak line about having to implement metrics in the near future.

Outsourcing: I was engaged in an active effort to re-engineer around business processes while CO at the Aircraft Repair and Supply Center. My biggest impediment to change was, not surprisingly, complacency on the part of senior management. At one point I was asked why was I advocating such a disruptive effort when aviation support was the "benchmark" for the rest of the Coast Guard. My response: "If all the students are getting Fs and I'm getting a D, I'm uncomfortable being the class valedictorian!" The real initiative behind the Reengineering effort was to be able to have such good control of our core processes that we would be able to argue against outsourcing from a cost-effectiveness standpoint. I do not think for a moment that we are right now - aviation included - in such good control of our processes that we could sustain against an outsourcing bid from one of the top after-market suppliers should they turn up the political pressure to invade our businesses. Rest assured, given the shrinking defense business base, they will be knocking on our door. Moreover, the recent probes by congressional staffers to move our military positions into civilian positions under the guise of "military essentiality" is only a temporary thing; the next pressure will be to outsource those non-military positions.

Budget Cuts: We will be getting more budget cuts; the question is where will the money come from? There is some feeling that if Congress and the President decide to balance the budget, agencies will face 35% budget cuts! That is a terminal condition for the Coast Guard if we try to operate as we now do. Adding to this problem is the pending Deepwater Project with its estimates of $7-$12 Billion in recapitalization requirements. This would appear to me to be a non-starter; I have no trouble imagining a scenario where the Commandant is told by OMB that we’ve outlived our utility to the American taxpayer at those prices and we will simply wither away.

We must likewise discontinue our present system of measuring activity as a measure of success. In aviation we measure programmed flight hours. Woe be unto the commander who fails to fly 100% of Programmed. Indeed, until Admiral Kime stopped us, we used to get extra credit for flying over programmed hours! When I, as a support manager, complained I was told to be a team player! We also must spend 100% of our budgets or lose them next year. How are we supposed to reduce the national debt with this kind of perverse built-in behavior? I have heard senior leaders boast that no flight deck-equipped ship ever left port without a helicopter on board. This of course begs the question: Why? An idle asset, exposed to a harsh environment on the back of a ship which can't properly house the helo actually costs about 30% more per flight hour to use.

PEOPLE:
After reading Captain Turlo's letter in the June 1997 Bulletin, I have to add some comments about our approach to people. The present climate, verbalized by senior leaders, is that we can no longer promise a career to people coming in. I submit that such a philosophy is defeatist. We should be heading in the opposite direction; why don't we correct what ails our organization so that we CAN offer careers to high-caliber people? If we don't then we become the employer of last resort. In the words of Michael Hammer: "The first rats off the ship are the best swimmers!" Captain Turlo's letter addresses many concerns that a lot of us have been frustrated with; indeed, it seems that for the last four years our personnel efforts have been focused on discouraging people from staying regardless of their initiative. Check the data: were down something like 200 officers, aren't we? In Aeronautical Engineering we can no longer attract C-130 pilots to the field; they look at the airlines and look at uncertain career success in the Coast Guard and guess where they are headed? Ironically, our full-court press in the diversity arena was supposed to place us in a competitive position when we were competing in the workforce 2000 arena. If our general approach to personnel is opposite our specific approach to diversity, which is going to be more believable?

SUMMARY:
I have had to trim many pages from this rambling diatribe; even so, I fear my points will be lost in a hail of defensive attacks about "not having the big picture", etc. Please accept my apologies in advance if my comments have insulted any or all of you - that was not the intent. Instead, let us recognize that there are many organizations out there that we could learn from. Also, let us strive to have everyone in our organization have a clear understanding of who their customer is. When we have done that then we will be able to refine how we deliver our goods and services to those customers. Finally, when we take care of our existing business, we can then focus - as a strategic view - on how we do what we do rather than what we do. Thanks for your patience!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bennis, Warren, and Mische, Michael. The 21st Century Organization: Reinventing Through Reengineering. San Diego: Pfeiffer & Company, 1995
Bossert, James L. Quality Function Deployment: A Practitioner’s Approach. Milwaukee: ASQC Quality Press, 1991
Dean, Peter J. and others. Performance Engineering at Work. Batavia, Illinois: International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction, 1994
Deming, W. Edwards. Out of The Crisis. Cambridge, Mass: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1982
Hamel, Gary, and Prahalad, C.K. Competing for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1994
Hammer, Michael Beyond Reengineering. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996
Hoffman, Gerald M. The Technology Payoff: How to Profit with Empowered Workers in the Information Age. New York: Irwin Professional Publishing, 1994
Joiner, Brian L. Fourth Generation Management: The New Business Consciousness. New York: R.R. Donnelley and Sons, 1994
Kotter, John P. Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996
Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday, 1990
Walton, Mary. Deming Management at Work. New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1990
Wheatley, Margaret J. Leadership and the New Science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 1994
Womack, James P. and others. The Machine That Changed the World. New York: Macmillian Publishing Company, 1990

redline

Home Page ClassMates Links Scuttlebutt Professional Opinion Humor

redline


This page hosted by GeoCities Get your own Free Home Page

Page updated on February 25, 1998 © 1997-2006 Carl A. Swedberg

1