Sunday, December 4, 2011

So, You Think You Can Manage?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The readings for the last few weeks are refreshing. Both Kane’s Why Our Best Officers are Leaving and Stewart’s The Management Myth resonated with me. What I like is both “pop the bubble” of [dis-?] illusion, like saying, “Snap out of it, people!” Do I buy into every word hook, line and sinker? No, I do not. But I do admire people (writers, speakers, performers) who are willing to take the risk of describing their truth. The risk to Kane and Stewart is agitating those who are compelled to defend against the “truth”; the benefit is they get others talking and thinking. True, they are not the first to speak up on the topics – nor will they be the last – but they have and here we are.

Two of Kane’s statements stood out because I’ve observed comparable attitudes in the civilian (GS) force within the DoD. The first is “ . . . risk avoidance trickles down the chain of command”; such risk avoidance seeps sideways as well and “infects” the civilians. Despite having had support from service chiefs for a project, my civilian chain denied me the go-ahead because of an unnamed - understood by me to be – fear of senior leadership. Kane’s second statement is, “inefficient industrial practice . . . treats employees as if they are interchangeable commodities.” Only poor performing employees are interchangeable (and, to our collective misfortune, hard to disown). The top performers in the DoD, whether active duty or civilian, are indispensable. I have mourned the departure of such individuals from the organization (retirement, PCS, new job). All of their institutional knowledge, sense of history, and experience is out the door. It's a bona fide loss.

Earlier this year, before I joined the MHAP program at USUHS, I came across

this RAND report, now timely: Developing Military Health Care Leaders:

Insights from the Military, Civilian, and Government Sectors – part of the description: “Lessons learned in the civilian and government sectors hold importance for transforming the way in which MHS identifies and develops health care officers with high leadership potential for senior executive positions.”

The fellow who administers the website (he uses a pseudonym) thinks that Kane is full of it, that’s it’s been said and written before, and that such articles [as Kane’s] make those who do stay look bad:

Stewart, the one with a degree in German philosophy who ended up as a management consultant, can, with credibility, declare management theory sparse in novel ideas. He had over 20 years in the profession and witnessed the field pass from one trend to another, and from one speaker of the year to another; each claimed to have “the” model of all models, and each, ultimately was like any other. Whereas, he writes, "Almost everything you need to know to succeed must be learned on the job; for the rest, you should consider whether it might have been acquired with less time and at less expense."

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