Monday, June 30, 2014

The VA: Blame or Engagement

The biggest passive-aggressive tar-pat known to humanity!  That’s what Robert McDonald will face if Congress approves his appointment to the Veteran’s Administration.  I wish him and his P&G private sector background all the best; but I plead with him to listen and learn before he trusts those private sector instincts.

I started my career in the mid-70’s as an analyst in the central resource allocation agency in the Government of Canada.  One of our jobs was to instill and constantly upgrade the quality of management in the government.  Often we were led by “fresh thinking from the private sector.”  Almost as often we were let down.  The reality is that “public accountability ain’t private accountability.” 

Mr. McDonald knows that he will find a VA that is broken because of: insufficient resources; outdated infrastructure - primarily IT; and management controls that are a labyrinth embedded in concrete.

Hopefully Mr. McDonald doesn’t turn his sights on the employees.  There has already been bloodletting beyond Shinseki; managers have been fired and bonuses have been rescinded.  These actions may have been justified but the blame should end – it will not bring the open and trusting culture that is needed at this time.

In my experience employees don’t come to work saying, “I really want to screw up today.”  Most employees want to do a good job.  Even beating the tune of customer centricity is a needless act of management arrogance.  Employees want to serve customers; it’s the organizations that don’t let them.

I don’t have first hand knowledge of the VA but I’ve consulted to enough mega organizations to know that they develop lives of their own.  Lives that are often based in careerism, managing upward, and risk avoidance.  These cultures extract a heavy toll in human capital and customer service with their insatiable demands for reports and blind obedience to anachronistic controls.

Mr. McDonald needs the front line employees; they know the answers to the front line customer issues.  Engaging the front line will keep him out of the tar pit.

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