Doing more with less is dead, this is about doing things differently

The old adage of doing more with less is the final vestige of those who fail to understand just how profoundly our society is changing. Someone should put a bullet in it, because quite frankly it needs to die.


Look at what is happening across the pond, the reality is that we can’t even afford to do more with less, we have to do things fundamentally differently; and that means re-imagining things from the ground up, and breaking out of old mental models.


Let’s start right now

We live and work in a knowledge economy, so let’s start acting like it. People entering the workforce today already own enabling technology, they already know how to collaborate with others, and use the social web to their advantage.

So why do we force them into cubicles, Windows 2000, and a heavily filtered internet connection (or worse no internet connection at all) when they’ve spent the last 4 years honing their skills in coffee shops, with Macbooks and wifi?

I can’t possibly be the only person out there who thinks that we are imposing structures on employees that fundamentally undermine their ability to perform; and as any management book will tell you under-performing employees are a burden.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg
Let’s stop to consider the money we spend on building the structure that undermines their performance in the first place. We hire ill equipped managers, force staff into cubicles they despise, give them hardline phones they don’t use, strap them with mobiles that are contrary to their tastes, and handcuff them to old PCs that take five minutes to boot up in the morning. Wait there is more, consider all the the people we employ to run the processes that hire the terrible managers or configure the cubicles or procure the offensive and outdated technology in the first place.


The overhead of agony alone is incredible

… and the fact that we continue to pay for it when we can no longer afford it tells me that we aren’t all that serious about doing things differently.

Someone prove me wrong, please.

Originally published by Nick Charney at cpsrenewal.ca

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31 Comments

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

Great post (as always) Nick! I agree 100%. We need to completely transform how we manage work in the future. Not only in terms of technology, but in location, work hours, and hierarchy. We need to streamline operations and hire innovative intrapreneurs to transform our organizations to deliver high-performance at a much lower cost.

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Terri Cooks

Wow this post is great! It’s beyond difficult to sell the idea to a budget strapped agency, that their is a benefit to getting up to date with it’s technology and management practices. As employees we are forced to wait until bad processes prove the need for improvement!

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Chris Poirier

I agree totally with the concept of under utilization of individuals in the current work force and that getting out of bed to commute 35 miles one way to sit in a cubicle all day long is in fact, not my image of perfection. However, harnessing the benefits of existing work flows, technology, etc is something that not only requires massive investment by the government sector, it also requires a complete change of principle.

I love innovation and the ability to think outside the box to resolve otherwise complicated issues such as resource constraints. However, it’s tenfold more difficult to apply such logically based thought process to that of government, or at least the Federal Government, as there are multiple policies, regulations, technology, etc issues to resolve any one being a major undertaking. Of course it always can be done, it’s just where do you start in eating this elephant. (no elephants were actually injured in the writing of this response.)

It would seem, at least from a Federal position, that making a jump into an agile environment would be difficult if not from just the cost perspective, a security perspective (..of course..though I agree this shouldn’t be an actual issue seeing as that’s what we have all those info security folks on board for is it not???), and culture. But, with technology budgets getting cut in the 20%, 30%, 40%, and upwards of 50% across multiple agencies going into the 2012 and 2013 budget cycles it is highly unlikely an agency will be procuring enough laptops, VPN, cloud, etc resources to become truly “mobile” and agile in their telework environments.

That being said, how do you truly do more with less if you can’t afford to buy “different”?”

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Dannielle Blumenthal

Agree. 3 implications on the ground:

1. Should be the default that we work remotely and only come in for meetings that require face to face interaction.

2. Pay should be based on demonstrated outcomes not hours logged.

3. Management should be limited to helping employees get work done, not doing the work oneself.

The security issues need addressing but no quick fix on this. Employees need internet and social media but secure networks can’t be left vulnerable. Maybe people should work on two machines, one secured to the work network and with risky internet connections firewalled out. Separately they get one that they have more discretion with, enabling collaboration, experimentation, etc.

Either way we do need to change a lot and rapidly. Between these 3 implementations of new-style work I think we would save money, boost productivity, and make the government workplace much more engaging.

Reality: we change voluntarily or we risk being overcome by events.

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Chris Poirier

@Dannielle-It may come as a surprise but I totally agree with you today! :-)

1.) Complicated, but not impossible, as stated don’t we have IT security experts for a reason? My point here is it’s time to start innovating on security so we can access the tools that would make our lives easier. Social media, web 2.0, and technology innovation has taken place, but security stood still..your turn security professionals, step up!

2.) Pay for performance, though a “dirty word” in government is the future. The up and coming generations (er..like me..) are pushed by the knowledge our work means something and we will be rewarded for that. (though some times its not monetary..)

3.) Completely agree, what we lack today is management and that is mostly because they are in the trenches doing the work side by side with employees simply to ensure its done right and gets out the door. This model earns respect, but does not provide strategic vision to organizations and that’s a problem.

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Bill Brantley

I agree that agencies need to work differently but I disagree with the argument that giving employees better technology is the only solution. To affect the necessary changes is going to take deep cultural change in our organizations. In fact, I would argue for deep cultural change in the K-12 educational system so that students are prepared to work in the new collaborative and networked workspace. The tools are necessary but they are not sufficient to bring about the change Nick advocates.

(Shameless plug for the Culture Change and Open Government group. :-) )

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Chris Poirier

Completely agree @Bill, however in the government sector tech is a huge part of this as well. Granting that culture is the huge boulder in the room that needs to be resolved and will take a lot of effort as well. Tech is so far behind in most of government (federal anyway) that upgrades across the board would be required simply to provide technical options to employees in order to take advantage of social options, etc. This combined with innovation upgrades and massive security infrastructure rework would not be a trivial task and would require capital budgeting across government to ensure success.

So, granted, culture is a huge issue, but getting baseline technology into the hands of early adopters is a short range, yet large undertaking that must be met. Otherwise, you have a culture changed work force and no technology to use. These topics are by no meas mutually exclusive.

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Mark Dixon

Couldn’t agree more…doing more with less is only valid in a narrow spectrum/context. Eventually, it becomes self-defeating…”reductio ad absurdum”. We have to get out of the box…thinking outside the box means you’re still in it.

To do so, we have to overcome incredible bureaucratic inertia. The old guard needs to retire and get out of the way. Demographics are your friend, as is technology, appropriately applied. Change is hard…read Machiavelli.

Security is not the problem. Security excuses and deflections are promulgated by those ignorant of the technology and fearful of change.

I am working on an IT architectural approach to consolidation and collaboration for local governments,

All 89K of them in the US. Just a tad redundant and archaic, don’t you think?

Maybe we need a grassroots revolution here.

Human beings don’t change until the pain is great enough…I guess we have not yet hit that point.

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Dannielle Blumenthal

Of course better technology isn’t the only solution and culture change is important but here is the problem – we are running out of time.

I’m not an economist by any means but clearly we (meaning we, the government) are spending money that we do not have on things people do not need and without any overarching agreement on what constitutes return on investment.

Generally I think the reason we’ve arrived at this point is that we aren’t operating in lock-step when it comes to defining the collective mission of government and mileposts that would indicate we are achieving it. Because nothing will satisfy everyone. So we keep postponing making tough decisions that would hurt in the beginning, but long-term make life easier and better.

Example: Some would say the mission of government is to achieve positive return on financial investment. Provide maximum service to the public at minimal cost – even provide greater value than the sum of the funding.

Others believe government should model a just society. Do so by creating a functional system that levels the playing field for those who are employed by and do business with the government.

Operating in a confused way is fine, I guess, as long as you can pay for it. But as stated above, we haven’t solved the nagging problem of how to operate in the black as opposed to the red.

Culture change takes eons. We don’t have eons.

I think the general consensus in the comments so far is that rather than being victims of change, we should proactively embrace it and move forward. Sometimes changing the technology can precipitate culture change too.

You are right, though, that the human factor can’t be ignored – and that given what we know now, we should be doing much more to equip kids for the realities of the future.

Such an important discussion.

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Chris Poirier

@mark- that was awesome..i teared up a bit..

But seriously, you are right and that is my point on security, security is an “excuse” not an actual problem.

Time to innovate and get back to work doing the best we can for the tax payers at the best value to everyone.

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Profile Photo Nicholas Charney

Also @Mark – its funny because the next post I am writing is exactly on the fact that if you are thinking outside the box you are still stuck in it … Now I’m going to quote you in it… =)

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Tracy Kerchkof

I completely agree with much of what has been said. And I agree with Bill that better technology will not alone solve the problem. I would go one step further to say that what Nick is talking about is first and foremost a cultural issue. Technology is best used to augment an organization’s existing capabilities, not as the driver for cultural change. Giving me a better computer and software to create web applications isn’t going to change the fact that management in my organization would rather spin up 2-3 web applications that do the exact same thing than even think about working with other offices in the same org to pool resources and consolidate the number of applications the organization as a whole must pay to maintain. We can’t afford it, but we continue to do it…usually until one application owner retires, and new blood comes in that is willing to work across organizational boundaries. As much as I do not like my work computer, I would rather see that attitude change than get a better computer. Something tells me that an organization that can see the value in working together would also see the value in providing better technology to their employees.

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Chris Poirier

I think people are still over focusing on the cultural issue simply because we all agree that it is the most complicated. (Agreed, it’s hard..we all get that..moving on.) Instead, I’m asking people to look at the world we operate in and remember the fact that not all problems are linear, in fact most of our problems in government are a multi-headed hydra (yeah, that’s heads off from heads people). My point about technology upgrades simply is stating that you can’t accomplish your goals with existing technology, so even if you manage to move the Earth and the Skies to change the culture, you would then not have the physical ability to enact such change because you wouldn’t have the ability to.

That being said, this approach must include both education and technology upgrades in a systematic approach as supposed to a linear approach. If the solution was easy, we would have done it already is the battle cry of those unwilling to tackle the entire issue. I fear we more and more hide behind the cultural change issue because the constant answer seems to always be, “let’s wait for them all to retire.” When if a combined approach was taken you use the process of education, upgrades, and experience to transition from point A to point B.

..slowly steps off soap box..

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Dannielle Blumenthal

Agreeing with Chris…but for a different reason: We are overfocusing on culture as a way of stalling for time.

It’s almost like we’re saying: “It’s too hard, the bureaucracy can’t change, because of CULTURE, you know, the big elephant in the room, I can’t do anything about that, poor me.” (awww…)

I hate to be this harsh but – nobody cares how government culture works! In fact to say that the public is annoyed is putting it mildly. When the economy is tanking there is a more intense focus than ever on where money is being spent and a greater likelihood than ever that people will think the government is “wasteful.”

We need to show that we get it, we are on top of our game, we will find the waste and eliminate. Or we seriously risk that others will step in and do it for us.

In short – stop the bleeding! Working in virtual teams, with unrestricted access to the information and collaboration tools you need, helps you to stay on task. Especially if you are rewarded for OUTCOMES and not outputs. Especially if your manager is rewarded for what they do to ensure their staff is delivering – rather than being pulled aside to do the work themselves (or re-do their staff’s work.)

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Bill Brantley

@Danielle – You put me in the rare position of actually having to disagree with you, Dannielle. I think we have a difference in how we define culture. I think you are equating culture with bureaucracy while my definition of culture is more expansive:

“There are many academic definitions for culture but for our purposes I prefer this simple definition: the way we do things around here. “We” come together in a defined group (eg. IBM, HUD, Star Trek fans) and in a defined boundary such as a department, office, or online community (“around here”). We develop methods, practices, policies, etc. (“way”) that govern the actions (“do”) members of the culture take in response to “things” (issues, events, etc.) that we face as a culture. Essentially, organizational culture is how we collectively solve the problems we face everyday in our work and life.”

Thus, it is vital that we actually focus on culture because your suggestions on how we should work are great ideas but they are also a type of culture too. We are immersed in cultures like fish are immersed in water. I think you make a good point in that people use the impossibility of cultural change as an excuse but, as I argued in a blog posting, cultural change is constantly happening but most of that change is in keeping from changing the culture. It is a frustrating paradox.

@Chris – Fully agree with your training and technology argument. As you so rightly observe, cultural change is not a linear problem but is more complicated than that. I argue that cultural change is a wicked problem in that the problem constantly changes as we attempt to solve or manage it. So, yes we need the technological capability but we also need the cultural capability. I am just arguing that we may need to start with the cultural change first and then bring in the tools when the people are ready to fully utilize them.

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Chris Poirier

@Bill – That is more or less my point, the timing of integrating the tech would be key to success. I’m still deciding what I think may be the best course of action.

I almost think a coordinated step approach is key. Step 1: cultural education etc, step 2: upgrade software, step 3: educaiton and so on.. so you are stepping each problem forward a piece at a time, that way you don’t overwhelm any one but still provide the tools and education

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Profile Photo Melissa O'Neal

Hey, I love my cubicle! And my landline phone!! And, no, I’m not over forty. I actually love technology and embrace change, but I also understand the value of coming into the office and having a workspace that allows me to limit distractions. If I had the option to telework, I wouldn’t want to take it. Being in the office allows me to connect face-to-face with my team members. Believe it or not, structure and boundaries, both physical and virtual, improve my efficiency which frees me for more challenging, creative work. I’m more concerned about what I percieve to be a culture of distraction. Sometimes focus and ability to attend to the task at hand gets little attention, but those who do it well really stand out. To be entirely honest, I don’t actually need social media or a smart phone to do my job and to do it well.

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Carol Davison

Nicholas, I agree with you. But it takes bold leadership to envision change, and then steer this aircraft carrier in a new direction. Hopefully as less funds are available it will force us to stop doing things no one wants done, streamlining other processes, and start producing what our tax paying customers want. I see generation next as pushing us in that direction. Of course, generation next part 2 will do the same with you, but that is a good thing!

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Dannielle Blumenthal

Wait a minute. Chris is agreeing with me and Bill isn’t? The universe must be turning on a really weird axis today!

Let me try to be clearer…maybe we agree more than we think.

As I understand it, Nick’s original point is that we are at a point in time when total, radical change in the government way-of-doing-things (as Bill aptly defines culture) is necessary. That culture, right now, is steeped in bureaucracy and so I equate the two.

Lots of factors contributing to this inflection point but the bottom line is: We’re here. So now what do we do?

To me the answer is: Get rid of everything that blocks productivity and promote whatever enhances it.

So if Melissa works better in the traditional environment – awesome! Keep going!

If I like to work virtually and come in for meetings as needed – let’s accommodate that!

If people are frustrated beyond belief because they can’t get to the websites they need – fix it!

Do whatever it takes is my message – no excuses – accommodate diversity in its broadest sense – get it done. Can’t wait for people to get a comfort level when we’re in crisis mode. And when our pay and benefits are up on the chopping block – and we are regularly slammed as lazy, useless time-wasters who don’t deserve the job security that we have – that is the definition of a crisis.

Enjoying the lively discussion.

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Chris Poirier

@Dannielle – heh, I told you it was weird! (I jest, it’s all good)

I like your point here, it really is about being all “agile up in here” (i’m not supposed to use corporate and/or burueacratic words am I?…doh..) Anyway, “Do whatever it takes is my message – no excuses – accommodate diversity in its broadest sense – get it done. Can’t wait for people to get a comfort level when we’re in crisis mode. And when our pay and benefits are up on the chopping block – and we are regularly slammed as lazy, useless time-wasters who don’t deserve the job security that we have – that is the definition of a crisis.” PERFECT!! and I think we see this is how private industry is innovating in the tech sector with their “relaxed offices”..create a blank slate, minimal rules, but one mission : GET’ER DONE! Managers being able to adapt to this style and make it work will be challenging, however is it really impossible?

..this reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, “if you have to crisis manage the status quo, you’ll never truly be able to manage the crisis when it does present itself.” It’s time to stop crisis managing day-to-day operations, take a deep breath, and step outside the box (..see i even tied us back into Nick’s point…)..and get to work!

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Profile Photo Melissa O'Neal

I’m going to go a step further and say that bureaucracy isn’t the problem. It’s just an organizational system and it actually has some value. The problem is first that we operate in a political environment with conflicting goals and difficulty prioritizing those goals and second that we operate under a requirement to balance efficiency with the rule of law. I’ve worked in organzations that took the approach that you could do your work however you wanted, whenever you wanted, so long as it was complete. It worked fine when there were clear objectives and performance standards (and when the actual employees were self-disciplined and motivated) but it wasn’t as wonderful as you might think. When it failed, it was much more difficult for someone else to step in and clean up the mess.

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Tracy Kerchkof

@Bill I agree with you completely. I am by no means arguing that we should “stall for time” because there is a cultural issue, I’m simply cautioning that you can’t ignore the cultural issue just because its “hard”. I’m currently living through this…my organization that thought technology would save them (in this case, moving thousands web pages from a static server into a webCMS, and moving content from an organizational focus to a topic focus in order to reduce web costs, standardize content and provide for a better user experience) but it ended up causing more turnover, more unhappiness and costing more than the static server because my organization had, and still doesn’t have, a structure to actually manage web content. In the end, we didn’t need a CMS, we needed to adopt processes that changed our web management “culture” away from “post it and forget it”. My org tried to use a CMS to force this, and now, everyone is blaming the CMS. The reason the web pages aren’t 508 compliant? It’s not because the contractor and the content owner have never had to learn 508 standards because they were never enforced before, it’s the CMS! We don’t need competent web staff that understands current web best practices and 508 standards, we need another, better CMS!

To me, doing things fundamentally differently is the definition of a culture change. There is no doubt that technology is part of the solution, but I caution the use of technology as a driver or a panacea. There also may be some confusion about what I define as culture…from my perspective, rewarding outcomes instead of outputs is a cultural change.

I think tools like 360 reviews for management especially, and reformed hiring policies and practices that help us to hire the right people for the right job will help more than giving the same, backwards thinking manager a mac.

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Lori Windle

Nicholas-

thanks for expressing what so many of us have been feeling! Being in the Western Region, for many years we have been the tech innovators, dragging an unwilling and unweildy headquarters screaming into the 20th and finally the 21st century! We actually had a debate just yesterday with HQ IT and communications on the hazards of using social media in government. yikes, that conversation is about four years old, and here we were debating again. We just want to move ahead and have been developing content to “put out there” and are being held hostage by cold war mentality in DC. BTW, I am over 60…

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Julie Chase

“Security” is the word when it comes to “technology”. At my agency, you cannot order, IT, Software, nor possess Adobe Professional for more than 2 licenses per dept., without killing a forest of trees, and drumming your fingers on your desk, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for “approvals” from from people you do not know 3 states away, who care less how long it takes. Yes, “approvals” to purchase additional IT and/or software. In my organization from “start” to finish”, it takes exactly 6 months to order & recieve a laptop computer. When I ask, “Why”, I am told “security” reasons due to the acronym order dated March 2003. I say “acronym order”, because that is how our agency is run. I did have the audacity to ask to “see” the order that states I must order “technology” (this includes everything from a cell phone to a digital camera) and was told “oh that’s classified”. GovLoopers….I can’t see you on my work computer, you are BLOCKED. Yes, Nick, it does take a little over 5 minutes to boot up my computer & for Windows XP to sing it’s tune. Sadly, I doubt any of Nicks ideas, though wonderful and a welcome change will work in any of the DoD agencies. The Cold War, is alive and well here. Consider yourselves lucky that social media and writing with different color crayons is allowed where you all work. One of our goals was to get wireless technology for our technicians on the floor (WG’s). We were told, “no wireless”, period. After awhile, I just got used to “the way we always do it”.

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Profile Photo Nicholas Charney

@Danielle and Chris – I completely agree that the focus should be agility and flexibility, allow people to work where and how they want, and scale back the money we spend on overhead as the dust settles.

@Melissa I’m totally ok with needing to come into the office, personally I stay out of it when I want to hammer something out, or when I want to be creative, my office is where I go to be distracted and interact w/others.

@Julie – sorry about the 5 minute boot up, I think in many places (at least up here in Canada) security is actually a red herring, been meaning to write more about that too.

@Lori – Regions are often ahead of the game but have to hold back due to a slower moving centre its the same in most places, and its so sad. Oh and attitude beats age any day of the week!

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Brett Husbands

There needs to be some institutional driver to cause change that affects those most senior in power. How can we game the system to celebrate the change makers? Who measures the quality of working practices objectively? We need a scoreboard for people to be able to say “I work for the best agency” the same way we have sunlight review to measure openness in the US, and annual best website competitions, but for enlightened management.

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Joe Flood

Rework is an excellent book on this subject – it’s by 37Signals, an influential web software company. It advocates turning work on its head and allowing humans to decide what works best for them. So much of contemporary work culture (endless meetings, long commutes, cubicles) is just absurd and counter-productive if looked at rationally.

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