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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...; 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we employ to run the processes that hire the terrible managers or configure the cubicles or procure the offensive and outdated technology in the first place.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
RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

[image credit: rob_moody]

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Tags: 2, tech


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Comment by Chris Poirier on July 27, 2011 at 10:19am
@Joe- Rational thinking?! ahhhhh!?!!?!!!!!! ;-)
Comment by Joe Flood on July 27, 2011 at 8:40am
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.
Comment by Brett Husbands on July 26, 2011 at 5:01pm
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.
Comment by Nicholas Charney on July 26, 2011 at 2:59pm

@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!

Comment by Julie Chase on July 26, 2011 at 1:57pm
"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".
Comment by Lori Windle on July 26, 2011 at 12:18pm


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...

Comment by Tracy Kerchkof on July 26, 2011 at 10:25am

@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 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.

Comment by Melissa O'Neal on July 26, 2011 at 9:55am
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. 
Comment by Chris Poirier on July 26, 2011 at 9:49am

@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! 

Comment by Dannielle Blumenthal on July 26, 2011 at 9:42am

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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