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Disturbing Case of Innovation Squashed by Change Resistant Organization

Fair Warning: The blog post below and associated information candidly depicts the manner in which an innovative change agent was sacrificed on the alter of maintaining the status quo. Recommend any change agents lacking a forceful personality turn back now. Failure to do so may lead you to question your ability to effect organizational change.

Last week, at the end of the USSTRATCOM Cyberspace Symposium, I wrote the following blog post over on my Posterous site:



Bob, why are you out of work? What happened?

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive lately is “Why are you out of work?” or “What happened?”

Today I decided to answer that publicly. It will save me, and prospective employers, a lot of time.

First, allow me to anticipate some follow on questions and proactively answer them.
Why are you sharing this
publicly?

Because everyone I know that read this thinks it is bizarre. Not a single person, other than those involved in drafting the letter, think it makes any sense.

Also, I’m sharing it because I have no regrets. I was doing my job in accordance with the
job description for which I was hired.

Are you not concerned that someone may NOT hire you because you are sharing this?

Frankly, if a company reads this and decides not to hire me because of it, then we have a WIN-WIN situation. They do not really want what I have to offer and, in turn, I really would not want to work for them. That saves everyone a lot of heartache.

Why did your supervisors not want you to perform the job for which you were hired?

Well, to fully understand the situation you need to read my full job description at http://www.subbob.com/myjob.html

On one occasion, referencing my job description, I asked my supervisor about the contrary guidance.

He responded something along the lines of, “Oh, you are reading that too literally. I’m not even sure
that’s the right job description. We just had to write it that way to justify a GS-13 position
.”

Why are you sharing this now?

Well, it’s been six weeks since this event. The day after receiving this letter I sent a note to senior Army leaders in my chain of command.

To date, I have not received any official response. Some say the “wheels turn slowly” in a situation like this.
That is very easy to say when you are not one without a paycheck.
Why
did you choose not to appeal?

I was a Federal employee in the probationary period. Although the grounds of my termination are
egregious, exaggerated (if not fabricated) and unfair, it does meet the EEO requirements necessary for an appeal.

Others, including the local AFGE union representatives, urged me to appeal anyway.

After much thought, I made the decision not to. For one simple reason.

Army leadership was made aware of this situation and has an opportunity to recognize the mistakes made and to “do the right thing.” If it takes a “legal stick”, of the threat of a legal stick, to get them do that, then I am not interested.

I believe what happened clearly violates the principles and intent of the Army’s core values.




From the advice I’ve received from co-workers, friends and family, most people would not publicly share this information. I can’t help wonder, “Why not?

My linked blog post contains the termination letter with my inline responses to each (in many cases unsubstantiated) allegation. That document is also available at Scribd: <a href=”http://www.scribd.com/doc/32072881″>Termination Letter With Responses</a>

Consider the 2nd allegation in the letter:

On 3 February 2010, with only 12 working days on the job, and without consulting your supervisor, you sent an e-mail to the entire doctrine development community announcing that you had been hired. This e-mail generated multiple requests for explanation that required the direct involvement of the Deputy Director in order to attempt to resolve.


The full text of that email is pasted below. The email was addressed to our Army doctrine POC list with my peers & supervisors on the CC line.

As I wrote in my Posterous blog post, to put this all in context you need to read and understand my job description. Related to this specific allegation, consider these excerpts from that description.

Keeping the above duties in mind, here is the message sent to the Army doctrine community:



Subject: Introduction – Senior Integration Analyst at CADD

Good Afternoon All

I’m following up with an introduction related to LTC Brian Ray’s ATTP Status (29 Jan, 3:54 PM) email update from last Friday.

I joined CADD on Tuesday, January 19th as the Senior Integration Analyst; a new position here at Fort Leavenworth. In that role I am responsible for accomplishing complex studies and analyses of processes and products associated with the transition from printed to electronic media.

My major duties include:

• Doctrine Digital Conversion and Technology Integration: Serves as the senior analyst and subject-matter expert responsible for phasing out paper based development and management processes.
• Knowledge Management: Develops the CAC-K/CADD knowledge management strategy that includes Army Publishing Toolkit-Doctrine Support, milWiki support, data warehousing, data mining, data visualization, and other data analysis tools.
• Plans and Policy Formulation, Integration and Implementation: Writes, coordinates and staffs TRADOC integration and synchronization operations for use at all levels (Army, Joint, and DOD) in the development identification, evaluation and prioritization of doctrine needs.
• Program Manager and Liaison: Serves as program manager and liaison between Army and other doctrinal literature preparing agencies. Analyzes, develops, implements and manages the automated doctrinal development and management system.

In preparation for the series of working groups LTC Ray mentioned, I’ll be setting up a collaborative area within milwiki to coordinate the workshop planning and agendas. You may already be familiar with the Doctrine Wiki Project page used for last year’s events (Kaizen #1 and Kaizen #2). That page will be updated to include a link to the collaborative space used for future development efforts. REF: https://www.kc.army.mil//wiki/Doctrine_Wiki_Project

Please review the Attendee Roster section to see who was involved in the past and whether any of those people have subsequently moved on or are no longer affiliated with this endeavor.

V/R

Bob King
Senior Integration Analyst
Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate
300 McPherson Ave
Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-2337
Work: 913-684-2682 (DSN: 552)
Cell: 913-775-1668




*shrugs* To this day, I’m still at a loss at how this innocuous message “…generated multiple requests for explanation that required the direct involvement of the Deputy Director in order to attempt to resolve.”

Sadly, all of this happened within an organization that was part of a larger organization (The Army), where the Vice Chief of Staff is on record as supporting efforts to flatten the organization and (his words) “Fight the Bureaucracy.”

REF: GEN Chiarelli on Communicating More Effectively

The above video (2.5 minutes) is described as
GEN Peter Chiarelli speaks about how the Army can communicate
more effectively. He also talks about the value of using technology to
collaborate
.”

Your thoughts?

I am very interested in feedback and discussion on these events. Please comment publicly or email me directly at [email protected] if you prefer.

If you’ve read this far and interested in what I may have to offer you or your organization, my resume is available online for your reference.

Leave a Comment

16 Comments

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Srinidhi Boray

Such is the apathy everywhere. I have myself faced retribution and such many times. People in flocks have just atrophied creating ocean of mediocrity. They will not hesitate to hurt anyone to maintain their own staus-quo for in it is their ephemeral respite, sadly. All these concepts of “transparency” and “accountability” have been hijacked by the Fascists. People have no fear to do anything wrong. And, yes one has to fear to do anything CORRECT.

Bob King

Michele & Srinidhi – Thanks for comments & support.

Ironically, in the same office where I worked there’s an employee (GS-7 I believe) that plays Flash games several hours each day. Her supervisor – who was also my direct supervisor – knows & tolerates it. He even joked about during my first day or two at the organization.

She probably does exactly what’s asked of her and nothing much more. She does not disturb their status quo. And, she still has a job.

There is probably some adage that applies to an organization that retains, even promotes mediocrity, while pruning innovators and change agents.

Dr. John Hudson

While your story is interesting, we all know there are always two sides/perspectives of the events that occurred. I believe your version and yet, how believable is “their” version? I am sure, with your qualifications intact, you will secure solid employment soon. People with your skills are rarely on the sidelines for very long. Good luck!

Michael Lennon

It’s very unfortunate. Remember that making others wrong “because they don’t get it”, does not give them an opportunity to grow, or for one to collaborate powerfully.

Anytime one “works with boundaries, rather than within them” it is important to listen carefully to the concerns of skeptics, to understand their commitments and provide them with an opportunity to fulfill on their commitments within the new context.

Listening is the hardest part of communication. If you are able to secure the trust of the skeptics in an organization, you may discover that they can be your best allies in creating new futures.

Remi

Kudos Bob!! I wish you all the best in winning the battle of apathetic title mongers who don’t want to change!! In the public sector you would be an innovator, who hit the ground running… unfortunately you were blindsided by the people who enjoy sitting in silos holding desperately to their power they are entitled to… after having xx number of years, and are now a GS X or an SES, and no one who is a GS 13 will rock their boat or their little fiefdom!! G forbid someone wants to implement a new way of thinking-reaching out to collaborate and facilitate change–that is just a arbitrary performance measure on some report to make the agency look good. They hire the go getter, and then expect the go getter to be complacent and run every little item by their supervisor who then has to run to his boss since he is afraid to make a decision that could be misconstrued or questioned by the “old school group”. Hopefully the next group you work with/for will not be a box of hamsters! Keep the spirit ALIVE we need more people like you to quash the status quo mentality in the public sector!

Sonya

Mediocrity bites. Being the lone voice with the expectation for excellence in a sea of status-quo seekers is a lonely, hard position to be in. Too many old-guard can not take a spark and turn it into a fire, but try to put it out. A junior level person doing great work is a threat – and I’ve never been able to understand that line of logic. But then I’m not apathetic.

Some of the questions I’ve learned to ask (the hard way) at every job interview is about change tolerance without tipping my hand. “How is the pace of change embraced here?” Depending on that answer, I might go on to ask other questions to ferret out the change and innovation related personality of the place. If they have “innovations” they are proud of that are mediocrity in disguise, then I know what I’m dealing with. Revising the TPS cover sheet is not an innovation.

Dr. John Hudson

Sonya –
Absolutely agree w/you. It is AMAZING how easily threatened the “old guard” becomes. I know individuals in leadership who want to the the “smartest person in their group” and will not tolerate any subordinate who actually IS smarter – to the point of having them reassigned – or dismissed (as in Bob’s case).

I am believer in collecting smart people and depending on them to provide input from THEIR expertise … enough said from me! (for now …)

Bob King

Thanks again to the many people taking the time to offer their comments, advice and encouragement.

As has been suggested, there are two sides to every story. The letter I received, which I shared in its entirety, only presented management’s side – that is why I took the time and effort to annotate a response to each paragraph to present the other (my) side.

I only wish the director of the organization – the person that bottom lined that letter – had talked to me even once about the points therein. He never did – the only time we spoke, other than the day I left, was at my check-in interview. That seems a bit unusual for a small organization of less than 60 people.

Many have suggested ideas that have a common theme: I should have attempted to obtain their buy-in, I should have tried to demonstrate the value, or I should have educated them and so on. All of those things were attempted. I shared videos of Army leadership talking about the benefit of knowledge management and knowledge sharing. I provided case studies and examples where organizations dramatically improved their work processes.

The effect? I might as well have been a hardened criminal in a maximum security prison trying to persuade the guards the “benefit of allowing me to go on a furlough” – they were not interested in hearing it.

@Sonya – Understand your advice about feeling out an organization on their acceptance of change. On my part, I’ll not put myself in that position again. That is the main reason driving my decision to not be shy about my experience. There are enough organizations yearning to becoming more efficient and adapt that I do not have to settle for one that is not. “What you see is what you get” with me! ­čÖé

Please keep the feedback coming. My secondary reason for sharing this experience is to help others from having this happen to them.

Michele Costanza

With KM knowledge is flattened across the hierarchy. Is it really that some people don’t understand KM? Or do they understand KM and they are outwardly rejecting it in favor of hierarchy, command and control, and bureaucracy? When leadership And a clear command and control structure is needed, we don’t seem to get that either.

Srinidhi Boray

Basically being a highly creative person and loving secularism (open conversation), one has to hazard opposition from mediocrity. Conformism is a natural trait of those who protect “status-quo”. And, these self appointed high pedestal priests, full of self-fulfling prophecies, pretending to be the protectors of the unseen god and the idiotic ideologies turn into something described as the “Lucifer Effect”

Check out Lucifer Effect from Dr. Philip Zimbardo

Lucifer Effect very comically discussed in movie “One who flew over the cuckoo’s nest”

What is the Real Motivation Factor for Many

Bob King

Michele – As difficult as it may be to believe, it was a case of “outwardly rejecting it”… ­čÖü

One of the expressions my direct supervisor liked to use was “point to point” communications. For example, in February we attended the first of three milWiki workshops in DC area, held at the Army Publishing Directorate. I was tasked to create a private area on milBook for continued collaboration. (milBook is the Army’s social networking/collaboration site, it’s behind AKO/CAC firewall)

Our next workshop was scheduled for late March, exactly one month later. I created the requested site the weekend we returned from DC. I invited all of the participants from the workshop and others as specifically directed. No one participated, including those within my own organization. I continued to populate the site with the project’s status and discussion questions. A week later I sent out a reminder to all participants.

Then, about 10 days before the next workshop, I sent out another reminder. I also approached my supervisor expressing concern that we were barely a week out from Workshop #2 and it appeared that no coordination had taken place. We did not even know what other parties would be attending.

It was at that time – and only that time – that he informed me of the following:

— Coordination had been occurring all along, in a “point to point” (i.e. email) fashion between him, our Deputy Director and external parties

— I would not be attending Workshop #2 because it was not “technical in nature” (at this time I’d invite readers to go back and re-read my overall job description at http://subbob.com/myjob.html – there was clearly a disconnect in that description vs. my supervisor’s interpretation) However, at this time the ONLY GUIDANCE I’d received about my duties and responsibilities was that job description.

— I was not CC’d on any of this “point to point” correspondence he referred to, so for 2-1/2 weeks I had been kept in the dark and putting time and energy into a site and system they never intended to use.

Now, a reasonable person would question why they would behave in this manner? The answer is very simple.

My organization, along with the Army Publishing Directorate and representatives from other Army Staff elements, wanted to appear as if they were supporting GEN Dempsey’s vision when they did not truly believe in his vision. They EXPLICITLY did not want GEN Dempsey or anyone from his staff to have visibility of our plans and direction, because they did not want to receive direct guidance to the contrary.

In my first week on the job I developed a mock up prototype of a system that would meet GEN Dempsey’s vision of a “crowd sourcing” model for developing Army doctrine that would mitigate the various legal and statutory concerns. I wanted to send it to his (Dempsey’s) staff to see if it was close enough to his intent. At that time I was told, very directly, that we would not have any direct communication with GEN Dempsey or his staff.

In mid-March (two months into the job), I finally received my first written support form with delineated duties and responsibilities. That meeting was with my supervisor (LTC Brian Ray) and the Deputy Director (James Benn). During the meeting Benn made several statements alluding to the following:

— TRADOC Commanders come and go
— We (referring to CADD) “survived” GEN Byrnes and GEN Wallace, we can survive GEN Dempsey too
— GEN Dempsey will eventually “move on” and his replacement will have a different priority

On multiple occasions throughout my few months there both LTC Ray and Mr. Benn implicitly or explicitly stated that Dempsey was just trying to “make his mark” on the Army. Neither of them truly believed in the principles behind his vision and stopped just short of actively opposing it.

We even had a contractor that had, as one of his tasks, the requirement to submit a weekly report of metrics on the milWiki pilot program. They stopped measuring that pilot program in January.

Another of his specified tasks in the Performance Work Statement (PWS) was to “facilitate the BCKS Doctrine Forum” with a weekly requirement to propose questions for discussion, participate in and moderate the subsequent discussions. CADD’s BCKS Doctrine Forum was a wasteland with no participation. Shortly after I joined the organization, sometime in February I believe, the forum was removed for inactivity.

I do not know how the LTC Ray, who is the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR), is signing off on the deliverables for that contract. At his direction I attended the COR course the week of 22-26 March. It became clear to me during that course that we were using our contractors in a “personal services” in a clear violation of Army contracting regulations and guidelines. Anecdotally, it is also clear to me in hindsight that sending me to that course was a smoke screen; they had to have already been preparing the documentation against me at that time with no intentions of me serving as a COR on the KM (Knowledge Management) contract.

Sonya

I really am sorry that whole ugly incident happened to you.
Sounds like they got their self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and you happened to be the collateral sacrifice, which doesn’t make it any less infuriating.

These things happen in public sector, military, and private sector too. I saw it happen myself in another private industry gig. Status quo was so sacred to the management structure in our division they would systematically target anyone competent in their job and ambitious to do better as an individual or who wanted to see the team grow. It was the most efficient and effective disablement of a group I’ve ever seen. They psychological toll was heavy on everyone.
The same fire that melts butter tempers steel. I had to get out of there ASAP.

Realizing the superiors who are supposed to ensure the best for their people are actually out to do the opposite is a sad wake-up call. It’s illogical, but it happens. Some groups eat their own.

There’s a popular myth out there (particularly for us project managers) that if you’re clever enough you can turn any situation into a Win and everyone will hold hands and skip off into the sunset singing Kumbayah. If you’re caught in a spiral to hell, and can’t get the organization to pull out of it, there was some thing not done or not said that could have made all the difference. I disagree with this line of thinking. Instead of analyzing what you could have/should have/would have done to change the game, I think it’s more valuable to learn how to recognize toxic complicity faster, and understand the personality types you were dealing with. You can’t make them change. You can only control your participation in the next chess match.

The best advice I ever got for this kind of ordeal is from The Gambler – Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.

Srinidhi Boray

Sonya : “The Gambler – Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

This is the best advice. I have been fired or affected by targeted layoff many times. But something in nature protects us. Especially if one wants to do creative work these hazards are common. But it is very painful when going through it and yes one has to compromise many things in life to get by, if we want our creative efforts to bring us more mental satisfaction and also seek self actualization.

Bob Gourley

As I read the above I had several thoughts enter my head. One is that I’m getting old, because I have seen this movie before. Another thought was that I can’t say I’m surprised, because we are dealing with an institution with a character all its own and a culture that is slow to change. But even in knowing that, the overwhelming thought is how disappointing it is to hear this. I imagine the greatest leaders in the Army are all overseas. Perhaps those with little understanding of leadership ended up directly in your chain of command. I don’t know… I guess I shouldn’t be trying to make excuses for them… But it sure is strange.