The Government Man is back after a brief hiatus.
In my book, Confessions of a Government Man, a chapter called “Where You Sit is Where You Stand” was all about the stovepipe mentalities once prevalent in government. Fortunately a lot of this type of thinking is gone but not totally forgotten. The subject matter conjures up all kinds of mismanagement tales. I relate a few of them here which were excerpted from the book. As with most of my prior postings, it has been cleaned up a bit for family entertainment. My apologies in advance to the HR people who may be offended by some of the comments but I think most managers can relate to these situations. Although my book was intended as good natured fun, this particular chapter stirred up just a few animosities. I would be interested in reader responses.
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On the subject of where you sit is where you stand, I was always able to depend on our human resources experts to find or initiate a problem.
A simple analogy would be to compare our disciplinary procedure with a police officer making an arrest. Without reading the alleged perpetrator his Miranda rights the entire arrest or conviction could be negated.
Likewise, during my managerial days at GSA, when a manager tried to impose a disciplinary action, among the procedural obstacles thrown in the way is what is called the “Douglas Factors.” These are ten valid considerations prior to proposing a penalty, including such things as the employee’s past history, impact on the organization and punishment imposed in similar circumstances. Whenever I was involved in a disciplinary procedure, the first thing I ever received from the always popular HR people would be a personal memo on real paper (most inter-office communication was via e-mail) reminding me to comply with all procedures or the proposed penalty could be appealed and negated. This was the case for minor transgressions like coming to work late or more serious ones like beating up your boss. If the manager didn’t follow procedure then it became more important to counsel the manager than impose discipline on the employee. HR always loved to score gotchas on managers.
After all of these reminders, the process starts. Disciplinary action must be proposed, the employee has a reasonable time to respond and then management must prove its case. HR is there to make sure all is done by the book. Then there is the appeal process ad infinitum. Eventually the manager becomes so exhausted that the proposed firing is settled as a one day suspension. A year later the employee gets his or her day’s pay reinstated. Meanwhile, the manager ultimately is counseled by our HR experts for not dropping all operational issues and devoting 24/7 to properly prepare a case.
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We had people whose job was to review contracts for compliance with rules and procedure. The head of this operation, Ira Carlino (not his real name), who was known as “The Iratolla,” always found an issue of non-compliance that could be reported back to the initiator along with a copy to the Iratolla’s boss to show he was diligently doing his job. The Iratolla brought so much negativity with him that legend had it that he was banned from happy hour at some of the favorite watering holes.
He was great at the goal line stand, where someone comes up with an inconsequential issue at the last moment in an attempt to prove they are part of the process.
It was particularly frustrating when years would be spent developing a contract only to have a review hold up execution because it was not tabbed properly, or it was not in a regulation binder. In many a meeting with Ira I abruptly got up and announced, “What are we doing here? Is it our purpose to have a pretty contract or to construct our building?” (My actual words were usually a bit saltier)
Evil is punished. When GSA finally realized that this was a counterproductive function, the Iratolla’s job was eliminated. He had burned so many bridges that nobody would have him and he was forced into an early retirement. When last heard from, he was attempting to peddle solar panels, an unlikely profession for someone with a preoccupation for obstructing rather than creating progress.
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We constantly dealt with crisis situations, be they real, political or business disasters, but there was always someone preoccupied with procedural minutia practiced by the “where you stand” types. In the days immediately after 9/11, when we were operating a 24/7 command center, I still had people calling me because our training reports and other nonsense had been overdue.
Something was wrong with that picture. In my college and private industry training, I was always taught that all effort was to go towards the mission of the organization and the end result, not to the process by which you got there.
To be continued.
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Feel free to check out my Facebook page (under development – If you like it please check “like.”), prior Govloop blogs and my website. I’m pondering doing a You Tube gig if I can come up with the right material – to be right up there with The Kid from Brooklyn or The Guy from Boston. My theme can be “I’m the Government Man and I’m here to help you.”
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