I work for a culture (the Air Force) that prides itself on innovation and a mission-first approach. However, in a long-term work project involving process mapping and process design for an internal customer, I’ve also noticed a culture of workarounds driven by several factors: 1) obsolete yet required forms; 2) lack of concrete guidance from higher headquarters on implementing their regulatory directives; 3) lack of oversight from higher headquarters; 4) an unclear transition from a competitively sourced operation governed by commercial standards in a Performance Work Statement to a military unit governed by stricter Air Force compliance standards; and 5) lack of knowledge among their base stakeholder groups about how this organization affects them. All of these factors contribute to what I call a “Sgt Bilko” approach to things: personal relationships, verbal handshakes, informal networks, workarounds, and no documented standard work to getting their work requirements completed.
Rather than merely penalize a Sgt Bilko organization for not complying with official guidance, a better approach would be to ask why did they rely for so many years on such an approach. Is the Sgt Bilko phenomenon I see in this organization evidence that the official processes, forms, and regulations might just be broken and need to be addressed? Also, does the innovative mission-first culture of the Air Force perversely incentivize organizations and members to break the official rules in order to get the mission done? I suspect the answer to both questions is Yes.
Am I alone in observing this throughout the government?