July 26, 2014 at 10:45 am #182760
Dr. Phuong Le Callaway, PhDParticipant
Should Veterans Affairs clean house?
July 27, 2014 at 4:25 pm #182772
Senior VA leaders have been trying to change the culture of the VA for decades. You have a Central Office that is totally disconnected from the field. Regulations are vague at best open to many interpretations. And, each facility has become a fiefdom (Marcher Baron is what comes to mind) unto themselves. It will take way more than 2 years to see any change. A friend of mine put it best: “The VA has been living in perception for so long, that when reality is forced on them, they don’t know how to act and try with all their might to go right back to the safety of perception.” But, historically, about every 40 years or so, the VA has a huge scandal, goes through a complete re-organization, and then the process starts all over again.
July 27, 2014 at 7:35 pm #182770
Phuong, I just wanted to applaud you for keeping organizational culture front and center in the ongoing conversation about improving government performance. There is no magic formula of course. As Earl rightly points out, change efforts at the VA (and elsewhere – right?) seem to be eternal.
It’s interesting, over the past few weeks I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to take some training classes, both within and outside the agency. They aren’t classes specifically geared toward organizational development. But it seems to me that the kind of people who enroll in training are also the kind of people most interested in improving the organizations for which they work.
Here’s an interesting outtake from one such class.
One person (a student) proclaimed that government workers don’t even come close to the performance standards required in the private sector. A few people, quietly, murmured their agreement (after all we were a class full of government workers, right?)
Another person (the teacher) said he vehemently disagreed, that government workers are every bit as passionate, dedicated and skilled, and he had personally seen this over a time span of four decades.
I asked the teacher how he accounted for the difference between what the student said, and what he had seen.
He said to me, “It all comes down to leadership. I always ran a very organized ship.”
I noticed that in this class, the teacher was technically proficient (but not robotic or brainwashed), class always started on time, the breaks were precisely timed, the teacher seemed in tune with what the class was thinking, and he was able to have an open discussion yet move on in a timely fashion.
If you ask me how to clean up the government, I’d say hire excellent leaders and managers, and then stay out of the way while they do their jobs.
July 27, 2014 at 8:10 pm #182768
I have taken quite a few leadership courses. The best were in DOD. But, I stopped taking them when I finally faced the facts that leadership was doing the opposite of what I was being taught in the classes. Then I worked for 3 years in DC. Didn’t take long to loose faith and realize why.
And trying to compare government workers with private sector employees is like apples and tomatoes. My counter parts in the private sector can get by with so many things that I can’t even think of. It’s just a vastly different “animals”.
July 27, 2014 at 10:00 pm #182766
Return on investment and comply with the law. Same for gov and private sector. Serve the public interest versus serve profit motive – there’s a fundamental difference. Trust bar is higher for gov, but private industry can’t exist without it, either. Not as big a difference as people say.
July 28, 2014 at 2:31 pm #182764
David B. GrinbergParticipant
Kudos to you, Phuong, for an excellent post. You lay out many important issues which must be addressed for real reform and accountability to become reality. Hopefully, Congress can quickly agree on a bi-partisan solution which the President can sign. The sooner improvements are made VA-wide, the better. Our veterans deserve no less.
August 2, 2014 at 8:26 pm #182762
Dr. Phuong Le Callaway, PhDParticipant
Thanks for all the comments. I do hope that whatever the final outcome will be for Veterans Affairs can serve as lesson learned for other Federal agencies and for the private sectors. Leaders and senior managers must be held accountable for their performance and behaviors! Employees look to them for their performance and conduct! Leading by examples should be expected of leaders and senior managers. Thanks again for your input, David, Dannielle, and Earl!
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