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previous: Mark Hammer Some nice articles on-line at the B... -- 1126539766 View Thread

Re: New Orleans and Washington: The bigger picture

9/12/2005 10:07 AM
Wild Bill
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Re: New Orleans and Washington: The bigger picture
---"but if smaller and separate is not "best", and neither is bigger and centralized, then what WILL work?"  
 
There was a book published a few years ago called "Spendthrift Heirs", Mark. Sorry I can't remember the author but what the hell, you're probably well aware of it and ahead of me anyways! :)  
 
The book's premise is that as we move in generations from the founding of a society in a frontier situation we peak at some point and then succeeding generations become more inept at governance. We finally put a man on the Moon and then we have bureaucrats asking hurricane refugees for their fax number.  
 
In effect we as a society become less practical. JohnBoy Walton grows up instinctively knowing that if seed isn't planted at the right time and carefully tended the family won't eat that winter. Today's kids think electricity comes out of the wall and bread comes from variety stores. In case of scarcity just add some extra receptacles and open more stores.  
 
And why not? Such a world view works just fine as long as you can still ride on the infrastructure/wealth of the previous generations. Eventually things begin to break down and the wealth runs out but up until then it's a great ride!  
 
We've talked before about civil service and forms of governance but we always seem to wind up talking only with each other, Mark. Maybe we can get some more participation this time... :)  
 
I would suggest that this generational disconnect with reality is part of the problem with governance institutions. Over 20 years ago the buzz in private industry was to "invert the management pyramid". This was meant as to allow the maximum power and decision making at the front line worker level, rather than wasting time and blurring communications by relaying everything up and down the management chain. It was recognized that the farther up the management ladder you were the poorer your perspective on front line problems. It did require more effort into training and an acceptance that sometimes you'd have to live with a mistake but still, you'd win as a company FAR more often than you'd lose!  
 
Public institutions being by nature political animals don't seem to have ever heard of this concept. There is that old union idea that "we are all equal" so anyone may be placed in any job as long as there is sufficient training given. Front line power is discouraged, if not actually verboten. There is a rigid system to be followed and straying from the system is a CLM, or Career Limiting Move. If something arises that doesn't fit the catechism it tends to get bollixed up. When the public complaints grow loud enough to demand action the solution never seems to be to let the front lne worker have enough power to deal sensibly with it. Amendments are simply added to the fixed system.  
 
What I'm saying is, that bureaucrat who kept asking for a fax number probably had a list of standard questions posted in front of him/her that HAD to be asked! Asking may have meant looking inept and silly but NOT asking could have meant a job reprimand! Until a formal memo came down from on high front line workers had to keep following the system.  
 
The advantage of having such a system means that if you are challenged about your institution doing its function you can defend yourself with a thick tome of "process" against complaints about your performance. It's a legal perspective rather than a realworld perspective and it works great during ordinary times! No one except ordinary affected citizens will ever say you actually failed. Rather your response will have been deemed to have been "insufficient" under "unforeseen circumstances" and the system will get some new amendments towards any future event, gradually making things so complicated efficiencies slip even more.  
 
The best system is to have your best workers at the front and let them do their jobs. If you have the odd problem then you deal with it but at all costs you have to defend those workers so they never feel you're not behind them and become too afraid to make independent decisions.  
 
Would anyone actually care to jump in and make the claim that governance systems actually DO allow front line realworld decision making?  
 
We could also spin off a little on the concept that with todays Xbox, instant gratification/short attention span generation that fax number demand was coming from a younger worker who was incapable of relating to the desperation of the caller. The caller wasn't a real human being but just a voice on the phone that was part of the job routine.  
 
Sadly, I personally think that lack of empathy is all too likely these days...  
 
---Wild Bill

 
Replies:
Mark Hammer My musings about the possibility th... -- 9/12/2005 11:59 AM