Failing at Success

Today’s missive is about the failure of success.  This phrase is a take on the one coined in a paper I often reference by Dean Ludwig and Clinton Longenecker entitled The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders. This came to mind once again as I was reading the morning paper and discovered an article on yet another Naval Officer pleading guilty to bribery and conspiracy  charges  in conjunction with the Fat Leonard debacle.  Here’s another sad failure of a successful individual.  Perhaps this commander was an otherwise decent guy.  But how does a decent guy, a successful Naval officer, wind up in the throes of bribery and prostitution?  Before I sound too self-righteous, I should point out that there is a dark side to each of us.  I just finished reading a great book by Christian Miller entitled The Character Gap: How Good Are We?  The theme of this book was that we all are some mixture of good and bad.  Most people wind up between the extremes.  Surprisingly, we tend to think we are not a bad as we might actually be, and  we almost always overlook our flaws.  This problem of human nature gets magnified when we become successful, making it all the more important to constantly evaluate our behavior. The book ends with some strategies to keep one on a virtuous path.  There is one interesting strategy worth mentioning here, “nudging toward virtue.”  The basic premise is that there are little “nudges” you can make which tend to move one towards a more virtuous life.  The analogy used is called “Fly in the Urinal”.  There’s an airport in Europe that was having real trouble with maintaining cleanliness in the men’s room. Signs urging guys to pay more attention to doing their business apparently didn’t have much effect.  By engraving the image of a house fly in the bottom of the urinals, spillage decreased 80%.  The signs were a hammer, the fly was a nudge, but many times more effective than the hammer.  (I’m reminded of the sign in the men’s room at Penn Station in New York: ONLY ONE PERSON PER URINAL) Nudges can be little things, giving blood, giving a homeless person a buck at a stoplight, a quick thank you to the janitor, etc.   While nudges won’t necessarily turn things around, they are a reminder that each one of us could do better.

Back to failures of success. Examples are everywhere.  I always introduce myself as a ‘twice-failed” retiree.”  I just can’t seem to get this retirement thing right.  Many small businesses fail because they are wildly successful as an 8(a), but fail to make the transition to big business.  Football teams can be highly successful for 58 minutes of a game, only to revert to a “prevent defense” for the last two minutes.  They stop doing the things that made them successful for most of the game and the opposing team takes advantage of this lapse. Senior leaders destroy brilliant careers by outrageous behavior. They, too, abandon what made them successful all their career.

 

 

 

It seems to me that the worlds of success and failure are very much alike:

  • Success or failure does not always relate to level of effort. Luck plays a role.  Other people play a role.  Events beyond your control play role.  This is why it is so important to reflect on the results of your labors.  Was I just lucky this time?
  • Success or failure tend to have unintended consequences on those around you. They may be impacted, even though they may have had nothing to do with your behavior or actions.
  • A single event can make you a success or a failure, but a single event rarely turns the tables. If you are successful, analyze why and keep doing that.  If you have failed, realized that there’s probably a long road ahead to turn things around. (Note to self: Insert Luigi the Bridge Builder Joke here)
  • Success and failure can be unfair. As they say, “A rising tide floats all boats”, but just as easily,  one bad apple can ……yadda, yadda, yadda.
  • Success and failure can happen randomly. Most leaders say one makes one’s own luck by setting the favorable conditions.  Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky enough to have the successful surprises outnumber the opposite.
  • Both always bring the judgement of others on you, good and bad. Some are envious. Some are resentful. Some feel vindicated.   Some are happy/sad for you.  Regardless, you will be judged.

 

So how does a successful person avoid the “failure of success”, succumbing to the Bathsheba Effect? How does one stay on the success side of the fine line?(This is a good place to point out that I firmly believe that the more successful you are, the more susceptible you become to the failure of success.)  Besides the aforementioned Nudge to Virtue, Here are a few of tips I found useful:

 

  • Set the Standard. Make sure all who work for you know YOUR standard.  A particularly useful way to do this is to send out a memo on what your expectations are and how you expect business to be conducted.  Include topics like who pays for lunch, how you expect gifts to be handled,  what can and can’t be in an email, etc.  If people know what you expect, they will generally deliver, but you have to tell them first.
  • Use moral reminders. Set up a system to make sure you are adhering to your moral compass.  Have an ethics topic of the day at staff meetings.  I found using my EA as a moral reminder was effective.  If I was scowling during a meeting, he might pass me a note that said “Smile.”  Just think of something to keep yourself grounded and use it.
  • Seek role models. Nothing beats having a good role model to fall back on.  It doesn’t have to be someone who you can talk to (although that helps)  Read about those you admire. Study their character traits and think about how they might react to a situation
  • Attend to “Nagging Feelings.” If you find yourself mulling over tough decisions again and again, or if you are spending a lot of time justifying a decision, then something is wrong.  If it’s bugging you, then you probably need to do some more thinking.  Someone once said, “A clear conscience is the softest pillow.”  It’s true.  I suppose the corollary is “A guilty conscience is a bed of nails.”  Bottom line is to listen to that little voice in your head.
  • Fill the “Knowing-Doing” gap. This is a hard one for people that move into leadership positions.  One of the “separators” between leaders and followers, is that leaders don’t have the luxury of looking the other way.  If you know about something, you must take action.  Once people are confident that you take action on the things you know need fixing, they are far more likely to take action themselves.
  • Seek Advice. This is closely related to having a mentor, but is really all about realizing your limitations and knowing when to ask for advice on an issue.  Having another perspective on tough issues can be very helpful and healthful.
  • Practice Ethical Fitness. Think a little each day about how you are preparing for the next tough decision.  Listen to the news and think about how you would react to situations.  Work a little daily at making tough decisions so that when the chips are down and you have little time to make a decision, your ethical reflexes kick in.
  • Get out of the office. Walk around.  Talk to people.  Watch what’s going on.  Read the bulletin boards.  Have lunch in the cafeteria with employees.  Don’t let the small cloud of sycophants and head-nodders surrounding you keep you from knowing what’s really going on.
  • Listen to (and value) all opinions. You don’t have to agree with or heed all the advice you are given, but it sure helps to know what others think.
  • Reflect. Set some time aside for reflection each day.  Insist your staff schedules it and protects it.  Don’t let them fill it up with other meetings.  It doesn’t have to be long…15 minutes is fine.  There are plenty of people over you that can intrude on your time for reflection, but don’t let your staff do it.
  • Be a role model. Pretty simple.  You are a role model, rather you want to be or not.  Remember that while it may not seem like it, everyone is watching what you do, what you say and how you say it.  They are like your young kids sitting in a car seat.  They are listening to everything  you say and are happy to provide the grandparents with a complete rundown of what was said.

 

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Who do you trust? Part Two

This is the second part of an article on trust.  In Part One, most of the discussion was on whom I did not trust and why.  Of course, everyone wants to be on the other list, the “I Trust” list.  In the last article, I asked that you take some time to make your own list of those you trust and don’t’ trust and to think about why they fall on a particular list.  The ultimate aim for you to strive to be on everyone else’s “I Trust” list.  It’s a great list to be on.

 

Whom do I Trust?

I had a tougher time coming up with a list of those I trust because I found that unless someone had done something to violate my trust, most people were on my “I Trust Them” list.  There are some obvious ones that I won’t dwell on:  parents, brother, wife, children and their families, close friends, etc. There are some outside of my immediate circle of family and friends that I do think are worth mentioning:

My pilot.  Many years ago as a Bombardier/Navigator flying A-6 Intruders I found myself completely dependent on the aviation skills of the person sitting directly to my left, my pilot.  Over the years I may have trusted some more than others, but I never jumped in a jet without complete confidence that we were going to get home safely.  There were no flight controls over on my side, so I guess I didn’t have much of a choice.

The flight deck crew.  More than 1000 times I placed my life in the hands of the young Sailors who were responsible for maintaining my airplane,hooking it to the catapult, ensuring the correct amount of steam was dialed in, directing my Intruder back to the carrier via radar control, setting the arresting gear to the correct weight and taxing the jet to a safe parking spot.  Over the course of a deployment, I came to know many of them personally….but not all.  And still I trusted them completely.

The Post Office.  Oddly enough, I trust the Post Office to deliver important mail, almost without question…I send my tax payments, pay bills, and Christmas cards and expect them to get there, on time and intact.  If I didn’t trust them, I suppose I could use FEDEX, UPS or some other private courier, but they are expensive.  Because I trust the Post Office to deliver, it’s not worth the cost and, in truth, FEDEX has lost a very valuable shipment (my golf clubs).   I’m reminded of the scene in Miracle on 34th Street  when Fred Gailey does such a masterful job of describing the Post Office. Unfortunately, his main point is the US Postal Service is an arm of the US Government, and that alone should prove that it’s efficient, effective and reliable- not necessarily these days.  A recent Gallup Poll revealed 47% of Americans have little or no confidence in their government. (ED Note: The Lovely Mrs. Crenshaw disagrees with me on this one….yet she still sends lots of payments through the US Mail..I’m just sayin’)

Amazon Prime.  You can count of one hand the number of times that Amazon has missed a promised delivery date.  When they do miss, I get a message letting me know that something’s going to be late.  So I trust Amazon not only because they have a track record of delivering on their promises, but also because they let me know when they are going to fall short of my expectations.  This is an important concept for leaders to ponder.  Those who work for you will not always be right, or deliver on your expectations. But if you let them know that you trust them, more often than not they will deliver and your trust level with them will increase.  I always expected that everyone who worked for me was doing their jobs and didn’t spend a lot of time checking up on them.  If something went amiss and they had told me about it, then I may not have been happy, but I did not lose trust in them.  On the other hand, if something went wrong and I didn’t know about it, not only was I unhappy, but I also lost trust in that person.  As a result, I had to check on everything they were doing and eventually I just didn’t give them anything to do.

Banks.  Call me naïve, but I just don’t worry about the safety and integrity of my deposits.  I’ve had a hiccup or two throughout the years, but unlike my parents, I keep the majority of my money deposited in bank accounts.  I mention that because as my brother and I have been going through things in the old family home (My Dad passed away a couple of years ago and my Mom now lives in an assisted living facility) we found some cash just stuffed between the pages various books.  My Dad kept a giant safe in the house with a substantial amount of cash in it.  They never had credit cards, and on the rare occasion they travelled, they used cash.  They were a product of the Great Depression and no doubt didn’t trust banks as a result.  I know that there are constant cyber threats which seek to challenge the integrity of the banking system, but I trust my financial institutions to stay on top of things.

 

The pilots in the cockpit of my next flight.   Why not?  If I didn’t trust them I guess I would drive.  Of course, I have no idea who they will be or what their safety record is.  I trust that the various players in that chain have followed all the rules and regulations and that the pilots themselves have enough integrity to know when it’s not safe for them to fly.  I know there are occasional reports where a crewmember has been removed for being drunk but they are not frequent enough to affect my trust.  In reality, it’s not the individuals I trust, but the institutions which govern the pilots’ behavior.  I assume that such institutions are one of those that the 53% of Americans do trust .  I just saw in the news that 2017 was an extremely safe year for American-based airlines, with zero casualties related to accidents.  My trust seems well placed, for now.

Factors in Trust

So why do I trust those on my list?  I won’t comment on my trust of family and friends, except to say that in almost seven decades they have never let me down.  It’s why I’m generally a trusting person.  I know that not all of you will trust every family member, spouse or certain friends, most likely because they violated your trust.  That gets to a point I made in the previous article, lack of trust because that trust was violated. Here are some factors in fostering trust:

Reliability.  Many people and organizations I trust deliver on their promises regularly and reliability.    It’s important to note that those organizations don’t always deliver, but the ones I trust are really good about keeping me informed when they know my expectations may not be met.  When they miss the mark, I have confidence that they are looking into the whys and wherefores and they will do better next time.  If you want others to trust you, you have to deliver or “fess” up when you fall short.

Empathy.  I trust those that I think are considering my concerns when they are making decisions on my behalf.  Those decisions may not always be the ones I would make, but at least they considered my point of view.  This is the principal reason many Americans lack trust in the Hill at present.  A December 2017 Gallup Poll on approval rating of the US Congress found that 78% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.  I submit that most of the problems on the Hill come from a lack of trust among them.   Neither side of the aisle trusts the other, so nothing really gets done.  People compromise when there is respect for and trust in the views of others.  Violation of confidentiality, constant partisan bickering and “he said, she said” confrontations all erode trust.    To be trusted in your dealing with others, they must feel that you care about their views, not necessarily agree with them.

Honesty.  If I find out that someone was not honest with me, I will not trust them.  Honesty is fundamental to any trusting relationship.  There’s a presentation on Ethical Decisions in the Insights tab of the CCA Website, and it has a section on honesty, truth and truthfulness, so I won’t rehash that here.  I do want to say a word about my previous comment about telling the truth and being truthful.  I’ve seen this get people into trouble again and again and as a result, they lose credibility and sacrifice trust.  You know what I’m talking about here.  Remember the old gag in The Pink Panther?  “Does your dog bite?”

Same thing here.  Carefully crafting answers that are true, but not truthful is a quick ticket to the “Don’t Trust” list.

Track Record of Trust.  If I tell you something in confidence, I expect my wishes to be honored.  People who have proved themselves trustworthy by respecting my wishes in the past are likely to stay on my trust list until proven otherwise.  In the electronic age this is hard to do.  There are so many ways that you can inadvertently blab something said in confidence and the next thing you know, it shows up on Facebook.  Being able to openly express opinions is part of a healthy debate, but be sure all know the ground rules before getting started.  I go to a lot of events with Chatham House Rules.  If you want a whole bunch of folks labeling you as untrustworthy, violate that rule.  However, a word to the wise.  Nothing in the world of public affairs is “off the record.”  I am very choosy about whom I choose to speak to “in confidence” and you should be too!

 

Hope this wasn’t too long. I’m sure you have your own criteria for whom you trust.  But spending some time thinking about how you earn and keep the trust of others is very important as a leader or executive.  Whether on the battle field or in the boardroom, trust is a key aspect of your effectiveness as a leader.  If people don’t trust you, it’s going to be awfully hard to get them on the bus.  There used to be a paper floating about with excerpts from British Navy fitness reports.  One of my favorites was “his men would follow him anywhere, but only out of sheer curiosity.”  Make sure your followers are not just curious, but trusting as well.

PS.  Please excuse my misuse of who and whom. I know I have violated the who or whom rules.  But “Whom Do You Trust” sounds so pretentious.  My old English teachers are all rolling in their graves and I apologize to them.

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Whoa Nellie!

So I guess you have to be an old guy like me to remember Keith Jackson, long-time ABC Sportscaster,  shouting “Whoa Nellie”KeithJackson1 but that’s what came to mind as I read the latest on the US Marine Corps audit saga.  Apparently GAO has forced the DoD Inspector General to retract the Marine Corp’s clean audit opinion because of problems in the suspense accounts.  Here’s a link to an article in Defense News with  the details. I have opined on DoD audits on several occasions….first shouting with joy at the accomplishment, then wondering if it really mattered and finally pointing a limp finger towards the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for using “plugs” to fix differences with the Treasury.

So for the record……I told you so!  It’s hard for me to believe that the underlying problem has existed for so long without apparent remedy.  Here’s a link to a 2005 GAO Report in which GAO finds:

Until DOD complies with existing laws and enforces its own guidance for reconciling, reporting, and resolving amounts in suspense and check differences on a regular basis, the buildup of current balances will likely continue, the department’s appropriation accounts will remain unreliable, and another costly write-off process may eventually be required.

 That was almost 10 years ago folks!  This has been a continuing report topic for the GAO with various status updates being published throughout the years.  Here’s an excerpt from the Summary of a more recent GAO report from December 2011:

Neither the Navy nor the Marine Corps have implemented effective processes for reconciling their FBWT[Funds Balance With Treasury].

Huh?  Navy and Marine Corps have been preparing for audit for years and yet it doesn’t appear that they were able to make any progress in fixing a problem identified by GAO way back in 2005 as a key impediment to a clean audit opinion.

So what are the “Suspense Accounts” that are causing such a problem?  Technically GAO defines them as “Combined receipt and expenditure accounts established to temporarily hold funds that are later refunded or paid into another government fund when an administrative or final determination as to the proper disposition is made. “ Translation: The place where a transaction is put when the documentation is incomplete so that it can not be assigned to a specific appropriation before it’s written off.  To get an idea of scale, in 2005 GAO reports it was an absolute value of $35 Billion.  Who knows what it is now? But I point out that it’s just about the amount of the DoD Sequestration hit.  Perhaps if they fixed this problem, sequestration wouldn’t have such a bad effect?  It seems to be to be awfully hard to go the the Hill and say that $35 Billion in spending cuts would kill the Department, when they are not exactly sure about $35 Billion already sitting around.  Those on  the defensive will say that the differences are eventually reconciled, but I am skeptical…and since they are already written off, does it really matter?  My guess is the money goes straight into the US Treasury Black Hole that all checks drafted to the US Treasury go…you know…that big ever increasing dense ball of greenbacks sitting in the Treasury Department basement.

This problem is precisely why DoD needs to get on with the audit….so they can be sure they know where the money is and provide accurate estimates of the impact of budget cuts.  If my kids came to me and said” We need more allowance”, and when asked what did they did with allowance I already gave them they reply, “We don’t know, but we need more!”, I would be highly skeptical of their requirement.

As it stands now, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines will spend around $45 Million this year for audits they already know will fail because of the DFAS Suspense Account issues.   Why not spend the money to fix that problem before plodding ahead for a pre-ordained result? To be sure it’s a tough problem…after all we have her unable to fix it for 10 years.

Who’s to blame, you ask?  Well, there’s enough to go around….DFAS for not fixing it, but also the Services for not taking actions to fix the paperwork before it gets to DFAS.  Ultimately, the fault probably rests on the shoulders of all those folks in DoD who improperly enter information at the command level.  I would also guess that given the kludge of IT systems required to record transactions, that errors are also introduced between systems, hand-jammed data is incorrectly transferred, and  by improperly trained people entering data.  This is what is referred to as a “Wicked Problem,” in management parlance. A “Wicked Problem” is defined as ” a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Moreover, because of complexity, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems. For more info on “Wicked Problems” you can download the original paper written by C. West Churchman for $30 here.

Is the problem of unresolved transactions so complex that it defies correction?  Perhaps given the current architecture within DoD it is, and that alone is reason for the new DCMO to tackle it.  A fresh look is needed and the DCMO might be just the person to do it.  Right now DoD has an acting DCMO, and given the current political environment, I am not too sure the current nominee, Peter Levine will get confirmed….But for now Mr. Dave Tillotson has the dot.  Can someone in an “acting” position draw enough water to tackle this problem?  Don’t know, but why not give it a whirl. If and when Mr. Levine gets in the chair, it would be a great legacy to fix this problem once and for all.  Given his reputation, I have no doubt that he could fix it.

 

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Premade Decisions: Why Bother?

I have written about the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship kerfuffle before.  The recent “non-decision” by outgoing SECDEF Hagel concerning the fate of the LCS fleet has prompted me to write again on the subject.  For those you you who haven’t followed this “crisis of our own making,” my previous musing, Rethinking LCS, provides some background which I will not repeat here. But I know it’s a hassle to click on the link, so here’s the Cliff Notes version:

  • LCS concept was for affordable, brown water vessel with modular capabilities to fulfill the presence mission in key locations around the globe.
  • LCS modular concept meant that not all missions could be done at once, keeping costs lower and enhancing adaptability for new missions.
  • LCS was not designed as a front-line warship, bristling with armament, but was configured to protect itself in most likely operating areas.
  • Navy bought two designs, hoping to down-select, but alas, since the only decisions that are generally (or admirably, if you prefer in this case) made in the Pentagon are pre-decided, the decision was made to not decide and buy both forever.
  • Elements in DoD leadership decided LCS didn’t have enough firepower and was vulnerable and directed the Navy to explore alternatives.
  • Navy commissioned a big study to scratch the OSD itch.
  • All breathlessly awaited the Uber-SECRET study results, knowing the Unter-SECRET answer: Navy can’t afford anything else…….(shhhhhhhh don’t tell anyone!!!!!!)

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I found these slides in an article by the US Naval Institute and they are attributed to the US Navy, however I couldn’t find them on the Navy website.

So that brings us to the big pre-made decision by SECDEF, after consulting, conferring and otherwise hobnobbing with the Pentagon cognoscenti.  (Who are the cognoscenti you ask?  Read SECDEF’s statement and find out.)   And the decision was:

Drum Roll Please

……stay with two LCS designs, bump them up a bit (maybe $53 or $61 Mil or so) and move on.  I think the only one surprised by the answer may have been SECDEF himself!  Otherwise, why bother?  I shudder to think about the amount of money and time spent on this study which had only one answer.  I haven’t seen the actual study, but from what I’ve read about it, no stone was left unturned (apparently 192 stones to be exact).  Option after option considered, analyzed, pondered, etc……..by those who already knew there was only one answer……we can’t afford anything else, nor can we afford the time required to start the acquisition process all over again.  The answer was pre-decided. My guess is most of the changes announced would have been made anyway.

These pre-decided decisions are common in the Pentagon, but all too often staffs are forced to do the kabuki dancekabukidance to give an air of legitimacy to them.  Those in disagreement get to say their peace and then dismissed as “having an input”, even though no one was really listening. I recall this vividly while working on budget end-game around the 2006 timeframe.  The Service programmers (three star resource folks) would be herded down to OSD about an hour before SECDEF was to receive a decision briefing on an issue, shown the slides prepared for him and then dismissed.  I barely had enough time to run back to the Vice Chief to brief him on what I had seen, let alone provide him with any analysis of what OSD had pre-decided.  Of course, if the Vice Chief were to raise an objection during the SECDEF briefing, the OSD Poobahs would announce,” Your folks have seen this and nothing was said.”

The point of this little tirade is that we waste money on these types of exercises all the time.  I think about all the good we could have done for our wounded warriors with the money we wasted on this study.  I think about all the time consumed by some very smart people who could have been working on something really important…how to deal with sequestration, how to keep the technological edge, how to fix our broken nuclear infrastructure…and any number of other problems.

Why does the Pentagon continue to do this?  I suggest it’s because they have an endless supply of people and money.  No one pays for people, they just have them.  No one has to justify the cost of doing such a study because cost is not an issue.  If I had done that in my civilian P&L life, I would have been shown the door.  I had to spend my money and time on things that mattered and contributed to the bottom line. Since there’s no bottom line at DoD, everything tends to become equally important.  Once on the Joint Staff I remember a staff briefing one day when the two topics discussed were the reduction of the nuclear arsenal by 50% and the Joint Staff savings bond campaign.  We spent the same amount of time on each…in the end it was decided we should brief the Deputy Director daily on the savings bond campaign and as needed for the nuclear issue.

I think we need a study on studies.

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Motivate me!

I just finished plowing through the 2014 Performance of the Defense Acquisition report published by Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L).  ATL Report width= I was prompted to look at it when I saw this article in the Washington Post on what motivated contractors, according to the report.  Pardon my suspicion at a report bragging about how well the current crowd at AT&L is doing, but I’m suspicious.  First….there’s a lot of statistics included and my experience is that statisticians can twist the numbers to say anything.  As evidence, I note there wasn’t much bad about the JSF (perhaps the worst performing program of all time) in the report.  Oh sure, it appears, but if one were to just glance at the charts and graphs where JSF is mentioned, you get the impression that it’s just a middle-of-the pack program…..lots of programs perform worse, a few perform better.  EXCUSE ME?  This baby is already $160 Billion behind schedule and 10 years late in delivery (and still counting by the way, especially given the disastrous fire at Eglin Air Force Base last week). How DoD can publish a report on performance of the Acquisition system without including a chapter on why the JSF program is so gooned up is beyond me.  It’s like the YouTube video when the gorilla walks through the basketball game.  Am I the only one who noticed?

Another item I thought was interesting was the conclusion that although Firm Fixed Price (FFP) contracts do perform better and generally exhibit less cost growth, the report concludes it’s because most of those contracts are lower risk anyway.  Oh by the way, the evil part of FFP contracts is that the vendors who do a good job of managing cost and performance of their programs are probably making more profit and therefore gouging the Government.  I can hear the conversation in the Pentagon now, “That darn contractor actually delivered on-cost and on-time, so we must have given him too much money!”  That substantiates my belief that the Pentagon has the uncanny ability to take from good performing programs to pay for the sins of poor performing programs, thereby dooming all programs to some level of common mediocrity.

One other point I thought was interesting….there’s no mention of contracts that were awarded on a lowest price, technically acceptable (LPTA) basis.  Some in industry contend that DoD is so bent on doing things on the cheap, that quality has suffered when contracts are awarded on an LPTA basis. I don’t know if that is just sour grapes from the expensive losers or truth.  No one seems to care…….about the quality any way.

Back to the title…..What were the conclusions?

  • Not all incentives work. In order to work they have to be used, be “significant, stable and predictable,” and they must be tied to DoD objectives.
  • Cost-Plus vs Fixed Price contract debate is a “red herring.” It’s incentive-based contracts that matter.
  • Incentive Fee contracts work best.  The big plus here is that using them allows the Government to limit contractor profits. (My personal opinion is that DoD should spend less time wringing their hands over profits and more time on getting the requirements right to begin with.)
  • FFP contracting requires knowledge of costs.  (Once again, this one refers to limiting contractor profits)
  • Programs which realize better profits in production incentivize vendors to move quickly through the development phase (Of course, this implies that the Government does not change requirements in the development phase….Good luck with that!) and saves money in the end.

So there you have it.  My little list of what incentivizes contractor to perform better goes like this:

  • Well written Requests for Proposals which are clear on requirements.
  • No requirements creep during the process.
  • Regular and reliable funding streams…none of this Continuing Resolution, furlough, of OCO stuff (Oh, how I’m tempted to use a different word here).
  • Full and Open competitions
  • Procurement professionals who spend a lot of time on improving government processes and less on monkeying around with industry processes.
  • A Government that honors multi-year procurement deals.  No canceling in mid-stream.

To be fair, I think that there have been improvements in the acquisition process and those in the driver’s seat deserve a pat on the back.  But in the end,  the fundamental problem is that the requirements process never gets it right and we spend lots of time and money recovering.  Congress doesn’t help things with its inability to pass a budget either.

 

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What to do, or what not to do. That is the question!

I received several comments after I published my last article on “Leadership in the 21st Century” and I appreciate all the comments. In that article I commented on the recent case involving a former Commanding Officer of the Navy’s elite flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels.  After consulting, conferring and otherwise hobnobbing with my  fellow former Wizards, I thought I might offer up just a few more comments on the subject before forever holding my peace on the subject of Capt. McWherter and the Blue Angels.  There was a lot going on there besides just the failure of judgement of the CO, including limited oversight by the Navy and the absence of an Executive Officer senior enough to step in and provide some advice and counsel. More on that later.

I was struck by a recent Gallup Poll which once again found the Navy as the least prestigious of the Services. I’m not sure what that means since most of what Mr. and Mrs. America think about the Services is a product of their own (the Services’) PR machines.  Wasn’t it the Navy that successfully extracted the Captain of the Maersk Alabama?  Wasn’t it the NAVY SEALS that terminated Mr. B. Laden?  Wasn’t it the Navy that was first on the scene providing relief during Hurricane Katrina, and Indonesia and Japan? Doesn’t the President always ask “Where are the carriers?” whenever something goes wrong in the world? Doesn’t the Navy run the White House mess?  Isn’t it CAPTAIN Kirk, not Colonel Kirk?  Jeez , what do you have to do to become the most prestigious Service around here?  I know……..Sponsor a race car that wins the Daytona 500!  Or make a cool commercial about killing dragons and rescuing damsels! Or lose track of a couple of nukes!

The notion struck me that part of the problem is that the Navy is too transparent.  We not only advertise when we relieve Commanding Officers (don’t think that the other Services don’t relieve their share of Commanders) but we also come clean when we relieve senior enlisted advisors.  You just don’t hear much about that from the other Services.  Of course it’s a big news item these days and I liken the problem the Navy finds itself in with regards to negative publicity to the problem I have on the golf course…..Once I’m in the woods, it’s almost impossible to get out. Either I schwack another tree in my current thicket, foolishly trying to thread the needle between a couple of obstructing trunks, or I wind up in the woods on the other side of the fairway because I gooned up my attempt to pitch out. Why I don’t just pick it up and take a “Snow Man” when I wind up in the woods I’ll never know.  That’s where the Navy is right now, in the trees and trying to pitch out.

This openness puts us behind the eight ball in my humble opinion….On the other hand, I think being open about our problems is not all bad.  At least it shows we are aware of the problem and attempting to deal with it.  But what exactly is The Problem?  Is it that the Navy has a crisis in leadership?  I don’t think so……in fact I know that’s not the problem. With close to 300 ships, 50 or so aviation squadrons and probably at least 100 shore commands, we actually have very few COs that break the event threshold.  In fact, you could write 100 good stories for every bad one…but that doesn’t sell papers.

I’ve commented before on abusive leaders, so I won’t beat that dead horse.  The Navy and DoD have reacted to lost nukes, out-of-control Commanding Officers and other misdeeds  by increasing  ethics training, establishing an ethics Czar ( and a very capably one I might add), and adding ethics courses to Prospective CO schools and Senior Enlisted schools.  But in the end, by then what is there to train? Someone is going to stand up in front of a class of prospective Commanding Officers and say……Don’t have sex with your XO, don’t use counterfeit casino chips, don’t fake your death to escape from your bad marriage, etc etc?  I don’t think this will have much of an impact. It’s focusing on what not to do…….not what to do.  The striking thing about almost all the heinous infractions that appear in the news is that none of them are questions on the margin. They are about personal failures by people who should know better.  No amount of training will fix that.  What we can do is:

  1. Focus training efforts of prospective COs and Senior Enlisted Advisors on how to be successful, not how to stay out of trouble.  Be positive, proactive and practical in training COs.
  2. Provide support to leaders. Conduct regular checkups of commanders by mentors who have successfully navigated the waters of command.  (Not IG-like, but as a sanity check)
  3. Improve the fitness report system to allow for a more honest appraisal of  performance and potential for command (I don’t know what the number is now, but it used to be that 70% of officers were in the top 10%…..similar to the current VA flap which found that all SES’s in VA we rated in the top 2 performance categories)
  4. Revamp the command selection process to take advantage of improved fitness reports and include 360 reviews as part of the process
  5. Continue to set the bar high for performance in command

The bottom line: Let’s spend more time on how to succeed in command,instead of how not to fail.  There’s a big difference.

 

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Porsche or Maserati? What to Drive?

Let’s see…..What do I drive to work this morning?  My Porsche or my Maserati?  Gosh, it’s such a tough choice.   When I read all the rhetoric coming out of the Pentagon theses days about the tough choices they are making over there, I tend to think that’s their definition of  a “tough choice.” Maserati or PorcheGranted they do make a few hard choices, but none of them are the budget choices they are making for the FY15 budget that’s on the Hill right now.  They have so much money to deal with that the normal ways in which you or I would deal with problems is not possible.  There are several reasons why I believe the tough  choices are not possible.  In fact, in the Pentagon the toughest choices are actually the easiest.  Take for example the luxury of scale.  Because of the vast quantity of money the Pentagon has, scale makes things easy.  Let’s just say for the sake of argument that the total Pentagon budget for 2015 will be around $550 Billion.  I’m  working on the budget and I need to come up with $5oo million to pay for my “widget ” program because it’s two years behind schedule and Congressional support is waning.  I dare not go to the Hill and ask for more money.  What tough choices can I make?  How about I assume the inflation rate for next year will be 0.1% less than it currently is….Guess what?  Instant $550 Million in my pocket.   Problem solved!

Another factor which prevents the tough decisions is the herd mentality.  It’s much safer to stay with the herd than to break away.  Suppose one senior leader in DoD, uniformed or civilian had said, “I value people over weapons.  The margin of superiority that we enjoy over our adversaries is so great that I don’t mind shaving a few dollars off my massive budget to ensure I fulfill the promises we made to our Number One weapons system, our people.” What do you think would happen?  That person would be dragged to the River Entrance and publicly flogged and made to walk the plank into the Pentagon Lagoon.  So it’s much easier and safer to stay with the herd.  The tough decision is to break away from the herd and stand on principle.

Yet another problem in the way of making tough decisions is the limited line of sight of senior people.  They only know what their staffs want them to know.  And if you have ever been a staffer, you know that staffs tend to seek out the solution of least resistance in order to move on to the next problem.  Solving the problem is more important than how the problem was solved.   If everyone tells SECDEF that the only way to balance the Pentagon budget is to make the tough choice to continue to fund (and actually add more money to) the worst performing acquisition program in history, the F-35, and to pull money from Commissaries, up TRICARE fees and fiddle around with the retirement system, he believes them.  Somehow that seems like a no-brainer to me.  A few billion dollars is not going to make a difference in the JSF.  It’s already over $160 Billion over budget and 7 years behind schedule.  Does anyone think the money saved by cutting Commissary subsidies by $1 Billion is really going to make a difference? Well, not to the JSF, but it will certainly make a difference to a young E-2 Marine who is already on food stamps and struggling to make ends meet!

There’s also the Irreversibility Principle.  I saw this time and time again when I was in the building.  In fact, I admit guilt in actually using the Irreversibility Principle to my advantage.  It goes something like this:  The DoD budget is so complex and large that once it’s put together, it’s impossible to start over.  If you don’t get your oar in the water at the very beginning, then you will be unable to make a change.  If you want to have any hope of making a tough decision with major impacts, it must be made very early.  What do you think the DoD budget would look like if in the very beginning SECDEF had said, “Whatever we do to balance the budget, it must not be on the backs of our people.” I guarantee you there’s plenty of wiggle room to develop the budget without monkeying with people programs.  Just take a look at my previous article, Food Stamps and Decisions, and you will see what other things might be done besides chopping people programs.  The tough decision is to declare the Irreversibility Principle null and void and demand a change.  Heck, there’s so much churn in the development of the budget these days a little more chaos isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Finally, there’s the Fixation problem. Ralph Waldo Emerson said ” A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”  For example, over the past few years there has been attempt after attempt to raise TRICARE fees again and again and again…(sorry , I got carried away!).  Each time it’s shot down by the Congress and public opinion.  But it’s their baby now, and to back down would admit defeat.  There’s a “pay any price, bear any burden” mentality now associated with the TRICARE issue to the detriment of looking for alternate solutions.  This is what happened with Asiana Airlines Flight 214.  The pilots got so focused on the landing threshold and altitude they forgot to monitor airspeed and engine power.  The same thing happens in the budget process.  People get so focused on a single solution that they forget to look for others.

So it’s hard to make tough choices in the Pentagon.  If there’s any hope of actually getting to the tough choices that NEED to be made, the following “Tough” decision barriers must be addressed:

  1. Luxury of Scale
  2. Herd Mentality
  3. Limited Line of Sight
  4. Irreversibility Principle
  5. Fixation

How will we know when “tough” decisions are being made?  I think there are a few signs:

  • Service budget allocations will no longer be roughly equal
  • Under and Poorly performing programs will be cancelled
  • Majority-based decisions are made instead of consensus decisions (In other words, someone is going to be unhappy, or at least more unhappy that the rest)
  • Decisions being made early in the process
  • The number of Decision Making bodies in DoD will decrease (let’s see, they have the Joint Chiefs, the JROC, the DAWG, the Small Group, the Large Group, the SCAMR, the DBC, ……….sigh!)

If the Five Barriers to tough decision making are removed, we just might see some of those signs in our lifetime.

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Food Stamps and Decisons

I’ve had the opportunity and honor to meet with Marines and Sailors in the field, working hard and doing the incredibly difficult things they do….all with enthusiasm and a smile. My first thought was, “It’s good to be way outside the Beltway!”  But that’s nothing new.  Somewhere in the attic filled with the boxes of all the command plaques and farewell pictures that I’m not allowed to put on the walls is my favorite, the ubiquitous “Pentagon in the Rear View Mirror” farewell picture, signed by all my shipmates who were so sorry to see me go.  My recent flight to freedom outside the Beltway has caused me to reflect on just how hard it is for many of the leaders in the Pentagon to leave their commands, far removed from the self-generated controversies  inside the Beltway, and plunge themselves back into the budget battles, policy proliferation and day-to-day crises that erupt in the Pentagon.  No wonder they are  happy  when they escape, even if only for a brief while.

 

 

So this is a round-about way to get to today’s topic, which is really all about decisions and an appreciation for just how difficult making them can be.  I remember listening to Bill Lynn, former Deputy Secretary of Defense, at a briefing where he was opining about some of the challenges he faced.  His point was that it’s really tough being the DEPSECDEF, because all of the easy decisions have be made by people below him in the chain of command.  He wasn’t complaining about that and I don’t blame him.  If you are in a leadership role and you find yourself making easy decisions, then I would submit something’s wrong.  Your value to the organization is in making those tough decisions that no one else can or wants to make.  That’s your “value proposition.”  I used to tell my staff that I was willing to make any decision they asked me to make, but the ground rules were once they came to me and I made a decision, they were stuck with it.  They were out of options.  That tended to weed out the easy ones. (I’ve always hoped that it wasn’t because my decisions were so egregiously bad, by the way) There’s a great book which has had a substantial impact (see my course on Ethical Decision Making) on my life as a leader entitled “How Good People Make Tough Choices” by Dr. Rushworth Kidder.  I commend it to you.  The basic premise is that just about anyone can decide issues of right and wrong, black or white, legal or illegal, but the ability of leaders to decide between two equally “right” options is essential and requires the special talents of a leader.  As a leader, you should strive to prepare yourself to make those types of decisions and reflect on the factors you consider when making them.  One example is a simple one.  It’s made every day in thousands of households every day:  Do I take the family out to dinner tonight, or do I save the money and put it in the college fund?  Both answers are equally good, I suppose.  I teach a class on ethical decision making based on Dr. Kidder’s book and I always ask the question,”When you are driving in the countryside eating an apple, do you toss the core out when finished?”  After all it’s biodegradable and some hungy creature might enjoy the treat.  It will actually help the environment.  Most people will say that they have done that.  But it’s always interesting when I ask if before they do it, do they wait until there’s no car behind them. Hmmmm. If it’s a good decision, why wait?

Here is an example of they types of tough decisions faced by the leadership: Do we cut Commissary subsidies to free up money for operations and procurement? The dilemma here is that DoD needs the money to fund and modernize weapons systems, but at the same time troops used over $103.6 Million in food stamps at base commissaries in 2013.  That’s a tough question to which either answer, yes or no, is correct.  Dr. Kidder points out that in the process one should first check and see it there might not be a third option that isn’t readily apparent.  Decision makers sometime get so focused on two options, they sometime overlook others.  For instance, with over $100 Billon in working capital funds throughout the DoD, if they set a goal to become just 1 per cent more efficient, they would generate the money for commissary subsidies.  I know our leaders have to make hundreds of these decisions each day.  I respect that and trust their judgement.  I only hope that in making their tough decisions they don’t become so focused on “yes or no”, that there might be a third alternative out there somewhere that was overlooked.

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