Letter: Micromanagement a systemic problem

Regarding "Are you a micromanager?"

In response to all the answers provided by both Mike and Judy, let me say that as a doctoral candidate specializing in business management there is a much bigger systemic problem with government supervisors and management than is going to be addressed by simple answers to an online question.

First, the fact that the question “How could your agency or manager make you happier and more successful on the job” resulted in so many similar responses about negative management, leadership and organizational behavior practices is saying something very significant about what is currently going on with management, leadership and organizational behavior in the government. Yes, two dozen comments is not a large number in relation to the number of people who are working in government. However, the fact that most of them “highlighted similar concerns” is a statistically significant point.

Second, what the ratio of similar to dissimilar responses says as well is that there is very clearly a need for a much more detailed look at the issues associated with management, leadership and organizational behavior practices in the government.

Finally, in support of the data which indicates a need for more in-depth looks at current management, leadership and organizational behavior practices. The following is just a small example of what I have personally seen, heard and experienced from GS-13, 14 and 15 supervisors just since September 2006 when I started taking notes for use in my doctoral studies:

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According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Web site, “The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993 created a focus on strategic planning never before seen in the Federal sector. In addition, agencies have made significant progress in recent years in downsizing and restructuring their operations to focus on results and customer service. If the Government is to continue to successfully and effectively improve its operations, agency executives must make a conscious effort to integrate strategic human resources management into their agency’s planning and decision making processes. After all -- even with all the financial resources, materials, computers, buildings and facilities one can imagine -- without people there would be no possibility of achieving results. We need to attend to our people, or human capital, and their strategic value to have the most effective Government possible.” (Strategic Human Resources Management).

Why the system is not working as it should:

“You’re nothing. I don’t care what you did or have done or what degrees, certifications, or experience you have, or anything. You are nothing. You are not my peer or equal. I am a GS-14, and you are a GS-9 who will never be my peer or equal.”

GS-14 to GS-9 employee, March 2007.

“I don’t know what you have been smoking or where you got the information you sent to me, but you have either been smoking something funny or you are out of your mind if you think you can bypass time-in-grade restrictions using your disabled veterans preference; no matter what the rules say. To let you do that would not be fair to all the others who have been forced to wait their turn because they aren’t disabled veterans.”

“It took me 26 years to get where I am, and you are not going to just waltz in here and jump over career civilians who have had to wait their turn. I really don’t know what you are on, who you think you are, or where you come off with that disabled veterans preference garbage.”

GS-14 supervisor to GS-9, 40%, service-connected, VRA, VEOA, 10-point CPS, disabled veteran, term employee, July 2007.

“Boy, I really came out well on that one. I knew the guy doing the hiring, and he made sure I got the job. I don’t have a clue what I am doing, but it is so cool to be the one in charge and having people kissing my ass for a change.”

GS-14 from AFRICOM discussing her new job with people from her previous command during a break at NSPS Employee training, November 2007.

“You know; you should smarten up and understand that if you don’t do what we say, if we want to I, and X can screw you and there is nothing you can do about it because you are a YA-2 Term over-hire and we can make sure the command gets rid of you any time we want to because no one is going to believe you if you tell them what we say to you and about you to our peers”.

UC-2 (GS-13) supervisor to YA-2 (GS-11) term employee in front of YC-3 (GS-14) director, March 2008

“Where do you get off telling a GS-15 that what they are saying is not true? I don’t care if you are retired from the military or what your civilian leadership and management experiences was, to me you’re just a know-nothing GS-11 term employee with only 18 months in government service and you do not have any right to tell anyone higher than you anything even if it is not true. The statement that was put out by Ms X (GS-15) is the way the command wants it to be, and you have no right to say anything about it not being true. I am ordering you to apologize to Ms X (GS15) for embarrassing her in front of COL Y and Brigadier General (Marine) Z, and you will not speak to or communicate with anyone else anywhere in any part of the government ever again without notifying me first”.

YC-3 (GS-14) supervisor to YA-2 (GS-11) employee, March 2008.

Permanent YA-2 (GS-11) to term YA-2 (GS-11), June 2008; I know that what they are doing in telling others in the area not to hire you and attacking you in front of others is wrong, but I cannot risk them turning on me if I testify for you to the IG about what they have been and are doing. Especially since some of the people who are doing it are friends of my husband, and if I say anything it will hurt his career as well as kill mine. I have talked about it with others in the office as well, and we are all very sympathetic about what they have done and are doing to you, but none of us can risk our own careers. The people coming after you simply have too many powerful political connections with military GOs and high level Army & DoD civilians who will do whatever it takes to protect themselves and those they support. I’m really sorry, but I can’t get involved.”

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Now, take the sorts of attitudes expressed by GS-13, 14 and 15 civilian supervisors denigrating and attacking their employees, especially disabled veterans, in private and public. Look at the fact that their attitudes are a normal part of the ways that things are run. Then add to it the fear factor associated with employees who are terrified of the consequences of standing up to those who are above them. What is obvious is that there is a much greater systemic problem with management in the government than is obvious from the reports being put out by those very same people.

The idea that there is a system problem is further supported by a recent doctoral level research paper submitted to the University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies where it was stated:

“Based on unofficial interviews and personal access to restricted information which is not available for public release, there is no doubt that implementation of the DoD and Army Business Transformation initiatives are not being fully implemented as directed. However, open access to real numbers and information from organizations and employees are subject to the many political winds that blow throughout every government organization.” (Atkinson, 2008).

In the end, negative employee-related management, leadership and organizational behavior practices cost the government time and money first because it creates a negative work-place atmosphere, and second because the best and brightest go elsewhere at the first available opportunity.

Yet, without the ability to get uninhibited access to employees and open and honest feedback free of the fear of retaliation from supervisors, things will not change.

James E. Atkinson, retired Navy

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Reader comments

Thu, Jun 3, 2010

Here is one for you: "You are not autonomous! You aren't an AO anymore, and I don't care what you did when you were." A couple of years later, this same supervisor was asking why she was still having to sign documentation that my predecessor used to handle. Basically, I told her it was because she said so.

Thu, Nov 6, 2008 Phil Burke

Unfortunately, the very kinds of abuse and intimidation outlined in this article also occur in many state and local government organizations as well as many large corporations. Unless the rules of evidence are relaxed and the actions criminalized, I fear these abuses will continue in all the venues I mentioned.Personally, I am very lucky to not be working in a group that operates as depicted in this article.

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