Re-engineer your thinking about change

Federal employees who have been around for many years undoubtedly have endured numerous restructuring efforts, turning buzzwords such as "re-engineering" and "reorganization" into cuss words.

Why have some organizations undergone so many re-engineering procedures? And do they really cure the issues associated with the management of resources — including workers? Does an organization's problem truly lie within its structure, or is the problem its personnel?

It is possible that an organization's problems are caused by poor performers (including employees at all levels), by personnel lacking self-motivation and by chronically "high-maintenance" employees.

Federal employees as a whole are among the most dedicated workers. But when problems arise, federal managers do not do well in addressing and correcting personnel issues. Some managers prefer a nonconfrontational approach. Some take the problem employee and set him or her in a corner somewhere — out of sight, out of mind.

So, why start this column with a focus on poor workers and flawed managers? Simply because dealing with poor performers is an overlooked area in any re-engineering or reorganizing effort.

{h3} So What Is "Re-engineering"?

The re-engineering process takes apart the existing structure and shapes it into a new order. Some organizations hire private consultants to come in to the organization and do a "shake and bake" process, with the expectation that the organization will be better organized, more productive and will meet government mandates such as the Clinger-Cohen Act. Although the re-engineering process attempts to look at an organization from a totally different viewpoint, the human system still poses a problem — it is the battery in the clock.

Recently I ran into a case in which during the past nine years, a private organization reorganized itself six times, re-engineered once, and then reorganized that re-engineered organization right back to where it started: a linear organization. (Typically, you will find a linear structure in military organizations, where "chain-of-command" lines are so necessary.) Neither the reorganizing nor the re-engineering efforts took serious account of the knowledge, skills and abilities of the existing workforce and how those qualities could be used to reshape the organization.

{h3} Put Planning into the Process

Any re-engineering effort is doomed if certain critical factors are missing. Such factors must be included in planning efforts:

* Leadership. Seeking improvement calls for understanding exactly what's wrong with the organization. But an organization's leader — who generally would initiate change — may not realize that the problem is the leadership itself. The solution lies with the senior leader of the organization (above the agency) taking charge.

* Customers and competitors. Who are they, and what do they want? All organizations should have and maintain a customer support policy that addresses how to communicate with agency customers both internally and externally.

* Business process ownership. The managers of an organization are the owners of the business process. It is not enough to maintain the status quo and fail to review business processes. Some business processes do not need to be thrown out entirely, but merely brought more in line with actual requirements. I recently reviewed the IT procurement process within my organization and developed new procedures for managing it. A key problem was the procurement of new technology tools and failing to test and develop user policy BEFORE acquisition and distribution took place.

* Strategic planning. Improving organizational processes begins with a clear understanding of an agency's mission and core functions. Establish goals and objectives in order to build toward achieving a realistic vision. Strategic planning should follow two roads, IT machine systems and IT human systems, knowing that one does not work well without the other. The government has not been very good at understanding the maintenance aspects of the human system in that we make little effort to use those assets more productively. Education, training and growing future leaders within the organization is a key to the success of the strategic plan.

* Systems integration and automation tools. Systems integration takes on many aspects, but one that has a significant impact on our daily business is the ability to share and receive real-time data critical to our operations. The federal environment continues to fail in information sharing, as one group frequently does not know what another is doing. This leads to duplication of functions and efforts, with a negative impact on customers.

* Obstacles. In order to effect change, government must address a number of obstacles, which include individual job skills, the existing structure, managers' "people skills," the development of working measurements, establishing and maintaining reward systems and understanding employee cultures and values.

* Mental models. We have created a work culture in which those who scream the loudest are the ones who are heard. We also have created a culture in which management is too busy with its own agendas to focus on internal personnel problems — to the point where some nonperformers are never questioned nor charged with performing to expected levels of proficiency. Changing this mind-set begins with reviewing the managers and supervisors responsible for those personnel. If those section chiefs continue to fail in their responsibilities as leaders, the solution is to assign them to other duties and to appoint new managers with better "people" management skills.

* Structural changes. Preparing for organizational transformation involves a long list of areas that must be reviewed, including strategic and capital planning, leadership and change management, clear objectives, employee involvement and understanding how the changes will affect customer focus and the core business functions. As a department head, I would not reorganize again unless there was a clear mission change warranting a new structural change.

* Values. When change is necessary, employee buy-in is critical. Imagine attempting to instill company values on employees who are moved from one office to another for no apparent reason, not knowing when the next reorganization would take place and why, and not receiving appropriate career counseling and training support. An organization in a frequent state of change can do little to instill a sense of belonging. All employees seek stability and assurance.

* Tools for change. A number of tools can be used to assist an organization in its re-engineering and reorganizing efforts. One of the tools, the Activity Model, helps leadership to understand the baseline ("as is") and the target ("to be"). Another tool, Activity Based Costing, basically is an accounting technique that can determine the actual cost associated with each product and service produced by the organization, without regard to the organizational process.

The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) is yet another tool. I had the opportunity to become directly involved in the development of performance measures to comply with GPRA. I learned that performance measures must always show a balance between the data collected and the benefits derived. We were unable to come to such a balance. When we ask managers to develop performance measures, we must develop realistic targets and measure those things that are important to the organization.

Counting the number of grains we put in a bird feeder is far less important than having the birds come back time and again because of what you are offering.

Ramos is policy manager for the U.S. Army Reserve's Chief Information Office.

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