Thursday, January 26, 2017

Managing Effective Organizations

Managing Effective Organizations

Many people who decry government, really government at all levels, claim that government is:

a.       Inefficient and therefore a waste of taxpayer money;

b.      Overly intrusive into the lives of ordinary citizens; and

c.       Ineffective, i.e., they never achieve their stated goals.

So, these voter-folks cast their precious ballots to elect people who espouse similar views, e.g., the Donald Trumps of the world. And the Donald Trumps of the world promise to reduce the size of government, its cost burden, and simultaneously, to make government work for all citizens.

Permit me to clarify my own views and how those views were formed; During my approximately 60 year working career, I worked for:

a.       large for-profit corporations—Firestone Guided Missile Division and Lockheed Missiles and Space Company as an engineer working on nuclear missile design and development;

b.      small-medium for-profit companies—management consulting at Management Systems Corporation and Peat, Marwick, Livingston (now KPMG), Practical Concepts, Inc., all carrying out program design and evaluation studies, both on aerospace projects, and later on public health systems;

c.       medium non-profit research at The Urban Institute, carrying out program evaluation studies;

d.      Large, i.e., Federal, government while working at the then Department of Health, Education & Welfare under both Presidents Carter and Reagan, running an evaluation office carrying out evaluation studies of public programs, mainly health related;

e.      And finally, my own nominally for-profit management consulting company carrying out studies in strategic planning, and program evaluation.

One of the many lessons I derived from this long working experience is that organizational size matters. That is, large, for-profit corporations resemble large government in many ways. They are equally bureaucratic, both share the same range of executive competence, both have dedicated and “casual” employees. So a large corporate entity can be compared with a federal government agency and you will find many shared characteristics.

There is also, obviously, a relatively large difference between the for-profit and not-for-profit world of corporate entities.  One could say, again obviously, that in one case the for-profit company seeks to maximize profit as its end game, while the other seeks to maximize its impact on its mission.  That distinction can reveal itself in many ways, some that we might view as undesirable, as for example when a Donald trump refuses to pay his  contractors and staff, thereby boosting his bottom line, or when a large banking entity decides to launder drug monies and establish offshore (i.e., untaxable) accounts for gangster drug lords.

Now consider the subject of high-level recruitment of executive staff for these varied organizations. One might assume that rational beings would always look for the most competent individuals to run organizations of any size, whether for-profit or other. On average, that assumption proves true, despite much evidence that we do not always succeed.  Many people believe, for example, that Carly Fiorina was a disaster as CEO of Hewlett Packard. Some arguably would disagree.

But few will argue openly that we would ever consider hiring someone who is basically antagonistic to the central mission and purposes of the entity they would manage.  For example, would you ever hire a global bank CEO who is antagonistic to the global banking end game? Someone, for example, who believed that global banks should be broken up because they are simply too large and counterproductive to world order? I think not.

So, why would we consider hiring people into the highest levels of government who are antagonistic to the central purposes of the agencies they will manage?

I am thinking here of Donald Trump’s list of cabinet appointments. Let’s look at one potential appointee: Betsy Devos to be Cabinet Secretary of Education.  Devos has zero experience running any large entities and, after inheriting her megamillions, has served as an advocate for the privatization of the country’s public school system. Neither she nor her children have ever attended public school and she advocates for what is called “school choice”, which seems to mean using public tax monies to finance private schools which are then largely unaccountable to the public.  According to Wikipedia:

DeVos is a member of the Republican Party known for her advocacy of school choice, voucher programs, and ties to the Reformed Christian community. She was Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan from 1992 to 1997 and served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000, with reelection to the post in 2003. DeVos has been a defender of the Detroit charter school system and she is a member of the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She has served as chairwoman of the board of Alliance for School Choice and heads the All Children Matter PAC. DeVos is married to Dick DeVos, the former CEO of multi-level marketing company Amway, and is the daughter-in-law of billionaire and Amway co-founder Richard DeVos. Her brother, Erik Prince, a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer, is the founder of Blackwater USA.”

One can argue whether charter schools have been successful or not, and there is some considerable evidence they have been less than compelling, but it still seems at best odd that we would want Mrs. Devos to run a public education system with which she fundamentally disagrees.  She is a contradiction in terms as a Department of Education CEO.

Clearly, our elected representatives need to eliminate Mrs. Devos as a candidate for that position. Our children need and deserve an advocate for high quality, publically accountable, public education.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Let the Games Begin

In a recent New York Times article, actual Trump supporters, women in this case, were quoted as stating the following. I have combined into one segment the several views of the women interviewed:

“I voted for Trump because I wanted change. I feel like our economy has totally tanked. People do not have disposable income. I feel the last eight years have been a joke. Obama was out for himself. I don’t think he really respected the office. I think it was more about him being a celebrity than a president”.  -- Obama was out for himself . . . it was more about him being a celebrity than a president? And you weren’t speaking of the definitive celebrity, Donald Trump, but of President Obama???

Trump’s a successful businessman, and I feel like that’s what America needs to bring our economy back. I don’t think Donald Trump is really Republican, to be quite honest with you. He’s not in a box. One of the most attractive things to me is he can’t be boxed. He wants to bring America back to what it was before. I don’t think it’s taking us back to women have no rights or slavery days. – Trump is almost the definitive unsuccessful businessman. He has had, I believe six bankruptcies. He does not pay the people, both staff and contractors, who work for him. Many/most of the things that bear his name are not produced by him. He engages in fraud, such as Trump University.  And he consistently indicates that he does not care about anyone but himself.

When Trump became my only choice, I felt he was the lesser of two evils. I had major issues with Hillary as far as ethics was concerned. It seems she feels that she is above the law and nothing ever seems to stick. I didn’t particularly like everything he was saying as far as building a wall, and doing this to immigrants. I looked at that more as bravado, his audience needed that to get the applause. – It is interesting to note how the Republican Party, Trump especially, laid on an image of Hillary that was almost wholly false.  People had issues with Hillary regarding her ethics?  And this Trump supporter had no trouble with Trump’s ethics? Really?

But there are allegations about killing people who get in her way — Vince Foster, people like that. Someone who has a big bravado is not as concerning to me as someone who might kill people who get in her way. – Another entirely fabricated event—the killing of Vince Foster, attributed incorrectly to Hillary so as to paint her as beyond all bounds of decency.  Foster committed suicide, and many subsequent investigations reached the same conclusion. Yet, the folks who hate Hillary (and Bill) continued to assign her at least partial blame, with absolutely no evidence. But when did Hillary-haters need facts to back up their cause?

I felt he had what it would take to get the country back on track. Being P.C. was going to kill the country. He speaks his mind and because of that, he’s not going to lie to you. I don’t want immigrants, accepting them without doing the background checks. I don’t want to live in a country where we have to worry about going to the movie theater or the mall. Let’s be on the offensive, versus the defensive.” – Really, Trump won’t lie to you? How do you know Trump is lying? Well, whenever he opens his mouth and words come tumbling out, he is lying.  Trump is afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as well as a Sociopathic Personality Disorder. Folks like him lie all the time. And he has been lying to us throughout his campaign, and he will continue to lie throughout his administration, until he gets impeached.  But that assertion has been well documented throughout the campaign, so it is not exactly a hidden story about the man.  So, to reject Hillary and accept Trump on the basis of which one lies is so absurd that it beggars belief.

So, really . . . actual sentient humans said those things?  

The last 8 years has been a joke?

Trump is the “lesser of two evils”?

This leads me to consider whether we are dealing with some form of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance -- In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.                                        

Dissonance is felt when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one's belief, the dissonance can result in restoring consonance through misperception, rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others.

This describes almost perfectly what we can observe with Trump and his supporters throughout the campaign and subsequent to his victory via the Electoral College. All contrary views, regardless of their source, are rejected, and bubbles are formed around the supporters so they will receive nothing but supportive views about Trump.  And it is what Trump thrives on as a way of coping with his environment.

But why would folks follow down that path?

Because they’re racist or misogynist? Well, doubtless, some of his supporters deserve those labels, but perhaps not all.  That he still retains about 37% support suggests that something else is afoot within our population.

I think that we have a sizable population that has, a) been ignored for decades now, and b) finally heard someone call out to them in their perceived hour of need. The population believes itself to have been abandoned by our political system, while simultaneously being screwed out of life by people in power—mainly industrialists, bankers, and even, the government.  But note, please, that many people confuse the government with the industrialists when assigning blame for their personal plight.

And what is that plight you might ask? Well, their economic outlook is in the toilet, and many cannot make ends meet.  Coal miners would be a prime example. Mines are closing and have closed, and, often, coal miners have no alternatives. They are undereducated, having learned their trade on the job. Miners are similar to the mill workers of old, who complete a modest level of education, then go immediately into their trade. In olden times, the companies actually built homes, schools, and stores, so the workers were almost literally surrounded by the company for their entire lives, and then their kids would take their places.  You can find many similar examples throughout US industries, including the automobile industry. One can imagine that, even high tech would give rise to similar situations. The key is that the workers, however skilled they become at their chosen trade, acquire no flexibility when presented with an end to their particular jobs, as companies close, or shift their production to regions with lower wage levels.

And why do companies shift production to other lower wage regions? Well, they have to compete with other countries with lower levels of income. The companies must either become more productive, through such approaches as automation, or more simply by moving their means of production to low wage regions.  Note, even if the companies adopt more productive means of production, e.g., automation, the workers will still lose their jobs.

A solution to such problems might be to re-educate the workers in some other field wherein they might become more employable.  When the old Cannon/Pillowtex mills closed in Kannapolis, NC, for example, workers were offered a chance to obtain education/training in another field.  The problem with that solution is that many workers are middle aged and have no interest/capacity to undergo such training to retrofit their lives to the new environment.

So, we are left with an increasing population of workers who are unemployed and often unemployable.  Those workers will become bitter over time and look to officialdom for rescue.  When no rescue is forthcoming, they will become desperately unhappy and will continue to look for someone to blame.

As unions shrink in size and importance, union jobs also shrink in size and importance. The formerly union workers will continue to look for solutions from “officialdom”. Finding none, they will also be separated from the economy and will be angry.

Now, these folks will provide a ready audience for any political demagogue—see Donald Trump.

But we have in America an even larger audience for such demagogues. For example, almost immediately after Barack Obama was elected, the “Tea Party” was formed with support from people such as the Koch Brothers.  It now seems clear that the Tea Party really is the KKK wing of the Republican Party. So, we have a core of folks who might fit the racist label.

We also seem to have a large group who really, really dislike Hillary. Some women, for example, never forgave Hillary for staying with Bill after he rather publically managed to obtain a blowjob in the oval office, while eating a pizza and talking on the phone.  So, Hillary is forever a lost cause to that group. And they, apparently do not care what Trump does and says he does. And they also do not care that Trump has been married three times.

So, when you add up the pile of disaffected voters, they apparently give you that 37% who continue to support him, despite his deplorable record and behavior.  Now, whether that group will desert him as he continues to lie to them and fails to deliver on his promises is a question that is open at the moment. But, having committed themselves to this weird course, I would predict that they will allow him to lie in his defense, and to lay the blame for his failures at other doorsteps.

So, let the games begin. And may the worst of outcomes be avoided, although, at this stage, I cannot see how that might happen.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Minyan for a Grassroots Movement

Interesting life stage. No, not the current mess outside . . . all that ice covered with snow. No, I mean our mess just beginning in Washington. And the Drumpf isn’t even yet on board.  But his various swamp creatures, Paul Ryan, et al, are already hard at work dismantling what is left of the Great Society legacy of FDR and his followers.
Right out of the box, of course is the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). It will be replaced, I understand, with Trumpcare. What is Trumpcare you might ask? Well, Trumpcare is a promise to provide health care at some future stage, currently undefined to all those 20+ million folks who signed up for Obamacare. They won’t have any health care protection for a while, but hey, they didn’t have any before Obamacare kicked in either.  So, what’s the big deal? You must understand that the Drumpf first has to build his wall that the Mexicans are going to pay for (hahahahahahahahaha).  Oh, and while he is killing Obamacare, he plans to defund the Planned Parenthood clinics, through which a lot of folks get their prenatal care and cancer screenings. Republicans really hate it when all those folks get health care.
But Paul Ryan is a big thinker. He’s after way more than Obamacare. He wants to kill Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, and thinks he has them in his sights.  It is not yet clear how he plans to disenfranchise the many millions who currently collect from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Paul Ryan is a big thinker, but he doesn’t seem to be real accomplished at actually doing anything.  On Medicare, and perhaps even Medicaid, we think he wants to give folks vouchers to buy health care from your friendly neighborhood health insurance company—makes me wonder whether Paulie has his stock portfolio chocker-block full of private insurance company stocks.  A voucher. Yeah, that’s what we need . . . a voucher.  No rules of engagement. Just a voucher and a note saying, “Good luck, Paulie”.
Social Security is a bit tougher. I mean, how does he replace automatic payments each month from the government? Maybe, a voucher with a note saying, “we’re giving you discount coupons to WalMart.”
But then on other fronts, the republicans also seem to want to kill public education. And guess what, there too, they want to give folks vouchers to just go buy education for your kids.  A little unclear just why they dislike public education . . . maybe because it’s . . . public. They do seem to hate everything associated with Government, aside from, of course, themselves.  So, bye bye public education.  Oh, and then there’s that relationship between education levels and voters who support democrats.  Can’t have that.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Washington, DC) we still await the arrival of the new first family—the Drumpf and his daughter (surrogate first lady). I guess Melania will stay in New York, while Ivanka helps daddy-poo entertain all those important people. I guess Ivanka speaks English, so she’s less likely to embarrass her daddy-poo. Maybe Melania will oversee The Trump Towerland, while Daddy and Ivanka oversee the real action. One of the guys will meanwhile hold down the fort at Maralago, entertaining all of daddy’s Russian lenders, who seem to be manifold. Can’t have all those Russian and Chinese “investors” unhappy, can we?
All that makes me wonder where Vlad the Impaler will house his KGB-US headquarters.  Probably New York, but Maralago would make for relatively easier coming and going by submarine, wouldn’t it? Oh, it’s all going to be so entertaining, until someone shuts it all down, and we all enter the collective global toilet. But, until then, have fun folks.
On the subject of what to do, what to do, a dear friend came up with an idea. Barbara Thiede, a writer for our local newspaper, and a rabbi has come up with an idea she is calling Minyans for a Grassroots Movement. What is a Minyan, you might ask? Well, in the Jewish tradition, a Minyan is a group of at least ten folks who would form a quorum needed to say prayers. So, on this political front, the idea would be to gather a small group to send messages—phone calls, mail, e-mails—to our local, state and National political representatives on specific issues of concern. If any of the ten decide to prepare a message, they will send that message to each member of the Minyan. The members can then decide to write something similar, or cut and paste a supportive message. Then if each member sends that message to friends, the friends can also become supportive members, and so on.
The central idea is to get as many people as possible writing, or calling legislative representatives, whether those reps are of the same or different political persuasion. If your reps, like ours, are to the right of Atilla the Hun, they still need to hear from constituents, otherwise they will imagine they are acting with the complicit support of their voters.  Don’t let them think that.
So, that’s the message for the day.
Write or call your elected representatives. Do it often. Let them know how you feel about what they are doing or thinking of doing. Just do it.
Here is at least a starting list of elected representatives' contact information.

NORTH CAROLINA legislature:
Paul Newton = State Senator

Some House representatives:

US House & Senate:

Thom Tillis

Richard Burr (US Senate)

Richard Hudson ( US House, district 8 in NC)

Robert Pittenger (US House District 9)

Ta ta . . .