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.
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