It should come as no surprise that the Defense Department, particularly our Defense Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR), capabilities are by far ‘technically’ superior than most of our adversaries similar capabilities in just about every measurable form conceivable. Our requirements community has been dishing out new idea after new idea, with industry support of course, and the titans of Defense (i.e. your Lockheed’s and Grumman’s) have been more than happy to build it ($!!). So what’s wrong about that?
A lot and I fully intend on getting there soon enough with this blog, but onto my thought this week: HR needs a seat at the table.
Why does it take 2 years for ‘concept’ to reach ‘development’ and another 2-4 years before ‘development’ reaches ‘production’? (I’m being very generous with my projections and definitely not discounting programmatic complexity) I think if you ask most Defense Acquisition professionals they’ll tell you it is the systemic burdens of the system levied upon them, i.e. business and statutory/regulatory rules are taxing, requiring extensive conformity or ‘busy work’ — to take it one step further, the professionals themselves are often lauded for their contributions. Those who ‘create’ new systems, or processes, which streamline an already broken framework are considered ‘experts’. As a matter of FACT – The Defense Business Board (Report FY12-02), stated rather recently:
“The individuals, both military and civilian, who work in these three arenas (requirement, acquisition, budget), collectively referred to as “the Big “A” Acquisition System” are trying to do the best job possible every day. They are far superior to the processes in which they work” – Wait, what? Where and how did they measure that? What ‘expert’ human resource authority allowed them to draw that conclusion? I’ll jump to it – none, they fluffed it…
Certainly, there are many, a great many number of acquisition professionals who see the flaws of the system and navigate the administrative obstacles, through excellent and strong leadership, they develop, field and maintain exceptional products. Unfortunately, the leadership qualities necessary to do so are so rare it often takes a career to find one or two of these ‘white buffalos’ – whose leadership prowess enables them, virtually empowers them to see beyond the red tape. They are talent incubators who grow those around them. They inspire through action and most importantly, they get the job done!
Ok, so you have heard this before, got it!
So, how does it change, or specifically, what mechanism can be introduced which will DISRUPT this rather well-known systemic failure — how do you train and empower a workforce as large, both in terms of size, but also deeply embedded cultural that admires and rewards political aptitude?
If you’ve made it this far then you probably could have guessed it… Give HR a seat at the table! Embed HR the same way you would embed engineering, finance, and project management. For those outside Defense, HR is nearly non-existent functionally, or rather, as a ‘Boss’ with a seat in the boardroom. I guess it’s because the Defense department views HR as universal to each service, branch, or agency – that is, the normal functions of HR as they see them, can be governed by organizations like OPM or in-house via outsourced contracts (i.e. payroll, benefits, etc.). However, that’s not the HR roles I’m talking about. Currently, leadership development falls on the leaders themselves or some un-connected third party, weather organizationally embedded or placed on the peripheral, so when something like a performance review comes up; those being reviewed have no ‘real’ independent voice truly implanted into the bureaucracy, a ‘mechanism’ that invites the positive and negative feedback necessary for strong leadership growth (admin note: I’m targeting the civilian side of the house – the business suite of the Defense Department if you will)
The goal would be to give HR not just any seat, but the authority and empowerment to train leaders and the workforce on staff leadership improvement, distributed leader development, or wait here’s an idea… how about training the lowest tiered business unit managers on how to write up a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) ? Think about it… How often have you heard the old adage about government employees who cannot be fired, whose poor performance is a drain on their team because the team can’t fire them? This is a misnomer, it’s not that they can’t be fired, but many just won’t do it. They don’t do it because there is no reasonable mechanism (i.e. HR) who advises leaders ‘independently’ on their role within the business unit, program office, acquisition command, etc. The excuse is usually the ‘system’ or the ‘bureaucracy’ ties their hands. The role of an HR coordinator, rep, business partner, etc., like most traditional business models, would be to train each and every leader on how to develop and maintain a top tier workforce and to step in and handle issues like poor performance when asked. Most importantly, by implanting HR into the suite of services at the lowest echelons you are empowering leaders to lead, to make personnel changes quickly, soundly, and in what’s the best interests of taxpayers and warfighters alike!