What do I know about government training?
Well, I know one thing: I've been in government twenty eight years -- worked my way up from a lowly analyst in the bowels of the Pentagon to this lofty position that my staff laughingly calls "Director" of the National Performance Review -- and I have not had one single course -- not one single hour -- of government training.
Well, actually I have had a couple of one-hour sessions called ethics training—about which I have no further comment — and I did have a one-day commercial course in time management and that was a disaster--they taught me to keep my door closed to minimize interruptions, and to have my calls screened. It made my staff paranoid – why does Bob have his door closed? -- until I read In Search of Excellence -- more later about that -- and came to my senses.
That's nothing to my credit. But it does say something about what training has meant up until now in government. Up to now, at least some of us could get along without it.
But now we have to reinvent government. And we can't reinvent government without training -- not a chance.
Because reinvention is not just a matter of shrinking the size of government. It's not merely canceling regulations and eliminating layers of management.
Reinventing government means changing the behavior of nearly everybody who works for the government: from front line workers and their supervisors, to the middle managers -- all the way to the big shots, well over a million men and women have to change their ways.
They all …you all... oh all right, we all have learn to behave in new ways.
Luckily, the new behaviors we have to learn are well documented. There are dozens of books on the subject. Tom Peters and Bob Waterman started writing about the new behaviors fifteen years ago -- their book was called In Search of Excellence. It was filled with stories of people who had changed the way their part of the world worked. It was an absolute inspiration to me: If those people could do it, why not me too?
Here's a more recent book, and here's how it came to be published.
Vice President Gore, after four years of creating beachheads of reinvention scattered throughout the government, decided it was about time to launch the main assault and start teaching the managers. On the Saturday before the inauguration -- we call it "B-day" -- President Clinton and Vice President Gore held a Cabinet Retreat at the Blair House, right across the street from the White House.
Most of the day was spent with the cabinet secretaries split up in working groups. But there was one plenary session -- a training session. The trainer was Al Gore, and his topic was reinventing government.
We put his presentation into this nifty little red book and called it The Blair House Papers.
The Blair House Papers provides the "rules of the road" as the Federal government drives to a balanced-budget future. Listen to the three key principles in The Blair House Papers:
This book has a lot of the same kind of inspiring lessons in it as In Search of Excellence had for me-- examples of government workers who behave the way all of us are going to have to behave.
Look on page 5. It's Joe Thompson's story: Service to veterans is so fast that the New York benefits office turned its waiting room into a war museum.
Look on page 16. It's Bill Freeman's story: OSHA changed the way it worked in Maine from adversarial to partnership and worker injury rates went down 47%.
Or look on page 30. It's Dan McLaughlin's story: Commerce got together with SBA, the Export-Import Bank, AID, and state agencies to create jointly staffed export assistance centers that provide one-stop service to exporting businesses.
These are stories of government people with different grades, different kinds of jobs, different kinds of successes. But they had one absolutely essential thing in common. And this is the most important lesson of all -- the most important behavior that we all have to learn if we are going to reinvent our government:
Joe and Bill and Dan didn't wait around for somebody to "empower" them. They saw something that common sense told them was wrong--and they made it right.
They didn't whine about being overworked or being short of training funds. They took it on themselves to personally teach their people about the new challenges and opportunities that faced their organizations.
How can we get everybody in government to behave like that? Should we develop a course and make reinvention training mandatory like ethics training? I don't think so.
I think the answer is something different -- something that doesn't have to be programmed into the FY 1999 budget, because we don't have enough money, and even if we did we couldn't afford to wait that long.
We need something that can start right now.
Here's how I try to get people in my own organization to behave like Joe, Bill, and Dan.
I try to start every staff meeting with a discussion about a subject chosen from The Blair House Papers.
First time, we discussed, "Identify your customers and win them over." How does that apply to us? What does it mean to NPR?
We spent just 30 min talking about that. I learned something—I learned that I was neglecting the people from the agencies who serve as liaisons to the NPR, some of my customers that I hadn't done great at winning over.
Next, we talked about Chapter 2: "Find out how things are by getting out of Washington." I found out that the NPR staff wasn't spending enough time with front-line managers outside of Washington.
And Chapter 4: "Focus Regulators on Compliance, Not Enforcement." There was a lesson here too for NPR. Even though we weren't regulators, sometimes we were behaving like regulators, and we needed to change.
Other days we talked about other lessons from The Blair House Papers: pool resources with other departments, or the most important rule of all, get the best from people.
I try to do this several times a week at the start of my staff meetings. I think it's helping NPR become a learning organization. In just the first half dozen "Blair House Meetings," I and my team have had more useful training than we had had in our entire government careers.
How does the staff feel? Best staff meetings we've ever had. A couple of the staff have taken to bringing The Blair House Papers to the meetings and waving it at me if I look like I'm forgetting our little learning session.
I learned my technique from Ritz Carlton. They have an extraordinary commitment to learning. Every day on every shift, every employee—every employee—spends 30 minutes in learning, in discussion groups led by supervisors or team leaders. Or by Vice Presidents.
I'd like every manager and team leader in the fed government to lead a discussion on topics like these every day. Or more precisely, I'd like every manager and team leader in the fed government to take immediate personal responsibility for training their subordinates.
Well. That's what I'd like. Where do you come in? Let me read you something.
"The answer does not lie in finding more money or making more time for training. And it's not about recruiting the best and the brightest. There is a new world of rapid low-cost or no-cost ways to build a smarter workforce and keep it that way.
"Managers have considerable power to make changes, to demonstrate new behaviors, and set up new systems that encourage openness and communication."
That's from Getting Results through Learning, the wonderful little handbook for managers that Marjorie Budd and her gang put together for the Federal Human Resources Development Council. It says your job is to help managers set up the environment for learning, and help them start to teach through their own model, habits, and system of values. I agree.
Pretty easy, huh?
How about making it mandatory, like ethics training? Beginning to sound attractive?
Too bad. You're in the same situation I was in Defense. When I had my interview with the VP four years ago, I told him that I had no line authority, I had only the authority to make speeches and write letters to people. He told me, "That sounds like my job."
So you and I and the Vice President need to make speeches and write letters to people. Mine are about The Blair House Papers, yours are about how managers need to become teachers.
You have to teach your managers to become teachers.
Of course, in many cases, you will be asking your managers to reinvent themselves. Everybody talks about the vast untapped human potential in our front line workers -- and there is.
But there is also vast untapped human potential in our managers.
There's a lot of talk about managers being the problem, a lot of jokes. Nowadays managers are the only group it's politically correct to make fun of. And so the former CEO of Florida Power and Light said the three biggest problems at FP&L were top management, middle management, and front line supervisors.
Donald Peterson, former Ford CEO, said that all managers at Ford had to realize they'd been promoted at least once or twice for the wrong reasons.
And even America's elder statesman of quality, Joseph Juran, is fond of saying we just don't need managers at all. He tells about how every day from spring to fall, millions of kids go to neighborhood ball fields and organize themselves into teams and play the highly complicated game of baseball, with no managers whatsoever—no top management, no middle management, and no front-line supervisors.
But that's probably too radical an idea, one we'll have to save for REGO phase 3 or phase 4. For now, we have managers. And at their best, managers have much to offer, encouragement, skills, experience, behavior, and attitudes they can impart to their staff.
And at their worst, order-givers, intimidators, and enforcers.
Managers have to learn to see themselves as teachers.
That's your job, to teach them to become teachers.
And I'm not the only one who thinks it's your job. Take a look at Getting Results through Learning. It will tell you the same thing.
Or look outside of government, look at Ritz-Carlton Hotels, or at Mary Kay, or at General Electric. At virtually every really successful company in business today. They all teach their managers to be teachers, to create learning organizations.
If you can apply these lessons, and teach your managers to be teachers, then we all can succeed at reinventing government, and at restoring Americans faith in their government.
But maybe you don't believe you can change things. If that's what you think, read our NPR reports. Read about Joe Thompson at Veterans Affairs, read about Bill Freeman at OSHA, read about Lynn Gordon at Customs, and get the message. The message is that you can do something, you can make things better.
That's the message I got way back in the 80s when I first read In Search of Excellence. It was all about people in private business -- not government -- who had taken it upon themselves to make things better. In fact, Tom Peters told me later that he had no idea his book was in any way relevant to government.
But it sure flipped my switch. It convinced me that I could do the same sort of things and change my part of the government too. So I did with a lot of help from a great team. And before long, Tom Peters and others were telling OUR story. And the next thing we knew, Vice President Gore invited us to help him with reinvention.
And now, here's this book, like In Search of Excellence that's ALL about government people who changed things. Read it -- think about it -- let it flip your switch.
Once you and your team get the idea that you can change things, and then get focused on your customers, you'll never stop.
Start this week, next week at the latest.