Tuesday, March 21, 2006

BCC Follies--How Not To Manage

John Tierney in today's Times (subscription required) has a column discussing the buck-passing that preceded the Iraq invasion. Summary: no planning because no one saw it as his responsibility.

The blame is that of Bush/Cheney/Card--the managers in charge. One thing any bureaucrat learns when you're dealing with an effort that spans multiple units is that your major effort must be to ensure that things don't fall through the gaps. You can trust people (almost all the time) to try to do their jobs. What you can't trust people to do is to define the boundaries of their jobs.

Astro-physicists talk of "black matter"--stuff they can't see or sense but which must exist because of the way the visible universe behaves. Similarly, there's dark matter in the social universe, a dark matter called fear of failure. An easy way to fail is to try something new, something chaotic, something undefined. So let people define their jobs and they'll define away any responsibility for things they don't know or they haven't done (successfully) before. Conversely, they'll devote their effort to the things they've done before, what they've trained to do.

So managers, like BCC, must constantly ask questions to see that their bureaucrats cover the gaps between units, use imagination to think ahead and around. Alternatively they may follow the FDR precedent--assign multiple bureaucracies to overlapping tasks, resulting in conflicts that must be resolved in the White House. But one way or the other Bush did it wrong.

No comments: