Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cultural Transformation in FSA

Secretary Vilsack's "Cultural Transformation" has now become a mandatory training module, as outlined in this notice

I noted in a recent newspaper article on lessons of Secretary Gates, based on what he's learned working for 8 Presidents, he said: My experience has been over the years that if you try to impose change on an organization, you will fail,” he said.  The context was the need for the Army to become better at and focus more on training foreign militaries (like the Iraqi and Afghan armies), but he figured forcing it on the Army would become Gates' idea which would evaporate when he left DOD.

So, does Vilsack's cultural transformation have a chance?  I don't know.  It would be nice to see the training and the supporting documents, but they're only on the FSA intranet. Based on my experience with past mandatory civil rights, disability, and sexual harassment training I've some doubts.  The training sessions I remember best were on dealing with unions and disability.  That's because of the instructors: one was a retired government manager, the other a lawyer in a wheelchair. (Actually most memorable session was in the Jefferson Auditorium with the infamous "penis" flap, but I won't go into that.) I've my doubts that on-line training can be effective, given the resistance old white males (like me) will have to the subject.

I think there's a bigger chance of doing cultural transformation by redoing the business processes, to pick up jargon from the 1990's.  If your database tracks things like all contacts with customers and their outcomes, and your employee evaluation system rewards outcomes, you can change the agency. (Think of how Amazon or Netflix has tweaked its systems over the years.  Amazon can look at your aborted purchases, shopping carts abandoned in mid process, and react to them.  I keep getting emails from them offering me deals in areas where I went halfway and stopped.  That's very impressive organizationally.)

The other way to change the culture is to change the way you recruit your employees.  When I first went to the program division in 1978, there were 2 professionals who were women, both in the analysis side.  The operations types were almost totally male former county executive directors.  I think the culture at the county level was for the mostly male directors to do the PR and handle relations with the farmers, while the mostly female clerks/program assistants handled the detail work, the paper-pushing.  That often meant, when the males came to DC and had to design processes they weren't as good as the women would have been.  These days it seems the pendulum has swung so women are in the majority. I wonder how that's changed the culture in DC.

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