One of my favorite Toby Keith lines is “a little less talk and a lot more action.” Having lived in the DC area for the past 15+ years, Toby’s words have become a mantra. And the problem seems to be getting worse and worse. I have been in the software and IT services industry for many years and worn many hats with clients in just about every industry there is. In business school as well as in my initial years as a Consultant, there was an emphasis on results and outcomes. Success (or failure) was determined by tangible, measurable things that you did (or did not) do — especially as a highly-paid consultant. Contracts were written with explicit deliverables and outcomes included.
I’m not sure exactly when the concepts of accountability and results jumped the shark (a topic for a future blog post), but it seems to me looking back like it really started to fall apart after the bad economic juju in 2008-2009. I had assignments in pure services organizations before The Big Short (loves me some Michael Lewis) and I have definitely noticed significant changes in the past few years. I call it the Shaggy phenomenon after the artist who recorded “It Wasn’t Me.” More and more, I would be on engagements where there was a tremendous amount of money spent with absolutely NO outcomes delivered — and I saw it going on in the world at large around me as well — yet there seemed to be no consequences or outrage at this. Let’s look at a few examples of this on a large scale:
-the Sequester of 2013. Enough said.
-$12 million was spent to create an accurate electronic database of veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The database was never completed and as a result, soldiers who served their country were disgraced — headstones were missing, graves were mismarked, etc.
- HUD spent $40 million on development projects that, many years later, had not delivered any completed units — sometimes never even completed all the necessary permits and paperwork
- The Federal Government spent nearly $2 billion setting up the HAMP program to help distressed borrowers — only 70,000 mortgagees were helped in 2009. The program failed in part because banks and mortgage servicers made more money from late fees and foreclosures than they would have made from HAMP incentives to modify mortgages in most cases.
I have seen countless examples of this on a smaller scale — resources being wasted on poor or no outcomes. Tons of “strategy” projects that never delivered anything actionable. Failed implementations because the requirements and analysis were not done. Promotions of people who had not delivered one single thing nor were they qualified for their positions from their past experience (at least the Peter Principle is alive and well). Meeting upon meeting dishing out death by powerpoint. And yet, these people still have jobs in a time when there are more qualified candidates than ever available in the marketplace. And the only explanations I come across are because the non-doers are “good guys.”
But recently, I got a small glimmer of hope. There was an article in the Washington Post Style section on March 12th about Obama’s new Director of legislative affairs, Miguel Rodriguez (Miguel Rodriguez, Obama’s legislative director, is mostly a mystery to those in Congress). The article implies that he may not be off to a strong start because he isn’t making the rounds and schmoozing, which is what is expected of the person in that role. But one of his colleagues, Neera Tanden, said this “I appreciate that this town works in knowing everybody and having a beer, but I don’t actually think that’s the most important thing for this job…Where the rubber hits the road is how you look at an intractable problem and whether you can come up with a solution.”
Be still my beating heart! Neera is proposing to evaluate people on what they DO not just what they SAY.