If you are looking for a “poster child” of government waste and inefficiency, one need not look further that Boyers, Pennsylvania.
There, in an old limestone mine – 230 feet below the surface – staff from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) toil each day, processing the retirement requests for the federal workforce; on average about 100,000 packages per year.
While the location for OPM’s work is unusual, that alone does not explain the significance of this particular operation.
All of the claims are processed by hand.
That’s right, the federal government’s entire retirement system is a massive paperwork activity, more reminiscent of the War Department during WWII than of a 21st century organization.
OPM employs 600 people who work the claims each day, walking back and forth to 28,000 file cabinets that hold all the records. Taken by itself, this might not seem like much more than a freakish anomaly, but the Boyers operation is symptomatic of the unnecessary excesses of government bureaucracy and the costs it imposes.
OPM’s spends $55 million on the paper-driven retirement process each year. And it’s getting more expensive. The cost per claim has increased from $82 to $108 over the past five years.
The cost in terms of delay for this manual process is also significant. It takes an average of 61 days for OPM to issue a benefit check after initial receipt of the retirement package. If you are a federal retiree, you need to plan ahead for two months or more without income.
This is simply unacceptable. At the state level, where technology automation has been readily adopted, benefits processing is far more rapid. In Florida, the average claim takes 47 days. In Texas, it is only two days.
But automation at the OPM site has been at the heart of the problem. The OPM facility is resistant to the very change that would make the operation more efficient, accountable and transparent. Over a period of years, OPM has made failed technology investments at the Boyers facility topping $100 million. Sadly this is not an uncommon problem in the government, where the bureaucratic IT culture survives, despite the market alternative of performance engineering.
OPM’s response to its technology failure was to hire more bodies and rearrange the paperwork process so that it moved more quickly. While this may meet immediate processing goals, it is no model for a long-term solution; doubling down on inefficiency.
We are living in an age of breathtaking technological achievement and innovation. Computing power, advanced analytics and storage capacity increase by orders of magnitude, as the costs for these technologies drop geometrically. Enormous organizational power, delivered through a diverse set of flexible, Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) products, is now available to commercial customers and regular consumers. There is no adequate reason why the government does not availed itself of a timely opportunity to achieve economies of scale, improve performance, efficiency, accountability and transparency with these tools. When combined with a discipline that is specifically designed to address the challenges of bureaucracy and the risks in technology deployment – such as Aplin’s PASS performance engineering – real change and innovation is possible.
OPM’s retirement processing would be a good place to start.
What is the nature of “enabled success?”
Looking at businesses as they grapple with a rapidly changing landscape, there is no shortage of organizational approaches that are as different as they are unique. But are they right? Despite the proliferation of theories and methods, research continues to confirm that as a foundation, employee engagement and performance leadership are the core of an organizational design built to succeed.
The latest evidence comes from detailed research by Gallup, laid out in a recent article, “Seven Things Great Employers Do (That Others Don’t).” The first factor? Having involved leaders who want to improve.
“Leaders’ own attitudes, beliefs and behaviors have powerful trickle-down effects on their organizations’ cultures. Leaders of great workplaces don’t just talk about what they want to see in management ranks – they model it and keep practicing to get better at it every day with their own teams.”
At Aplin, we call this “amplifying executive leadership,” and it lies at the heart of our PASS performance engineering discipline, where our vigorous designs and scientific discipline combine to enhance executive insight and capability to tangibly improve organizational performance.
In its research, Gallup noted that, “Many [companies] make the mistake of prioritizing the easy, shiny stuff – hip office space, remote work arrangements and inventive benefits – over the elements that will strengthen emotional ties and connect employees more deeply to their managers, team and companies…[A] job has the potential to be at the part of a great life, but only if its holder is engaged at work.”
At Aplin, we could not agree more. The natural tendency of growing organizations is to place ever more significant barriers between people: management to employees; departments to departments; staff to staff. This organizational static serves to inhibit rather than enhance work, and impacts its relative value by both management and employees. The key is to establish, maintain and deepen communication between all staff. Aplin’s focus on “humanizing” work unlocks the “captive value” in human capital, releasing the full expression of capability that is present in every organization. It is an institutional force multiplier that assures results.
If these are the kind or results your organization seeks, let’s talk about how Aplin can work with you to enable success. Read Gallup’s article here: www.businessjournal.gallup.com
Executives seeking insight into the complex paradigm of optimal employee performance might take time to ponder the contributions of Robert Propst to modern work.
An American inventor, Propst designed the “Action Office II” in the 1960s, creating a “work station” surrounded with three walls made of inexpensive, disposable materials, which could be flexibly arranged into any space and any configuration desired.
Said another way, Robert Propst created the cubicle.
Today, 40 million Americans make a living in some sort of cubicle. Roughly 93 percent of those workers would rather be working somewhere else.
This and other fascinating facts can be found in a new book, “Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace,” by Nikil Saval. More than just a history of our work space, Saval lays out a crucial, yet unexamined dimension contributing to worker satisfaction and superior performance.
The origins of office work were hopeful enough. “Counting Houses” as they were known in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were dank, cramped designs that could have 10 or more people working in only 25 square feet. However, partners worked side-by-side with clerks in these offices, and it was this close proximity of managers to employees – with decisions made openly in real time – which created an esprit de corps and sense of purpose among staff that contributed to better performance.
Propst’s handiwork in the late middle of the last century was an intellectual high water mark for the commoditization of employees that evolved in the 20th century, highlighting the structural acrimony between labor and management on a host of issues, including a large-scale failure of employees to impress upon management the need for consultation with staff when making design and human resources decisions that affect employee lives.
All is not lost however.
Saval sees a brighter future, made possible by advances in technology that free employees from the tyranny of location. As such, he predicts that the old career path, from cubicle to corner office. is “coming to a close,” with a new, as yet unformed construct taking its place. A critic of organizations that insist on hierarchy, Saval states that “It remains for office workers to make this [new] freedom meaningful…to make workplaces truly their own.”
For executives looking to the future, the message could not be clearer. Maximum performance is driven by employee engagement, which is heavily influenced by the organization of the workspace and their proximity to decision-making. In the evolution of the workspace, technology can free the employee from a desk, but it is the empowered employee working under amplified leadership of executives – the foundation of the Performance Architecture Science System (PASS) – that brings human capital, technology and the workspace together to produce superior performance.
The zero sum game of “more versus less” is alive and well in our nation’s capital, where Congress and the President remain gripped in a furious fight over the course of federal spending. All the while we keep missing the most important question, “how.”
Over the last five years, we have seen both sides play out. Large increases in federal spending after the Great Recession later led to widespread charges of waste, fraud and abuse. Similarly, the “sequester,” put in place by Congress to contain Federal spending, foolishly cut programs across-the-board without any consideration for context and priority, and was ultimately deemed to be similarly unworkable.
It is not that we haven’t been trying hard to resolve our national fiscal issues but rather that we have been asking the wrong question to reach that goal. The real question is “how.”
The best example of this comes from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which this week, for the first time, released doctor-specific information about Medicare payments from 2012 forward. Medicare provides medical coverage to the disabled and citizens over 65 on a fee-for-service model, processing over one billion claims per year. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare spending is projected to double to more than $1 trillion by 2023, creating significant pressure on the federal budget and forcing difficult and unpleasant choices on spending and taxation.
The release of the Medicare data confirms a tangible third path for policy-makers as the nation faces these choices – the ability to ask the “actionable how.” Journalists were the first to intuitively understand this, jumping into the Medicare numbers with ad hoc analyses of raw data that provided a striking portrait of Medicare spending.
Fact: Just two percent of Medicare’s 880,000 physicians accounted for nearly 25 percent of the payments.
Now, imagine what a sustained and deeply comprehensive analysis of the billions of records in Medicare could provide in terms of insight. Expand even further and apply that concept across the federal government and consider the possibilities for informed choice.
Modern technology has provided highly capable, low cost, commercially available, analytical tools that can not only deliver a vivid, real-time picture of resource deployment for senior executives, but as a result, help establish a fresh baseline that can serve to reform practices and procedures, improve service delivery and expand transparency while lowering costs.
This is the foundation of a “third path” to evaluate our fiscal challenges – one that holds the promise not simply to resolve stubborn political problems, but to effectively focus government services and repair public confidence in the wise use of its tax dollars.
In a recent LinkedIn post, Bassam Salem, Chief Business Officer and Executive Vice President at inContact, wrote about the four stages of a great employee.
“Great employees are not born,” Mr. Salem said, “they’re self-made.”
If we accept Mr. Salem’s post as a truism, how would you sort the employees and emerging executives in your office, division or organization? Could you as readily identify the talent, nurture and grow those capabilities for the benefit of the employee and the organization?
Stand-out workers aside, what about everyone else? Do we employ tens, hundreds or thousands simply to stumble upon the precious few, highest performers who drive action and results on behalf of the entire organization?
This question lies at the heart of organizational “captive value.”
The paradox of success and growth is that it inherently breeds rigidity. Instead of evolving into a continuously more dynamic, nimble and capable entity, the organization becomes more bureaucratic, stifling initiative and creativity, “stove-piping” skills and limiting communication.
This structure inhibits the realization of a profound source of wealth and value for all organizations – the untapped capability in their employees, staff and executives; not the obvious over-achievers, but the others, whose talent, inspiration and resourcefulness is lost amid regulations, hierarchies and toxic organizational cultures. Unlocking this “captive value” is organizational force multiplier which benefits the organization and the individual.
Mr. Salem is absolutely correct in stating that good employees are “self-made.” But it is incumbent on senior executives to create the environment to unlock that performance capability in more than just the obvious candidates.
In that mission, Aplin is here to help.
Effective management is incredibly important in our complex society. One need only look at the business pages of any paper to see the outsized role senior executives play in our livelihood, comforts and opportunities. Yet, despite its importance, executive value is often overlooked and generally misunderstood—even by executives.
Executive value is a productive blending of personal attributes and organizational design to grow and apply internal performance leadership in a market of opportunities. It requires accurate knowledge and sustained influence—of employees and strategy.
These attributes do not exist in a vacuum.
Executives are under real-time pressure to act and make a difference; to effectively control their organizations’ changing complexity. It is a challenging reality that drives a need for reliable and insightful methods of knowledge and influence, of action and control, of design and leadership.
The market of ideas is saturated with notions of executive value and what executives can do about it. These ideas are put into practice every day. Temporary or partial success in this realm leads to the creation of a virtual cottage industry with the latest fad trumpeted as a reliable method of executive enhancement.
At Aplin, we take a different approach.
Over the last 20 years, Aplin has been studying how to enhance executive value and shape the factors that put it at risk in organizational complexity. Over the course of 30 cases, we developed a scientific basis of engineering performance in the organization—one that provides a reliable discipline for executive value. Performance Architectural Science Systems, or PASS, is now a suitable means of adapting an array of scientific and technological methods to the real context of creating and sustaining value—through the many real layers of human behavior—from employees to executives.
Our value paradigm brings rigor to the realities of organizational complexity, unlocking the “captive value” – in technology and human capital infrastructure – to tangibly enhance performance and executive value.
This Century promises disruptive innovation and hyper-competitiveness. It will require unprecedented levels of efficiency, accountability and transparency, amid continuing uncertainty. Consider Aplin and PASS as part of your organization’s risk mitigation strategy, not simply to meet the future, but to win it.