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Friday, May 30, 2014

Eric Shinseki, Project Manager

     Eric Shinseki, a truly noble soldier and leader, became Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the United States in 2009.
     He was handed a project of immense scope and intractability. It was bulging with problems and pulsating with explosive risk. The VA mess went back decades, and that was well known. The agency also had been honored for the quality of care that it often provided for at least most of the people who made it into the VA facilities.
     But hundreds of thousands of additional candidates for VA care were produced by the wars of our last two decades, and Vietnam veterans are into their care-intensive age. Studies and commissions have shown that the VA is buried under demands it simply cannot meet.
     Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, including in his promised programs the solution to the VA mess. Eric Shinseki was qualified as a superb executive. He had risen to the very top of the military hierarchy of the United States, serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had demonstrated great courage in opposing the Bush administration’s Iraq War, a stand that cost him his career.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pal, Parent, Partner, Project Manager

      A few months into my first real job, Anna Marie and I tied the knot. Because of my zero seniority, the system grudgingly allowed a long weekend off to honor the occasion.
    Then, two days before the wedding, my boss the managing editor had an epiphany right there in the middle of the newsroom. He announced that such an important occasion certainly called for more than an extra day off or two. On the spot, I was granted a full week for a honeymoon . . . too late to do much planning for use of the generous gift.
     A little later, a similar act of largesse marked the birth of our first child: I got a raise. Nothing to do with the value of my work. Just the man showing kindness to the kid who now would need a few more bucks.
     It may or may not come as a surprise, but a somewhat bumpy tenure at that place ended very badly for me after a few years.
     That manager was acting on a philosophy that was flawed and destructive. Days off and pay increases are not acts of generosity.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Project: Rating Managers

     The best manager I ever had came in at 33 on a 60-point scale of excellence. Twenty others straggled down from there.
     But then, this evaluation was done many years ago, shortly after I went into consulting. I was in recovery from a quarter-century-plus career as an editor and manager in the newspaper business. In the words of wise man Bob Dylan, “Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”
     During those decades in the managerial trenches, it had never occurred to me to analyze just what I was supposed to do and how I was faring in doing it. I, along with everybody else, was just slugging away in a task-driven struggle to get things done – hoping that sometimes, somehow, quality would transpire.