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FrankJon

A solution to improve 1102 output and efficiency?

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I saw this article yesterday: A 4-Day Workweek? A Test Run Shows a Surprising Result. I applaud the firm from this article for taking on this experiment, but I can't help but wonder: Why not go further by eliminating artificial time parameters altogether (possibly with the exception of an upper limit)?

Today I've been thinking about whether the Government might be able to employ a "performance-based" schedule for 1102s, and what advantages/disadvantages it may bring. Under the system I'm envisioning, employees would be expected to turn in X deliverables, or show X progress, while meeting applicable time-based and quality metrics, within a given performance period. Employees would have up to 80 hours to meet these requirements, but could stop working the moment they've satisfactorily done so. (This system could be adapted for recurring or ad hoc requirements. For instance, employees would still be required to attend meetings that arise or respond to customer questions within X number of hours. Also, there would need to be a system for handling unanticipated, urgent requirements.)

If workable, the benefits of such an approach seem obvious. Broadly speaking, over-performers are justly rewarded with more free time than their colleagues, and under-performers are motivated to work better to obtain free time. Morale improves across the board.

This concept isn't without basis. I know of one agency where this kind of schedule is broadly practiced by its primary mission personnel (unofficially, though it's an open secret). Employees are assigned a workload at the start of each pay period. They can come and go as they please, or not come at all if they choose to telework. Once they complete their workload, employees are effectively done with work until the next PP. In addition, sizable bonuses are offered to further incentivize strong performance. So there's Federal precedent, although not directly applicable to the 1102 field.

Putting aside the politics of effecting such a change, could such an approach be workable in the 1102 field? Why or why not? What would the risks be?

 

 

 

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Guest Vern Edwards

See The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Muller (Feb. 2018:

Quote

How the obsession with quantifying human performance threatens our schools, medical care, businesses, and government

Today, organizations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying human performance, publicizing the results, and dividing up the rewards based on the numbers. But in our zeal to instill the evaluation process with scientific rigor, we've gone from measuring performance to fixating on measuring itself. The result is a tyranny of metrics that threatens the quality of our lives and most important institutions. In this timely and powerful book, Jerry Muller uncovers the damage our obsession with metrics is causing―and shows how we can begin to fix the problem.

Filled with examples from education, medicine, business and finance, government, the police and military, and philanthropy and foreign aid, this brief and accessible book explains why the seemingly irresistible pressure to quantify performance distorts and distracts, whether by encouraging "gaming the stats" or "teaching to the test." That's because what can and does get measured is not always worth measuring, may not be what we really want to know, and may draw effort away from the things we care about. Along the way, we learn why paying for measured performance doesn't work, why surgical scorecards may increase deaths, and much more. But metrics can be good when used as a complement to―rather than a replacement for―judgment based on personal experience, and Muller also gives examples of when metrics have been beneficial.

Complete with a checklist of when and how to use metrics, The Tyranny of Metrics is an essential corrective to a rarely questioned trend that increasingly affects us all.

 

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Recently I participated in a discussion where it was asserted that technology is moving faster than (government) contracting can keep up with it. I'm not going to give any specifics. Suffice to say that there were certain, known, threats to military assets that we had the technology in our hands to address, but we could not get it to the requiring activity quickly enough to address the threats. The assertion was that the contract SOW didn't permit it, or that the modification process took too long (because of the need to determine price reasonableness), or some other perfectly understandable acquisition-related requirement. It was frustrating to the technical folks, who had the right solutions but who were prohibited from providing them.

I'm not complaining; I'm posting this because it's a commonly held belief that the limit on innovation is found in the acquiring activity and not in the requiring activity. In this particular discussion, I was not able to disagree with that belief.

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1 hour ago, FrankJon said:

over-performers are justly rewarded with more free time than their colleagues, and under-performers are motivated to work better to obtain free time

Or not.  So the over-performers complete their jobs and go home.  The under-performers struggle (or don't care and don't struggle) and go home when they hit the 80 hours.  What happens to the unfinished work?

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There are too many variables to factor.  Like –

 

Should the KO who is tasked to work with the poorest-performing program offices be required to work longer hours than their counterparts?

 

Should a newly promoted GS-12 Step 1 be required to work longer than a GS-12 Step 10 whose being paid 30% more?  Or would there be a calculation to ensure the Step 10 is assigned 30% more work so the Government actually gets what its paying for?

 

Should the KO who just inherited a bunch of bad contracts be required to work longer hours?

 

How do you quantify the KO working a large service contract to another KO working a number of small supply purchases?  Or to yet another KO who is working a not-so-large service contract that happens to be more complex to administer?

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The main issue I see with this is that high-performing employees are almost universally given more challenging work and, therefore, would be working more hours than other employees *because* of their superior performance.

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Guest Vern Edwards
On 7/20/2018 at 10:35 AM, FrankJon said:

Under the system I'm envisioning, employees would be expected to turn in X deliverables, or show X progress, while meeting applicable time-based and quality metrics, within a given performance period. Employees would have up to 80 hours to meet these requirements, but could stop working the moment they've satisfactorily done so.

The system you are envisioning reduces contracting to a mass production enterprise, which it is not, unless you are buying commodities. While all acquisitions in a given category (e.g., IT services valued in excess of $5,000,000/year) are similar in many ways, each is unique and requires unique analyses and the development of unique solutions. To focus on "deliverables" is to be clerical in outlook and professionally short-sighted. The real work in acquisition is thinking and cannot be reduced merely to the production of "X deliverables."

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From the user statistics for Wifcon.com, here is what I see:

  1. Usage of this site is reduced on Mondays and Fridays.
  2. Information on government websites is reduced on Mondays and Fridays.
  3. Fewer decisions and opinions are issued on Fridays.

You can imagine what happens near holidays.  The use of flexible schedules has had a clear effect on the government.  The work isn't reduced, it is concentrated in fewer days.

I took advantage of the flexible schedules too because the 2 hours it took to get to and from work were a waste of my time--and I was inside the beltway.  I found that I could do more at home than I did at work.  When pressed for time, I stayed home to get it done.

My position is simple.  If one's work allows a worker to stay at home and has no detrimental effect on the work, the employer should let the employees stay home and do the work.  There is no need to move federal offices outside of the beltway as some political hacks suggest.  A presidential candidate lost the White House because he didn't know how to text and didn't realize that the world had passed him by.  That was a long time ago, already.

I've worked for a virtual company and I've seen incredible profits earned by virtual companies owned by friends.  People in my generation want to hold onto brick and mortar even after it has proven to be a burden.  As shopping centers, movie theatres, and paper newspapers close down, Amazon thrives and continues to innovate.  It's not just happening here, it's happening around the world.

We can yip and yap about the value of flexible work hours but that is old news.  I know there are organizations still behind the times.  My advice is to look for an enlightened employer and seek employment with them.  Who knows, maybe you can start a virtual business of your own.

Some day, you will walk into your home office, turn on the office with a switch, and seamlessly begin communicating orally and visually with your counterparts. A few of us may be there now but I am not one of them--yet.  

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Guest Vern Edwards

I am a Luddite. I think modern technology has made communication and collaboration harder, not easier. If you are younger than a certain age you probably don't know what it's like to be able to run down the hall without notice to ask a colleague a question and then beat it back to finish your task, or to be able to have a small tactical conference on a moment's notice. You can't ask an office secretary when Colonel X will be back or where she is now. Today, everything must be scheduled. It seems harder to do "at a moment's notice."

I and everyone in my family have modern mobile phones. Yet, I find myself frustrated to learn that mobile phones don't translate into better communication. People don't always have their phone handy (it's in the pickup), or they've misplaced it, or the battery is dead, and while you left a message or know your text has been "delivered," you don't know whether it has been read and when it will be.

Not all change is improvement. I think "working from home" has taken a lot of the fun out of working.

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On 7/20/2018 at 2:40 PM, jwomack said:

What happens to the unfinished work?

On 7/20/2018 at 2:55 PM, jwomack said:

There are too many variables to factor.

3 hours ago, Junius said:

The main issue I see with this is that high-performing employees are almost universally given more challenging work and, therefore, would be working more hours than other employees *because* of their superior performance.

3 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

The system you are envisioning reduces contracting to a mass production enterprise, which it is not.

3 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

The real work in acquisition is thinking and cannot be reduced merely to the production of "X deliverables."

Let's see if we can agree on a few basic propositions:

  1. For the vast majority of 1102s, work ebbs and flows throughout the year.
     
  2. A system in which salaried employees clock in and out until they reach 80 hours is not an effective mechanism for establishing accountability or ensuring quality of output. It's especially ineffective for a field such as contracting, which has inconsistent work requirements throughout the year. 
     
  3. Moreover, such a system adversely affects employee health and morale because it requires employees to be stationary and physically (or virtually) present more than necessary. 

I agree with the comments that moving the 1102 field to a "performance based" scheduling system would be challenging--and potentially unworkable--but I'm looking at this from the perspective that the 80-hour work week system is antiquated, silly, and untenable in the long-term. I believe there's a better way, and it's a matter of finding it.

I also think re-framing is in order. I don't think this would be publicized as some sort of incentive system rigidly applied so that high achievers benefit and low achievers pay. Maybe it's as simple as: If there's nothing for you to do, you don't need to be "clocked in," but you do need to be "reachable." All else being equal, those who can work more efficiently while meeting quality standards will tend to work less than those who cannot. 

To push this topic further, here are some specific responses to comments posted since this morning:

@jwomack: In terms of the work getting done, I'm not sure anything changes. If an employee is not meeting the expectations of her position, that ought to be reflected in her annual assessment or other corrective means. If an impending deadline is at risk, that would be handled no differently than it is now. Maybe the supervisor helps. Maybe the work is reassigned. Maybe pressure is applied to the under-performer. 

As to your variables, I foresaw many of these and I generally agree they pose hurdles. But I also think it might be a matter of re-framing, as I mentioned above. Nobody would be entitled to doing less than 80 hours. It would simply result from a lack of work. As for dealing with "bad" customers, COs can be rotated in an equitable fashion. Or maybe one CO builds a rapport and likes the challenge. Maybe that CO is incentivized with a bigger bonus or a large percentage of the pay pool for contributing more. Even if that CO must do a full 80 hours, it's not automatic that she would have to work "more" than the under-performers, who would also be assigned a full workload commensurate with their abilities and grade. 

Regarding other workload differences you mention, I reiterate the need to adjust our thinking. Why should someone with less than 80 hours of work to do be forced to stay in her chair for the same amount of time as someone with 80 hours of work to do? Who benefits from that? One person would still be working while the other is not. Ideally, through incentives or regular rotations, employees are treated fairly year-over-year. In a way, I don't think these are very different from the challenges organizations currently face.

@Junius: With the advent of "performance based" scheduling, I think there would need to be additional policy pertaining to workload distribution. But for the sake of argument, let's say it's left to the agencies' discretion and distribution is basically as you describe. First,  I believe in many instances a high-performing employee would still be able to get more done within a shorter period of time than a low-performing employee. Second, would still be a quality control process in place. The low-performer cannot simply speed through her workload then knock off. The supervisor needs to "accept" the deliverables. Third, if we're talking about real dead-weight of an employee--like someone getting menial workload assignments because she can't be trusted--well hopefully that person is paid commensurately or the supervisor is taking administrative action against her. Either way, as a high-performer, I'd know I'm doing better than her and I honestly don't think I'd care where she is or what she's doing.

@Vern Edwards: Isn't some level of "mass production" the direction this field is going in? Acquisition streamlining, FSS, commercial item contracting, GWACs, enterprise-wide contracting, best-in-class contracting...artificial intelligence. These are all steps on the road to reducing variables, lowering risk, and making the field "idiot-proof." The standardization of contracting. (Overall, I don't think it's a bad thing, either.)

Sure, there will probably always be variables that require the CO to think. But that thinking always results in a deliverable product at some point, doesn't it? Maybe that point isn't until next month. A supervisor knows this of course. So a memorandum stating progress on X system acquisition is substituted for a direct work product. The CO could choose to stop working when progress is met, or continue working if she wants (as many high-performers would). For complex acquisition planning, the focus would be about staying on track and agreeing on strategy.

If workable at all, there would need to be flexibility and common sense applied to this system. But I think the only differences between what I'm describing and what we currently have are that (1) a supervisor would be required to conduct bi-weekly check-ins to ensure progress, and (2) those with downtime wouldn't be forced to put in face time each day. 

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Guest Vern Edwards
25 minutes ago, FrankJon said:

Let's see if we can agree on a few basic propositions:

  1. For the vast majority of 1102s, work ebbs and flows throughout the year.
     
  2. A system in which salaried employees clock in and out until they reach 80 hours is not an effective mechanism for establishing accountability or ensuring quality of output. It's especially ineffective for a field such as contracting, which has inconsistent work requirements throughout the year. 
     
  3. Moreover, such a system adversely affects employee health and morale because it requires employees to be stationary and physically (or virtually) present more than necessary. 

1. What are your facts?

2. Since when do salaried employees "clock in and out"? What are you talking about? Where do you work?

3. "Such a system"? See my No. 2, above. But even if you were clear, where are your data about employee health and morale and the connection with "such a system"?

You want flextime? Work at home? Is that it? Is that all?

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6 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:

1. What are your facts?

Anecdotal evidence. It's a point that can be debated if anyone disagrees. That's why I called it a "proposition."

10 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:

2. Since when do salaried employees "clock in and out"? What are you talking about? Where do you work?

As far as I know, all civil servants must account for their time. I added quotation marks around "clock in and out" to indicate it's an expression. Some offices require employees to enter their in-times and out-times each day in a virtual time and attendance system. Others only require employees to show how many hours they worked each day. Either way, it needs to total 80 at the end of the PP.

18 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:

3. "Such a system"? See my No. 2, above. But even if you were clear, where are your data about employee health and morale and the connection with "such a system"?

I won't waste my time discussing the body of research that being stationary for too long has negative health consequences, or that morale suffers when employees are not stimulated. Try Google.

20 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:

You want flextime? Work at home? Is that it? Is that all?

What I want to discuss on this discussion board is what I've written about. Rethinking the concept that work hours--whether physical or virtual--equate to productivity. Eliminating the requirement to work 80 hours per PP.

It's a fiction. A thought experiment. Something for those of us with time on our hands to while away the time discussing.

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Guest Vern Edwards
42 minutes ago, FrankJon said:

That's why I called it a "proposition."

Well, then you misused the word. The only debate you can have if you assert something based on anecdotal evidence is that the "evidence" is not representative of the facts, which itself would require proof. It would be a debate not worth having.

2 hours ago, FrankJon said:

Moreover, such a system adversely affects employee health and morale because it requires employees to be stationary and physically (or virtually) present more than necessary. 

42 minutes ago, FrankJon said:

I won't waste my time discussing the body of research that being stationary for too long has negative health consequences, or that morale suffers when employees are not stimulated. Try Google.

I'm not arguing that being stationary too long is not bad for you, but what requires them to be stationary for too long? Couldn't they take a break every so often and climb stairs? Wouldn't they be stationary at home? I used to go for a two-mile run at noon, as did many of my colleagues. I had bosses who conducted only "stand-up" meetings. People are only as stationary as they want to be. That facet of your argument is bogus.

42 minutes ago, FrankJon said:

What I want to discuss on this discussion board is what I've written about. Rethinking the concept that work hours--whether physical or virtual--equate to productivity. Eliminating the requirement to work 80 hours per PP.

Okay, let's discuss that. Go back and read the article to which you provided a link. The firm involved "manages trusts, wills and estates." Okay, what do they produce? Documents? How did the firm measure productivity? Productivity producing what? Trusts, wills, and estates? Are those standard in nature? If not, how did they measure productivity? Moreover, the article says nothing about the quality of the output. In what ways were the employees more "creative"? Creative how? Creative with what result?

The article says that attendance was more regular and employees didn't take long breaks. Sounds like they were still stationary, just for one less day per week.

What's most interesting was that the experiment was run for only two months. Was that long enough to produce reliable findings? Might the "improvements" be only temporary? Ever hear of Frederick Taylor and the Hawthorne effect? Might production decline in the long term? Might everything go back to ground?

I think your discussion is based on a flimsy foundation.

All the article really tells us is that the employees were happier being paid for working four days and being paid for five. I'm sure they were. Think you can sell the concept to Congress and a president?

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Anybody else follow the Netflix HR philosophy on "talent density" and how having the right people surrounded by the right colleagues obviates the need for process controls?

Just me, then?

It will never in million years happen to the Federal government. It would be transformative if it did, though.

https://www.slideshare.net/BarbaraGill3/netflix-culture-deck

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2 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Okay, let's discuss that. Go back and read the article to which you provided a link. The firm involved "manages trusts, wills and estates." Okay, what do they produce? Documents? How did the firm measure productivity? Productivity producing what? Trusts, wills, and estates? Are those standard in nature? If not, how did they measure productivity? Moreover, the article says nothing about the quality of the output. In what ways were the employees more "creative"? Creative how? Creative with what result?

As I said in my first post, the article was just a spark for me. I am not using it as a basis for anything. I wanted to discuss taking the idea further. I also mentioned that there is precedent for this type of set-up in the Government, but it's on the QT. While it's not the contracting field, it is a highly-professionalized field that I'm thinking of.

2 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Think you can sell the concept to Congress and a president?

On 7/20/2018 at 1:35 PM, FrankJon said:

Putting aside the politics of effecting such a change, could such an approach be workable in the 1102 field?

We're just talking here, man.

 

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Guest Vern Edwards

So talk. Answer my question. Think you can sell the concept to Congress and a president?

 

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Guest Vern Edwards
14 hours ago, FrankJon said:

Putting aside the politics of effecting such a change, could such an approach be workable in the 1102 field?

If by "such an approach" you mean salary based on performance standards rather than hours, then no, it would not be workable.

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H2H:

Quote

Anybody else follow the Netflix HR philosophy on "talent density" and how having the right people surrounded by the right colleagues obviates the need for process controls?

No!  However, the 128 page document is from 2009.  That's a long time ago when Netflix was in a differnt stage of development.  I wonder what it looks like now.

Quote

It will never in million years happen to the Federal government. It would be transformative if it did, though.

I don't think it is possible in the general government environment.  However, there may be exceptions but they are probably hidden from public view. 

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15 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

So talk. Answer my question. Think you can sell the concept to Congress and a president?

 

Right now I don't think anything that can be perceived as beneficial to federal employees can be sold to Congress and the President.  Some agencies (Education and Agriculture) pursued President Obama's Telework Enhancement Act by significantly expanding telework and subsequently reducing office space.  Now these agencies are significantly rolling back these policies.  Organizations don't have enough office space and have to scramble to either re-negotiate or find new leases. 

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bob7947,

I understand a current slide deck is available on the Netflix website. It keeps evolving...

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Guest Vern Edwards
On 7/20/2018 at 10:35 AM, FrankJon said:

Under the system I'm envisioning, employees would be expected to turn in X deliverables, or show X progress, while meeting applicable time-based and quality metrics, within a given performance period. 

That scheme is unworkable in an "industry" in which it is impossible to come up with common production standards for "deliverables." One of the advantages of having been around for a while is that I have lived through efforts to find common standards for how long it should take to produce a "contract" or a "contract modification."

The initial approach was to try to base standards on dollar values, the higher the dollar value the longer the time allowance. The problem was that circumstances might require more time to produce a $50,000 mod than a $5,000,000 mod. An adaptation was to combine dollar values with types of actions, i.e., change orders, definitizations of change orders, definitizations of letter contracts, funding mods, claim settlements, etc. So you'd get more time to produce a supplemental agreement estimated at $1,000,000 than a change order estimated at $1,000,000. But that didn't work, because "change order" and "supplemental agreement", etc., are legal categories. They don't represent specific work. Moreover, acquisition "deliverables" are the product of organizational systems, not individual persons. So how do you account for time spent waiting for contracting staff review, legal review, higher-level approval, etc.? ("I would have finished two weeks ago, but the thing has been hung up in legal.")

Young people coming into the field usually have no idea of the history of such attempts. They've also been somewhat brainwashed as to the prospective success of "innovations." To them, ideas like FrankJon's are new and refreshing, even common-sensical. But they don't understand the underlying difficulties and don't know about previous attempts. Moreover, they seem to have an unbounded confidence in the ability of technology ("artificial intelligence") to solve all problems, not always realizing that technology solves some problems while giving rise to new ones. I can remember when automated contract writing systems were expected to be a big advance. There was no thought to the effect of such systems on professional work life, organizational standing, and product quality. Now we know that automated contract writing really turned out to be an aid to the chief financial officers, contracting be damned.

The best things that could be done to improve contracting output and efficiency would be to:

  1. make a distinction between purchasing agent (GS-1105) work (mainly FAR Subpart 8.4, Parts 12, 13, and 14, and FAR 16.505) and contract specialist (GS-1102) work;
  2. redesignate the majority of 1102s as 1105s;
  3. take the rules about purchasing agent work out of the FAR (Title 48 of the CFR, Chapter 1) and put them into an entirely different chapter of the FAR system;
  4. direct purchasing agents away from the FAR and needlessly complex processes;
  5. provide 1102s with first rate professional education and training;
  6. streamline the FAR by removing all tutorial material and leaving only the strict rules (shall, shall not), the solicitation provisions, and the contract clauses; shoot to cut it from 2,000 pages to no more than 1,000; and
  7. provide 1102s with administrative and clerical support.

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The Netflix manifesto is very much a product of its Silicon Valley environment.  It only works under exceptional circumstances.   Highly competitive market.  There are minimal difference between inter and intra firm transaction costs, and those costs are very low indeed.  Workers are abundant, ultra-networked, and skills are fast changing and easily transferable.  Productivity is clearly measured and monitored.  Risk is compensated with cash (no job security, but very high wages). Etc.  For the public sector generally, the Netflix model is useless.  

My proposition is that 'better people' are almost never the solution, and people are almost never the problem.  People respond to incentives, and the incentives are systemic.  

Comcast doesn't hire uniquely nasty and stupid customer support.  Firing the lot and re-hiring 'better people' won't make any difference.  Comcast is a monopoly and its customers are hostages.  That is the problem, and its nothing to with HR.  

Contracting shops sure seem to have really low efficiency.   More training or better people won't make any difference.  The federal government cares a great deal about compliance and following proper procedures.  Efficiency isn't even measured for the most part.  See Vern's post about how its impossible to baseline effort ex ante.  If there isn't a standard to measure against, there is no such thing as 'more' efficient  - more efficient compared to what? 

 

Anyways, regarding the time-off incentive of the original post.  Most contracting offices I know about make extensive use of time as an incentive.  The particular scheme described would probably not work because a very-strong time-incentive would lead to all sorts of harmful gamesmanship.  The crucial 'assignment of workload' in particular.

 

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Guest Vern Edwards

@General.Zhukov

Georgy:

I agree with everything you said except this:

44 minutes ago, General.Zhukov said:

More training or better people won't make any difference..

If compliance and following proper procedures are really what the government cares about, then efficiency is not the issue. The issue is compliance and following proper procedures. And in that case I would think that better training and better people (i.e., more knowledgable, more diligent) should make a difference in terms of compliance and following proper procedures.

I think "the government" has multiple and conflicting objectives. Most in Congress seem to want compliance and following proper procedures. However, top level management in the executive branch wants speed and low transaction costs. Better knowledge and capability among the workforce should make a difference with respect to meeting both sets of objectives.

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Quote

A solution to improve 1102 output and efficiency?

 

Do we actually want that?  Would you want a lawyer who was productive and efficient, or one who was ponderous, sloppy....and victorious?  Outcomes matter in this business more than production metrics.

It seems that what is actually being discussed here is more related to happiness and morale (i.e., employee retention)  rather than a scheme which would benefit a contracting organization through improved metrics.

FWIW, IBM in the past year has basically ended its telework program for many of the reasons Vern cites (ad hoc collaboration, immediacy, comradery).  As someone who was there for over a decade without ever actually meeting my 'supervisor', I can attest to some of the drawbacks of a 100% virtual office.

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