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Recently, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Air Force Contracting stated that you can take a random group of contracting folks and put them in a 'cool kids' organization (e.g., SOFWERX, Kessel Run) and the outcomes would be the same.

This made me think about a few things.

First, I revisited senior leaders, auditors, taxpayers, and most importantly -- warfigthers -- recurring call for improvements in the defense acquisition workforces's professionalism, competence, acumen, savvy, etc. If a random group of contracting personnel can generate the same outcomes as those in high-performing and innovative organizations, what is the secret and how can we get the same or similar results across the enterprise? 

When I look around and identify non-specialists (practitioners) from specialists (professionals) a few things stand out and the General's comments were generally true. Individuals and teams are shaped by selection, streaming and differentiated experience. These factors seem to have meaningful influence on whether someone is a practitioner or professional - the Matthew effect.

Talent management, specifically professional development, in a fiscally constrained meritocracy is challenging, but perhaps the workforce's professionalism would benefit from wider reaching selections, streaming, and differentiated experiences. Perhaps the 'cool kid' organizations have things we should benchmark or model in our own organizations. One area we should examine is our primary training pipeline - DAU. DAU offerings should incorporate robust experiential learning opportunities geared towards professionals. 

Thoughts?

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12 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

the outcomes would be the same

What outcomes?

Was his point that the selection process for cool kids organizations are ineffective?

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What are "high performing and innovative organizations" and what are the criteria for designating such organizations?  

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17 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

you can take a random group of contracting folks and put them in a 'cool kids' organization (e.g., SOFWERX, Kessel Run) and the outcomes would be the same

PepeTheFrog, eternal realist, thinks this statement should be flushed immediately and is a combination of:

(1) CEO-speak or platitudes meant to inspire underlings to keep spinning the hamster wheel faster: "everybody is incredibly important to the bottom line" "treat the janitor the same as the CEO, we're all exactly the same and incredibly valuable" "everybody has the potential to be a superstar"

(2) egalitarian / equalitarian  / tabula rasa / Enlightenment fictions AKA sheer nonsense...everybody is exactly the same, humans are interchangeable widgets, what matters is hiring Big Consulting Firms to arrange the widgets in super efficient dynamic synergistic agile lean-forward tiger team innovation labs (hadn't heard "cool kids organizations" until now)

Please don't take this carnival barking seriously. 

17 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

but perhaps the workforce's professionalism would benefit from wider reaching selections

No, PepeTheFrog thinks the (federal and also the federal acquisition) workforce would benefit form narrower, harsher, more discriminating selections. Intelligence or knowledge or competency tests with objective percentile cutoffs. Discrimination between the value of higher education degrees (throw online degree resumes in the trash, give more credit to the state school 3.5 GPA than the 3.5 GPA at PoDunk College of Teacher's Aides). 

17 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

DAU offerings should incorporate robust experiential learning opportunities geared towards professionals. 

Sure, sounds good. Like what? This is CEO-speak. 

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17 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

you can take a random group of contracting folks and put them in a 'cool kids' organization (e.g., SOFWERX, Kessel Run) and the outcomes would be the same.

As Don hinted, it is not clear what this means.  However, it reminds me of the proposition that if you take an infinite number of monkeys and put them in front of an infinite number of typewriters (a little dated here), eventually, you will get a complete sentence.

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5 hours ago, Don Mansfield said:

What outcomes?

I presume speed and innovation. 

5 hours ago, Don Mansfield said:

Was his point that the selection process for cool kids organizations are ineffective?

I don't think so. However, the comment seems to suggest that the selection process is moot. The streaming and differentiated experience selectees receive may be what's important in cultivating speed and innovation.

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4 hours ago, Retreadfed said:

What are "high performing and innovative organizations" and what are the criteria for designating such organizations?  

There is a lot of literature on this, but this Wiki entry provides a quick primer: Click here

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1 hour ago, PepeTheFrog said:

"DAU offerings should incorporate robust experiential learning opportunities geared towards professionals."

Sure, sounds good. Like what? This is CEO-speak. 

I have actually written an unpublished article on this. I believe most would agree that most career field learning occurs through hands-on learning, primarily on-the-job activities and training (e.g., experiences). Accordingly, DAU's teaching and learning model should be heavy with hands-on experiential learning. For example, clinics, externships, and simulations. Heck, DAU buys stuff, right? How about internships at DAU actually buying and administering supplies and services?

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I worry about the long term health of this profession. There are bright spots but systems being slow, multiple checks in systems that should be automated or eliminated, and lack of connection with younger generations is concerning. DAU is not incentivized to fail students so the rigor is lacking to determine top contract professionals. I agree hands on learning is critical but fundamental changes need to occur if the goal is to have any contract professional be able to work at a top organization and yield the same result as those organizations.

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@Don Mansfield

Thanks for the info. I should have said DAU requires stuff since my focus was them having requirements that can be used for training. For example, experiential learning can be incorporated into fulfilling real DAU requirements. Send students and instructors to the Army office(s) that buy for DAU similar to an extended acquisition workshop.

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My experience with ‘cool kids’ organizations is the culture and environment going in is what causes the observable benefits.  As long as participants have a decent understanding of the acquisition process, that’s what matters.  Those organizations do a lot to set the stage upfront like setting expectations, pep talks from senior management, team forming exercises, facilitation, visibility and promotion of their progress, etc.  So if General Holt is saying extensive experience and training in a field, isn’t essential to outcomes,  I agree but only because of what I just described.

As far as DAU training, it seems to be working reasonably well.  The problem with any training is participants need to practice what they learned.  So many 1102s take training and don’t apply it to their work and soon forget much of what they learned.  We all see resumes of people with long list of courses.  Ask them questions and they can’t answer them because they don’t know.  They sit through training and never apply any of it.  To me the most effective by far is experimental and applying it right away to their work.  

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2 hours ago, formerfed said:

The problem with any training is participants need to practice what they learned.

I agree with this statement.  However, from anecdotal evidence I have seen, there are institutional impediments to this.  For example, young specialists are sent to training and when they return to their organizations and say what they learned, sometimes the old mossbacks in the organization say that's good theoretical stuff, but we do things the real world way here so that what was learned is not permitted to be applied in practice.

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In the wiki article Jamaal referenced, I found this statement to be interesting:

There is not a clear definition of the high performance organization, but research shows that organizations that fit this model all hold a common set of characteristics. Chief among these is the ability to recognize the need to adapt to the surroundings that the organization operates in. High performance organizations can quickly and efficiently change their operating structure and practices to meet needs.[2] These organizations focus on long term success while delivering on actionable short term goals.[2] These organizations are flexible, customer focused, and able to work highly effectively in teams. The culture and management of these organizations support flatter hierarchies, teamwork, diversity, and adaptability to the environment which are all of paramount success to this type of organization. Compared to other organizations, high performance organizations spend much more time on continuously improving their core capabilities and invest in their workforce, leading to increased growth and performance.

In light of the statutory, regulatory, political, budgetary and oversight constraints placed on government agencies, how many government agencies or activities can meet these characteristics?  Is it even realistic to talk about agencies being high performing organizations?

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PepeTheFrog has some bad news for everyone.

If you put John Q. Smith through the absolute best training possible, including "cool kids" internships, and literally anything else you can imagine, John Q. Smith will still have the same potential. Whether you think this potential was created by God, genetics, his childhood environment, or any combination thereof, it doesn't matter. The potential is a limit. "A man's gotta know his limitations." John Q. Smith might meet his potential, but he cannot exceed his potential. This is a tautology, an obvious point. 

What is never discussed is that if John Q. Smith is a moron, all of the training and intervention was a waste. John Q. Smith's potential was to be a moron. He was not equipped to succeed in a white-collar profession. That's it. Some Americans like to tell every child that he can become an astronaut or a professional athlete. It's not true. Sorry!

You cannot fix stupid.

These are all fantastic ideas that will never amount to anything because you're not willing to admit that the federal workforce has become a welfare system, not a workforce. Work for welfare. Hiring based on satisfying political constituencies or protected classes. 

Better training! (Find a way to make dumb people smart.)

Different training! (Find a way to make dumb people smart.)

"Cool kids" organizations! (Find a way to extract the smart people from the dumb people.)

Better rotations for high achievers! (Find a way to extract the smart people from the dumb people.)

Special class of 1102 who only perform FAR Part 15 complex acquisitions, leaving simplified garbage to everyone else! (Find a way to extract the smart people from the dumb people.)

"It's all so tiresome."

(A) Everyone reading this has known one or more people who have a very high potential. You can use whatever word(s) you want to describe this high potential. Smart? Driven? Blessed? You observed how this person rose to excellence with hardly any help, or with less help than others. This person read books, read articles, learned from Internet websites, sought out mentors, etc. They were self-starters. They could teach themselves.

(B) Everyone reading this has known many, many people who are the complete opposite of A. 

Here is a revolutionary idea. Try to find as many closer to (A) as possible, and most importantly, exclude and discriminate against people who are closer to (B).

 

 

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Quote

We can distinguish here various levels of performance: inputs (processes, what an agency does), outputs (its immediate products), and social benefits and costs (what happens as the result of citizens and clients doing that).

Agreeing upon a simple set of performance measures is a chronic difficulty in public programs. Because public programs are established through a political process, they usually emerge as compromises, embodying multiple, often competing goals. And after a program is established, multiple stakeholders—the executive, the legislature, the bureaucracy, interest groups—continue to disagree about both broad program goals and operationally useful measures of performance toward those goals (e.g., Wilson, 1991, Chaps. 6 and 13). 

Some observers of government provision argue that government is specifically assigned the tasks for which goals are amorphous or difficult to measure (Wilson, 1991; Prendergast, 2003).

One of the dudes that wrote this taught in my grad school.  Also in grad school, I dabbled in public-sector performance measurement & management.  Even if you stick to just operational performance (excluding social net benefit), 'performance' can be difficult to meaningfully define and measure for the public sector.

That said, some organizations perform better than others, even if its hard to quantify exactly why or how (when in doubt, the reason is 'leadership.'). 

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As an adendnum - 

15 minutes ago, PepeTheFrog said:

find as many closer to (A) as possible, and most importantly, exclude and discriminate against people who are closer to (B).

 

Follow up to what I just posted.

From the same body of research, there is a network effect (increasing return) with high-performers that backs up this intuition.  Consider an organization with three teams made up of A & B.

Org 1: ABB ABB ABB

Org 2: AAA BBB BBB

Org 2 will outperform Org 1, because the 'A Team.'   

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1 hour ago, General.Zhukov said:

From the same body of research, there is a network effect (increasing return) with high-performers that backs up this intuition.  Consider an organization with three teams made up of A & B.

Org 1: ABB ABB ABB

Org 2: AAA BBB BBB

Org 2 will outperform Org 1, because the 'A Team.'   

It's not a network effect (multiplier). It's the reduction of inefficiency from removing waste. 

B reduces the ability of A. Combining A with A only seems to be a "network effect" because of the elimination of B. 

Much like pain, loss, and sadness has a greater effect than an "equal" amount of pleasure, gain, or happiness, the negative effects of B outweigh the positive effects of A.

Some people are dead-weight loss. 

Think about your biggest problems (in the form of individual people) as a manager. A single bad apple can wreak havoc. A few can cripple an entire team. A bunch can destroy the entire division or company.

Now imagine a federal workforce full of bad apples that cannot be fired. You don't have to imagine it! Welcome to the United States of America, 2019.

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2 hours ago, General.Zhukov said:

One of the dudes that wrote this taught in my grad school.  Also in grad school, I dabbled in public-sector performance measurement & management.  Even if you stick to just operational performance (excluding social net benefit), 'performance' can be difficult to meaningfully define and measure for the public sector.

That said, some organizations perform better than others, even if its hard to quantify exactly why or how (when in doubt, the reason is 'leadership.'). 

I’ll limit my response to the acquisition/contracting function.  The bottom line of organizational performance is accomplishing the agency mission.  Major acquisitions may do that directly.  Others do it by directly support programs or indirectly.  Several measurements can apply; some directly and others indirectly.  Like it or not, customer satisfaction is a key one.  So is industry input.  Items like responsiveness, cost savings, avoidance of and successful protest outcomes, senior management perspective including general counsel,  and benchmarking to comparable organizations are good indicators.  More objective metrics like PALT and cost avoidance also are good.  

Poor performing organizations sit back and are reactive.  They start procurements when a requisition is received.  The best ones are partnering with program offices and their staff are in demand helping with planning and strategizing.  The good ones analyze buy and anticipate and react in advance.

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Pepe,

I can’t disagree.  What I can say is top performing organizations let their A people show how it’s done.  Then B people follow and duplicate.  A’s get recognition and rewards.  Most B’s see doing what A’s do is the way to advance and follow.  Those that don’t sit back, complain, and mostly are ignored.  A’s don’t want to get caught up in all that.

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On 4/12/2019 at 5:24 PM, formerfed said:

I’ll limit my response to the acquisition/contracting function.  The bottom line of organizational performance is accomplishing the agency mission.  Major acquisitions may do that directly.  Others do it by directly support programs or indirectly.  Several measurements can apply; some directly and others indirectly.  Like it or not, customer satisfaction is a key one.  So is industry input.  Items like responsiveness, cost savings, avoidance of and successful protest outcomes, senior management perspective including general counsel,  and benchmarking to comparable organizations are good indicators.  More objective metrics like PALT and cost avoidance also are good.  

Poor performing organizations sit back and are reactive.  They start procurements when a requisition is received.  The best ones are partnering with program offices and their staff are in demand helping with planning and strategizing.  The good ones analyze buy and anticipate and react in advance.

I agree.  Despite what I wrote about how performance is generally tough to measure for government, I don't think acquisition is particularly difficult (with some exceptions).  All the things you list are pretty good measures of outcomes.  

 

 

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On 4/12/2019 at 5:49 PM, formerfed said:

top performing organizations let their A people show how it’s done.  Then B people follow and duplicate.  A’s get recognition and rewards.  Most B’s see doing what A’s do is the way to advance and follow.  Those that don’t sit back, complain, and mostly are ignored.  A’s don’t want to get caught up in all that.

PepeTheFrog completely agrees. It is difficult to change the ratio of A and B, although PepeTheFrog stresses that goal as critical, fundamental, decisive. If nothing can be done about the ratio, favoring and promoting the A's is the way to go.

PepeTheFrog is very old for a frog. PepeTheFrog has seen many A's get the recognition and awards, and even promotions-- but then leave for industry. There is only so much the government can do for the A's. "Cool kid" groups is one gimmick (segregation, advancement, promotion, interesting projects). But sometimes even that is not enough.

Many of the A's go to industry for higher pay and more prestige. It is extremely difficult for the government to compete with industry for several reasons, one of which is that industry is (relatively) free to fire every single B, eventually. 

On 4/12/2019 at 5:49 PM, formerfed said:

Those that don’t sit back, complain, and mostly are ignored.  A’s don’t want to get caught up in all that.

One of the biggest dangers to organizational success is when this situation is reversed. The B's are in charge. The inmates run the asylum. If there are enough B's at the mid-level and top of the organization, nearly all A's will flee the scene. Then it's Gresham's law, swirling down the toilet. In industry, a new CEO comes in a fires everyone. In government, that's not possible. But it should be!

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I am aghast.  There are no Bs- there are only A1s and A2s. 

Seriously though, are we getting stupider as the generations go by?  Will we one day obsess about the amount of electrolytes our crops are receiving?  Or is this just something typical 42-year-old males worry about?

I fear that I'm a "B" and I'm being followed up by mostly "C"s.

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21 minutes ago, apsofacto said:

I fear that I'm a "B" and I'm being followed up by mostly "C"s.

Another manifestation of the adage that the replacement is never as good as the person being replaced. 

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1 hour ago, apsofacto said:

Seriously though, are we getting stupider as the generations go by?

In America, yes, unquestionably so, if "we" means the average of the entire population of America. The serious decline started in the early 20th century and took a nosedive in the mid-20th century. 

You face very harsh penalties if you explore how, why, or whether it is a good idea or not. 

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