Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The concept of leverage is one of the most useful tools in our collective tool boxes. It's a term that is used by both commercial business enterprise and by Feds, and it's one of a few such concepts that seems to translate pretty well between the two.

People usually conjure an image of guy with a long pole moving a huge rock. The guy sticks one end of the stick under the huge rock, levers it against some kind of fulcrum near the rock, then uses the added leverage of the long pole to use his relatively tiny weight to move the big rock.

The Department of Defense is HUGE rock. If we are to move that rock, we will need to become experts on the concepts of leverage and teamwork.

Merriam Webster defines Leverage as:
1 : the action of a lever or the mechanical advantage gained by it
2 : power, effectiveness
3 : the use of credit to enhance one's speculative capacity

I like to think of leverage as a force multiplier. Leverage involves using tools and systems around us to ensure the absolute highest and best use of our time and resources.

Investopedia says Leverage is 1. The use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital, such as margin, to increase the potential return of an investment.

Try to make a program like Defense business Transformation work in the DoD and you will quickly find yourself feeling like a very small fish in a very big sea.

"Transform the DoD?! A world-wide organization so full of honorable tradition, power pockets, strong personalities and about 7 miles of bureaucratic forms to wade through?!"

To the Transformation minded, this task will at times seem like a hellish version of Mission Impossible. A key to making it work is leverage.

Investopedia explains Leverage
1. Leverage can be created through options, futures, margin and other financial instruments. For example, say you have $1,000 to invest. This amount could be invested in 10 shares of Microsoft stock, but to increase leverage, you could invest the $1,000 in five options contracts. You would then control 500 shares instead of just 10.

The right leverage is important. In the Business Transformation game, the best kinds of leverage often come from other people. Don't try to make everything happen yourself. Good government is a team sport. Going about this alone is like taking on the Green Bay Packers by yourself. You'll be dead before the end of the first quarter.

Don't reinvent the wheel. It's smart to find examples of Transformation going well elsewhere in the Department, then to pick up the phone and introduce yourself. Often you'll find lots of work that's already been done that you can leverage to make your own program successful faster. Leveraging work that's already been done is a smart way to get past the basics and get working on the things that are specific to your situation - like local leadership priorities and challenges.

Next, create assets that work for you while you sleep. If you have a choice to spend your budget (or convince someone to spend their budget) on doing more work (like conducting investment reviews) or creating a system to teach others how to do the work - chose the latter. Once you create a system and commit that system to paper, a CD, a DVD, a Web site or some other distributable media, you can work on getting that media into the hands of your target markets and empowering them to be successful. My former Web site is full of examples of these kinds of "build once, use many" assets. Let them do the work of Transformation!

This approach provides you with a secondary benefit: Everyone who "buys" or adopts your system will be starting with roughly the same foundation. This means some level of standardization will be occurring across organizations. Organizations that start in the same place will at least share a common vocabulary, even if the execution of the system in different organizations eventually becomes a variation of the original.

When I was responsible for Defense Business Transformation within the Military Health System, I had a small $2.4 million budget, three sub organizations: Army Medicine, Navy Medicine and Air Force Medicine to serve, and $1.4 billion worth of identified annual investments to review (or disqualify from review).

This was an impossible task for my small team to do alone. However, by reaching out to Transformation agents within each of the three Service Medical Departments and empowering them to "franchise" our DBT office into their organizations, the effective man hours applied to the task was multiplied four fold. We used our Web site, weekly meetings, guide books, evaluation frameworks, CD's, brochures, and other materials to get them the information they needed to be successful.

There will also be people who really don't like having transformation zealots around. So put them to work too! By leveraging the environment around us (and a little basic human nature), we hung little bits of one-ups-man-ship out there as motivation. We either goaded these kinds of people into trying to outperform us, or we let it "slip" into the grape vine that we had something cool going on (whether we did or not) - which in turn "made" them do whatever we said we were doing even better! All the while, we had a strategic plan with the desired outcomes clearly described.

Policies and signatures are also great leverage tools. If you can craft a policy, revise a policy revision and/or get a signature on a policy or a guidance document, you can appeal to a whole new class of leadership and Transformation Agents. There are some people who only respond when they see a signature. There are some people who only respond to what they consider the "right" signature.

Note: I find the signature and policy method to be my least favorite method of leverage. It's not that I don't like policy or signed guidance - I'd love it! If you follow DOTMLPF, policy (Doctrine) change is first in line and is supposed to be the least expensive solution. In a perfect world, signing out a well crafted policy is the best way to go. In reality, "winning" a signature means running a gauntlet filled with political agendas, compromise, ego induced red ink, and inevitable ring kissing. When you get the signature, you will sometimes find that the people you most want to influence don't recognize the signature you got. Bad blood between two signature authorities can send your entire project spinning back to "start" like getting a bad card in Candyland. Tip: Don't get into the signature chasing game unless you're prepared to settle in for a while. It's a full time job and you will never get all the signatures that everybody wants.

My point is this: find ways to put the environment around you to work. Find things that you can do that cost you a little, but gain you great benefits. Use the talent of people who have come before you or share similar interests in transforming their environment. Spend a little time to commit your ideas or systems to some kind of sharable media. Find a way to influence a policy that you think needs a change. By doing a few strategically intelligent things and leveraging the resources around you, you will have a tremendous impact on the environment around you!

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