Saturday, February 19, 2011

Missing in Action

This morning, I was making my usual online rounds and found, to my disappointment, a whole lot of good content missing from the Internet. More than two years after I left my post as the MHS Chief for Defense Business Transformation, the Web site we spent good time, money (more than 100k), and serious mental energy on was - instead of being updated (which it hadn't been once in two yeas)- scrapped. Removed. Taken down. Simply turned off.

In it's place is a message that the DBT site is being constructed and a statement to please check back later. The gray box that says please check back later is much more helpful than the Web site we spent so much on.

Links all over - like those to 45 months of weekly briefings (, for example) are broken. One of the few usable Component examples of Business Transformation actually being implemented is gone. Like an ocean wave washing away sand castles, the work done by my teams - $2.4 million per year for five years - is gone. Success stories, briefings, podcasts, models, review guides, theory and education, the icon of our labor - all gone.

This I have found is pretty common in the Department of Defense. A leader comes in, does some remarkable things, and as a consequence, disturbs the status quo. Leaders move on, but the status quo, like a jungle creeping over an abandoned village, returns and wipes away any trace of progress made. A new leader sometimes comes in, finds the previous work either not as successful as they would like it, or carrying political baggage. They aren't up to carrying on the fight left behind by the previous leader, so they wipe the slate clean and start over again.

Anyone who has spent enough time in the DoD has witnesses (or fallen victim to) this phenomenon. Reinventing is an exercise full of new promise, fresh energy, and rapid forward momentum. Ultimately, it tends to end up in the same place as the last project. As a steward of taxpayer's money, I question the wisdom of this kind of behavior.

Why is the DoD missing an enterprise-wide plan and reporting mechanism that keeps tabs on progress and provides continuity over time? Why doesn't the DoD have coordinating mechanisms to evaluate these new inventions - no matter where they pop up - and bend resources to a common purpose. These are questions I ask myself often.

The thing is, every leader who commits to making change has to overcome tremendous resistance. They have to cut back the proverbial bush, expose the truth, build something of value and try to get someone else to carry it forward. This consumes a tremendous amount of resources.

The product of my labors in the example above survived for about 2 years without me. Without me in the picture, it was slowly overcome. Once overcome, it is as if we weren't even there.

How many leaders, great and small, have come and gone only to have the memories if their deeds washed away? How much of what we do is enduring? How much money, time and other resource do we waste trying to make a difference? How many times is history re-written by the last person sitting at the table?

I wonder if I had known the ultimate fate of what we were building, if I would have felt so compelled to commit the resources I did. I wonder how many resources have been committed - and washed away over time - by others like me who have either moved on or are enjoying their retirement? I wonder what the right measurement is for "progress."

I am encourage by enduring effects that some great leaders like ADM Grace Hopper have had. It makes me wonder how she did it.

Maybe the fact that there's a chance to succeed will encourage the next generation of leadership to jump in and whack down some jungle vines of their own.

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