Deep down in our hearts as public
administrators we know that organizations have some employees
or some functions which are not necessary. We know that if
some of these functions were simply to disappear tomorrow,
citizens or organizational leaders might not even
know that for various reasons there may be unnecessary
positions "loitering" in the halls of government as they have
been for many years.
may have a manager in charge of managing a manager who manages
other people. We may have layers of organizational supervision
which could have simply built up over the years in the same
way sedimentary rock is formed.
may have some employees who use bullying behavior or are
marginal performers, but are not quite bad enough for
disciplinary actions. For that matter, we may have supervisors
who have not bothered to document properly or made any effort
at all over many years to counsel, train or discipline these
our heart of bureaucratic hearts, we all recognize that this
can be a fact of life. It is more likely to be prevalent in a
larger organization since there are more programs, facilities,
staff and complexity. But even small cities and counties are
not immune from being bureaucratically overweight.
the campaign trail, elected officials and candidates
systematically urge that we "get the fat out of government."
In fact, it is very much a part of American history to run for
office on a platform that includes ample doses of throwing out
rascals, shrinking government, eliminating bureaucracy,
cutting budgets and reforming "the system." Whether you sat
next to candidate George W. in 18th century America or George
W. in the 21st century, you would find similar language in
Yet, getting bureaucracies to
trim their own has proven as difficult as getting Americans to
a world where we crave instant impacts and gratification, we
as Americans and we as public administrators find it difficult
to sustain long-term programs that produce gradual change. It
is easier, more dramatic, and certainly more expensive to
treat problems radically after theyve developed rather than
to work on prevention and early intervention.
Like many Americans seeking to
drop some pounds, organizations often to turn to a kind of
bureaucratic liposuction in an effort to trim the fat. How
does organizational liposuction work? Some of the fast results
are achieved through the layoff of dozens or hundreds of
people, closing of facilities, elimination of services and
putting off things like building maintenance or fleet
management scheduling. Capital investments in new technology
or better ways of doing business may be scrapped. These result
in quick apparent change that may, however, extract a very
unhealthy toll over the long-term.
model civil service rules or union contracts bind and gag
public sector flexibility and responsiveness to poor
performance. Such restrictions abound in the public sector
while they are declining in the private sector.
Layoffs, for example, are a very
terrible thing to do and may be a testimonial as much to poor
leadership and planning as they are to an immediate crisis
However, by being required to use
a seniority uber alles system, we may be deluding
ourselves that the unproductive or poorly behaving employee
who has been in the organization taking up space for years may
at last be cast out. However, at the end of the process, the
real outcome may well be the elimination of more recently
hired, often more energetic, excited, and skilled staff. We
think weve solved the problem by deleting a social service
program, but the already underserved client group may well end
up appearing elsewhere in more expensive parts of the local
government, such as law enforcement or in a government
subsidized healthcare system.
may save money by not repairing a bridge or strengthening a
levee only to find that a subsequent serious collapse might
have been avoided if the maintenance had occurred. Now we face
a hugely more expensive repair or replacement, well beyond
what our budget cutting colleagues ever imagined.
investing in employee training and development may save some
money in the short-term, but it may really be the shortsighted
term. The harm done by preventable errors or accidents which
can occur due to outdated or poor training in the sheriffs or
police department, for example, could cost a lot more than to
"repair" when the lawyer fees are finally tallied up than the
entire training budget.
overwhelmed, under-resourced HR staff will likely be forced to
focus on transaction management rather than being proactive in
identifying liabilities and managing them assertively. The
result may well be that our reductions create expenditures
rather than reducing them.
Organizational liposuction -
the radical treatment to show immediate results Ñ may
occasionally be necessary. It may be the only method available
in very unusual circumstances to break through the inertia
that prevents and discourages improvements from happening in
the normal course of business. In general, however the radical
surgical approach may very well not be cost-effective and can
be dangerous to an organizations overall health.
appointed and elected officials, we have the opportunity to
look beyond the obvious quick "look good on TV" solutions in
favor of less glamorous approaches that are healthier for the
organization in the long run.
have a duty to bring about changes in long-term leadership
mindsets, and prevent, rather than provoke, trips to
"organizational emergency rooms" later. Perhaps the best
answers can be derived from the knowledge of the employees
themselves through cost savings and cost avoidance strategies
with substantial incentives to help overcome the real cause of
organizational troubles Ñ inertia.
HR Doctor wishes you the best in your own personal efforts to
control unnecessary weight around your midsection and around
P.S. - Dont forget that you
can order the HR Doctors new book, Dont Walk by Something
Wrong! at www.amazon.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ or
from bookstores near you! Repeatedly lifting its 400 pages of
tips and management advice can even be part of an
organizational exercise routine.