Monday, November 28, 2005

Problem Plus in Action

Chap points to a nice "Memo to Murtha" article by Clifford May in which he takes Murtha's position and runs with it to see where Murtha's 'recommendation' takes him. It didn't take May to the better world Murtha suggested.

In point of fact, Murtha's 'recommendation' was not one. It was just a complaint, scantily dressed as one and it reminded me of the general behavior of employees that gave rise to the management saying, "Don't come to me with a problem, come to me with a solution."

In my time, long ago, when I was growing as a novice manager, the agenda topic of a meeting or a segment of a seminar would sometimes be headlined with a incisive saying like that. Always the focus would be on teamwork. After all, teamwork was a key ingredient to the business' success and the managers' responsibility was to "effect" (God, how I hate the use of that word in that way, but it was pounded into my vocabulary and still resides there benignly) that teamwork.

Although these terms were devoted to identifying teamwork opportunities and were, often, to be used liberally in the office, to entice positive thinking frameworks (Gosh, it's all coming back to me now) I could see that they were mostly rather cynical responses to one or another previous initiative. This particular one was the result of the earlier "Open Door Policy" that caused the managers' efficiency to drop like a rock as soon as it was initiated as they spent more and more of the day having employees drop in to point out a problem for YOU to fix. I'm not sure when the saying sprang forth in the minds of managers but I wouldn't be surprised if it came about the time the first employee availed himself of the Open Door Policy to make problem identification their sole job function.

Murtha's recent effort, then, can be best placed in the category of the problem plus faux solution pairing that employees quickly adapted shortly after management unveiled the "Problem Plus (Solution)" guideline for the Open Door Policy. And in thinking back on two weeks ago, I can now see May's point in thanking Murtha for the "Problem Plus" effort and sitting him down, in a sense, to walk him through his suggestion.

It's a little late though to walk back this 'office' clarifying event for the updated Open Door Policy. Mark Shields and other problem finders like him find something to admire in the Murtha's problem identifying "leadership." Whether it was Shields or some other 'office" grumbler that headlined his column "The Democrats get a face", matters not. The man (Shields) who said, at some opportune time, on Lehrer News Hour sometime in 2004 that he didn't know anyone who was going to vote for Bush, knows how to focus on what is important in his own little world -- the person and not the suggestion. Why, Murtha is a career employee of some type or another so "he knows the problem" and if anyone knows how to identify a problem it's a career employee. "Heck, he was employee of the month, two times!", and is always willing to go pick up the lunch order.

Heaven forbid the grumblers might actually focus on the problem or stop to consider whether suggested solution is sensible enough to end their year-end bonus much less their continued employment. Good old Murtha, he's the man! Boy, is he likable.

I never spent much time with the grumbler crowd in the office, usually hanging with the, "chuckle at the grumblers" folks, and was fortunate to have folks that worked with me that had the same nose to the grindstone attitude, those who saw a problem, fixed it and went on. (Darned if I wasn't fortunate enough to have ones that complained that I said "Please" and "Thank you" too much.)

But having May stoke my memories of the office grumblers that I've waxed nostalgic about didn't leave me without some about top management, too. While you always have grumblers working the rounds in an office, when the business seems to be in a holding pattern it becomes fertile ground for the grumblers and if you don't work the land, those grumblers grow like weeds. Management must maintain the initiative by making the effort to show that there is progress. If you don't, it's trouble.

I'd like to say that it is Bush's fault and to the degree he is not doing it to keep the office grumblers in check, it is. I hold back some on his failure in that regard because I think part Bush's difficulty is it's not just that game that he has had to manage, but also the game of office empire building. But too much effort, I think, has been spent in the Rovian (?) strategy of managing the other empire building coalition off the cliff of power by biding time between major milestones with the intention of leaving them slack jawed when success in the primary objective is announced.

A little more effort in the other arena is necessary. And now, it seems to me, this is the almost perfect time to revamp his strategy, if, of course, I have read Bush correctly. I say that because the Democrats do have a face now, just not the one Shields likes to think. It is the face of the competing empire building coalition thoroughly merged with the grumblers and the lesser troubling grapevine crowd into one Sour Grapes Coalition and it's time for a crushing.

You crush this frenzied group of problem finders by co-opting showing them Problem Plus in Action campaign, in which, like their Coalition, everything can be defined as a problem and everything can have a solution, and everything can be a milestone. No matter what you do, they find a problem with it.

So it's time Bush stopped emphasizing few milestones and the ultimate goal, thereby giving the PF Coalition time to point out problems, and started emphasizing everything as a problem, setting a milestone for it and achieving it in short order. The insurgents are in Al Qaim; we will kick them out; we kicked them out of Al Qaim. The Iraqi army needs humvees, we will get them humvees; tomorrow 5,000 humvees will leave port for Iraq. You can have every Tom, Dick and Mary in the Administration announce one a day and flood the national conversation with Problem Plus in Action accomplishments.

It's a game, that's why they call it politics and in business it is called office politics. If you play it right and straight, you'll have all those Problem Finders mumbling in their cubicles with nothing to grasp ahold of as a problem. Hey, might even find the time to do some real work while they are there. (And that reminds me of the after the seminar contest winning cliche for boosting "positive thinking frameworks" around 9:30 AM at the coffee machine -- "I'm glad to see you made it to the office on time ... when are your going to start work?")


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