Nov. 4, 2014





Today’s ramblings are based upon an observation witnessed over the last ten to fifteen years.  This was going on long before that, beginning in the 90’s but didn’t jar my consciousness until long after I left the U.S.M.C.


Sometime in the 90’s American became obsessed with “Doing” and not with “achieving”.  I call this the Process versus product/service syndrome. This began as more and more of our leaders started “padding” their resumes. Anything they could start or champion made them look like a dynamic force in their organizations development.  A new training program, politically correct sensitivity program, a change in organizational structure, Anger management programs, retreats, and committees for all purposes were begun and lauded as “so and so’s” giant contribution to the overall effort.


While these efforts were being pursued no one bothered to notice that they were having little or no effect on the productivity of the organizations.  Yes, output was growing, but not at any significant degree that couldn’t have been achieved without these boondoggles and at a far cheaper price.


The finest example of this ludicrous trend is found in Education.  Education has continually spent more and more funds to achieve a poorer and poorer product.  I once saw a School district spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in training sessions, off site conferences and retreats, and “guest” speakers to attempt to incorporate a system of management that failed and had no relationship to student success.  The champion of that program earned a contract extension at an enormous salary increase.  Once again we judged the individual on process not on product.


I once was told I “needed” a Smart board for my classroom. Why, because it would ensure students learned better.   This is the mantra of education today; incorporating technology will better the product.  Now, I’m not saying that properly applied technology won’t benefit in some cases. I am saying that just as I wouldn’t use a screwdriver to drive a nail I shouldn’t assume that technology can achieve what it isn’t designed to achieve.  I got the “smart board”, became proficient in its use, developed presentations that earned me compliments, and impressed folks.  Did it improve my teaching, NO. I had been drawing examples on the board, making mistakes, students following along.  The “smart board” made the PROCESS prettier and smoother but not better. One day the administration brought the school board through on tour and I heard them bragging that “as you see we’ve incorporated the latest technology into our classrooms”. In better words,” promote me now ‘cause I’ve managed to spend a great deal of money in an impressive way that isn’t improving my end product”.


Today, corporate training programs on every conceivable subject from OSHA requirements to cultural tolerance are held with power point presentations or on line without any human interaction.  Why, because then some administrator can check off a mandated requirement for training while impressing his/her boss with the amount of training accomplished. Seldom does anyone check to see if the training accomplished it's purpose because that wasn’t the intent. The “Process” has been satisfied the “Product” is irrelevant.


The solution??? If we want to show continuous improvement in our products/services, then we have to begin to ask ourselves what are our objectives. If our objectives are merely to impress and advance then we should continue with current procedures; but if our objectives are to achieve excellence in product/service (include employees development under product) improvement; then we need to begin with the ultimate question.  “Will this program/policy/procedure improve the organization and not just my standing in the eyes of the administration?”

How can we identify organizations that have become obsessed with Process? It’s really relatively easy. Look for the administrators that are moaning and groaning over funding or personnel. I have found that these are the ones that either are funding boondoggles or are bloating their personnel ranks with “Process oriented” individuals.  I once saw a school, granted new funding, that immediately hired new staff and converted several classrooms into offices. None of which affected the student outcome. 


A sad result of the “Process over Product” paradigm is that those who practice it actually begin to believe they are productive.  As a result they will continually seek more funding and personnel. They fail to understand the concept of “diminishing returns” so they develop gigantic bureaucracies which hamper development.  Normal production begins to be lauded as exceptional success to justify these bureaucracies and the dance goes on.


Next time you sleep through a power point presentation, are assigned to a retreat, or chosen to be a “key member” of a program implementation team ask yourself, “what is this going to improve?”