Part 2 – What Kind of Change to the Civil Service System is Really Needed?

In his first article in the series, the author suggested that a new paradigm for civilian civil service is needed. This second article explores in greater detail ideas for these changes.

When considering any type of change, the challenge includes making the case for change and determining the scope. Scope includes incremental or evolutionary and/or more comprehensive or revolutionary. The final consideration is to identify how you will know that change will result in improvement.

In the case of the civil service system, the demands for better quality with less resources requires a  revolutionary change through an evolutionary approach that will provide the evidence  taxpayers expect that the system is being continually improved to achieve desired results. The Baldrige performance management framework represents the evolutionary change. Developing a conscious awareness and understanding of variability is the revolutionary change and provides the methods for helping to determine if change results in improvement.

Evolutionary Change

The ideal bureaucracy was envisioned to provide a more efficient form of organization. Its characteristics include a hierarchical structure with delineated lines of authority within functional areas guided by expert knowledge, rationality and rules.  It was also recognized that bureaucracy could be a threat to individual freedoms. The expressions “check your brain at the door” and  “just do, don’t think” represent  manifestations of the restrictions on an individual’s ability to contribute more of their capabilities to the mission and purpose of the organization.

The post-bureaucratic model for civil service must result in continually improving  effectiveness and efficiency as demanded by stakeholders and intended by legislation that includes the Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA), The Federal Financial Management Improvement Act (FFMIA) and Government Performance Results Act (GPRA) .

The Baldrige performance management framework represents a better system. It was created by the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act of 1987 with the aim to promote excellence in organizational performance, recognize the achievements and results of U.S. organizations, and publicize successful performance.  Its scope was expanded to health care and education organizations in 1999 and to nonprofit/government organizations in 2005.  The Baldrige model has also been adopted at the State level and by other countries and provides a common language for performance management within all levels of government.  Given the need to reduce budgets, support options could include leveraging a pool of employees with expertise in applying the framework through the Office of Personnel Management’s Intergovernmental Personnel Act Mobility Program.

The Baldrige criteria includes an assessment with point values (maximum of 1,000) assigned to seven categories: Leadership (120), Strategic Planning (85), Customer Focus (85), Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management (90); Workforce Focus (85); Operations Focus (85); and Results (450).   The U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) consisting of both military and civilian personnel, was the first federal government organization whose success in integrating the framework within their organization was recognized with the Baldrige Award in 2007.   The success of the ARDEC is a testimonial to the integration of military and civil service leadership in producing results required by customers and expected by taxpayers.

The traditional and more bureaucratically managed organizations that may consider their current performance as “good enough” that are assessed against the criteria would likely score in the 200 point range.  Better led organizations whose performance management systems are recognized by a Baldrige award, would likely score over 700 points.  The leadership challenge in reducing the gap from what might be the 200 point level to what should be the expected standard of over 700 points should not be underestimated.

The success of the Baldrige performance management framework, which has been continually improved, is unquestioned. In fact, given the proven results, application examples, testimonials and literally hundreds of books and articles that support application and document the benefits of the approach, anyone would be hard pressed to justify the rationale for not adopting the model.

As civil servants, we may currently work within a more bureaucratically managed system but as American citizens, we also have an obligation and responsibility to demand, develop and/or apply new and better systems.

What you can do – now

On an individual level, you can learn more about the framework through self-study. You can also review your individual job description, performance plan and appraisals and then benchmark your performance against the criteria to measure yearly improvement. You can also lead the assessment on the performance of your respective work group against the criteria. As an American citizen, contact your Senator and Congressman to require the framework be required of all organizations that receive federal tax dollars (without an increase in resources).  The more ideal solution is for agency leaders to voluntarily adopt the framework unless they can prove that their management system produces better results.

Application of the Baldrige framework represents an evolutionary approach to change.  It is the proverbial first step in the journey of a thousand miles. It provides a more disciplined and structured approach for what organizations should already be doing. But, it is just one aspect of a needed change and improvement strategy.

The new paradigm for revolutionary change

I don’t use the term paradigm lightly.  It is a term popularized by Joel Barker to highlight the point that a situation would emerge that can’t be immediately understood or seen due to the limits of the prevailing paradigm.  Other terms for paradigm are rules, perspectives and mental models.

Example of an early paradigm was the belief that the earth was flat. It may have taken over a hundred years before the new paradigm that the earth was round was accepted by the majority of the population. America’s Founding Fathers developed a new paradigm for self-government that took a revolutionary war to achieve, a civil war to retain and one where we continue to debate the appropriate role, distribution and balance of power between the individual (self) and government. This relationship as defined by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, is one that that as civil servants, we take an Oath to support and defend.

In 1924, Dr. Walter Shewart developed the new paradigm for managing variation that helps determine when change results in improvement.  W. Edwards Deming, who was a student and colleague of Shewart, derived his management theory from Shewart’s concept of common and special cause variation. The basic building blocks of Deming’s management theory are integrated within the Baldrige framework.

Deming supported broader application of the variation paradigm during WWII, in Japan after the war and again, back in America on a wider scale beginning in 1978 after his message was rediscovered in the NBC documentary, “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?.”  The success of the new  management methods led to Deming’s  recognition as one of the 50 people who most influenced business in this century (Los Angeles Times business staff, 1999) as well as in business history (Fortune Magazine, 20

Deming remarked that if he was to reduce his message to management to just a few words, it all had to do with reducing variation.  In 1986, Deming predicted that it would be another 50 years (2036) before Shewart’s contribution (developed in 1924) was more commonly understood.  The 2036 date may be an optimistic projection.

Part 3 of this series will be on the topic of variability – what you don’t know you know, but have to know to pursue more optimal approaches for making the types of changes needed for continually improving individual and organizational performance.

Perspectives and opinions presented are solely those of the author.

About the Author

Timothy J. Clark retired from the federal government with 35 years of service. He is a former enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army. He retired at the rank of Colonel, with over 30 years of combined service in the U.S. Army, National Guard and Army Reserve. He is a strategic analyst with the American Center for Quality Leadership and is active in economic and community development in a small rural county in Indiana.