Leadership: Thinning Management Improves Performance

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November 27, 2013: In the United States it’s been hard times for military bureaucrats. The last few years has seen a lot of senior jobs (deputy and assistant secretary level jobs and many more just a little lower in the food chain) at the U.S. Department of Defense not filled because of the inability of the Senate to approve them. Those who deal with the Department of Defense a lot could not help but notice that the absence of so many senior bureaucrats did not seem to damage the Department of Defense’s ability to get things done. This confirms a long held opinion that many of these appointed (by elected politicians) jobs, as is customary in most government bureaucracies, are there more to reward supporters than to improve the effectiveness of the government. The same can be said for many lower ranking and non-appointed workers. These people tend to support government in general and the government leaders and candidates that promise more goodies for everyone. In the commercial world it’s been found that thinning bloated management ranks often does wonders for productivity. While that’s a matter of survival for commercial firms (who go out of business if they are not profitable), it's something government bureaucracies would rather ignore.

Another interesting lesson from the last decade was that government efforts to keep the military “industrial base” alive with subsidies is counterproductive. It’s been pointed out that most of the new, and very effective, military technologies came from the civilian side, a place where government subsidies of any sort are rare.

A painful example is the American shipbuilding industry, which has been failing with increasing frequency to competently build warships. That’s because over the last half century the United States has lost its ability to build large ships in a competitive market. That has happened in many other areas, and moving warship construction to one of the major ship building nations (South Korea, Japan, or China) is illegal. That’s a shame, because the South Koreans and Japanese are allies and produce excellent warships, often using American equipment and weapons.

 

 


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