Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Know, don't rage, about the system

 My news feed today gave me an article about how Eric Cantor lost his primary bid to Tea Party upstart Dave Brat

This is not the first time this has happened.  I first saw it back in 2010, when Mike Lee defeated Senator Bob Bennett in the Republican Utah primary.  Elected leaders, both Republican and Democrat, have been undermined not in actual elections, but in the primary process.

Putting all politics aside, this is the perfect example of how knowing your environment and the rules can make you a very dangerous opponent.  There have always been calls for an "outsider" to be elected to Congress, but unless you had previous fame (e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger), you had almost zero chance.  The primary process has its own rules that makes it fairly hard for outsiders to influence.  Thus, most complaints and calls for action were simply ignored by the folks on the inside.

The Tea Party has completely stood the primary system on its head.  Rather than simply complain about how broken the process is, they learned all the rules and then used them to promote their own candidates.  Elected officials that could previously blow off their complaints might find themselves without a job, or at least a very difficult reelection bid.  Using the rules to promote unknown candidates isn't unique or even new.  Abraham Lincoln beat out popular candidates like William Seward in the Republican primaries by manipulating the system, going so far as to deliberately change seating arrangements at the National Convention in Chicago to purposely divide his opponents supporters from each other. 

The bigger point to be made is that someone who understands the system and its rules can be infinitely more effective than an outsider who refuses to play that game.  Too many people, especially young people, have this idea that somehow they will simply walk into a large bureaucratic organization and just magically do things differently.  After they whine and complain about how nothing works right, they eventually quit in frustration and accomplish nothing.

What's sad is that few people write about how to effectively change large organizations.  Unless you happen to be the CEO, CNO, or a dictator, you don't have the power to suddenly impose new rules.  You have to work with what you are given, which includes the equipment, people and existing rules of whatever organization you work for.  If you want to change it, it's going to take time, and you have to play the long game every day.

I was overseas and had a civilian database manager that was almost completely worthless.  Besides not being good at her job, she also was a huge pain to work with.  She would yell at my Sailors instead of taking issues to the Chief, and she would send out long, angry emails to half the command, including a few O-6s and even the O-7.  My new boss couldn't stand her, so unlike the previous bosses, he began documenting her poor performance.  Every time she blew up on a Sailor, or sent out an angry email, he wrote it down and counseled her.  When her evaluation came up, she received a "1" (the lowest possible score) in her "Communications" section.  That made her lose a 15,000 dollar bonus.  She quit within two weeks.

My boss could have whined about how terrible she was, or cracked jokes, or yelled at her, but none of that would have been effective.  Instead, he learned the civilian personnel system, spending some quality time with the civilian HR manager at the command.  He knew that his desired end state was either to change her behavior or fire her.  He worked that for about 8 months, and in the end he got her to leave.  His actions, while certainly harder and in the short term not as rewarding as complaining, were much more effective in the long term.

Are End of Tour awards required?  Must everyone be frocked when the selection results come out?  If you get an EP one cycle, can you never drop back down?  The answer to all these questions is no.  You are 100% entitled to mark people based on their performance.  I've had junior petty officers jump more senior ones because they worked way harder.  I've been very picky at who I recommend for officer programs, and I've told people that I would not write them a recommendation letter.  I've recommended EP Sailors that didn't continue performing be dropped in their rankings against their peers.  I've used the system as it stands to get the end state that I want, namely that the best people in the Navy rise to the top.

Stop raging against the system.  Stop the open complaining about how things just don't work right.  Nobody wants to hear your complaints unless it's out on the smoke deck.  Learn how the system works and make it work for you.  Do that and you'll earn a lot more respect in the end.