Sunday, March 04, 2007

Comments on the news

Process versus results
In some of my MBA readings over the past few months, business gurus have alternately touted, on one side, the value of looking at the process and making sure it is properly designed to get the results you'd like to achieve. On the other side, some have advocated singularly focusing on the results and having that focus guide all decisions. From this perspective, you look at the output- the product, or the sales revenue or the net income. Those outputs are your scorecard. Personally, I think the smart manager does a lot of both- it matters what you get, but it also matters how you got there. For example, did you cut costs through a short-term fix to boost net income, such as a set of firings that were not clearly targeted at less effective or poorly utilized employees? If so, the short term results will look good, but there is a risk of increased costs as the remaining employees have to "pick up the slack" and you may even see reduced productivity or other consequences.

And what is happening in Afghanistan?
A BBC reporter comments (
Afghanistan: A job half done
By Lyse Doucet BBC Afghanistan analyst
......Afghans have, in some ways, made an impressive journey since a hastily assembled group of Afghans and foreign envoys forged what became known as the Bonn process.
With some difficulty and delay all the ambitious targets were met: a traditional assembly, or loya jirga, approved a new government in 2002; a second loya jirga came up with a constitution; and presidential and parliamentary elections were held for the first time in decades.
But for many Afghans it is a job half done. "We reached the quantity of targets, but the quality is still missing," says Nader Nadery, an observer at the Bonn conference who is now a Commissioner at Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission. Afghanistan is still a place awash with guns, where commanders and local officials can impose their will with impunity, where many Afghans say their lives have changed little.
Most startling of all, the Taleban have made a comeback in the south, fighting with unexpected ferocity and firepower. There is no doubting some progress, but why did billions of dollars in aid and thousands of foreign troops not make more of a difference?

Seems to me like this could have been a discussion where the process versus results discussion might have helped in some way. A military blogger has presented some very amusing cartoons about various characters you meet on the FOB (forward operating base; -most of the tabs don't seem live right now, but go to "comic archives"). At the risk of sounding like the "good idea fairy", I'm thinking that had leaders and planners in the now 6 year process there in Afghanistan worked through their plans a bit more with process and results in full splendor, there might have been a bit more progress. The "ambitious targets" were met regarding assemblies, constitutions, presidential and parliamentary elections, but I highlighted what I see as the crux of the matter- they reached the quantity but not quality of targets. To me it seems there was a focus on having certain benchmarks or results obtained, but they were not the right results- you want a constitution in order to (in military parlance, ITO)....; you want elections in order to ..... ; you want a parliament in order to......

The key has really been all along the most important results- having nominal government positions and organizations put together is meaningless unless they are able to get certain things done- basic life support such as utilities- electricity, plumbing, etc., reduce poverty, increase education, enforce a rule of law (here I'd point to not just terrorist and insurgent activity, but also criminal activity such as the often chronicled drug trade problems), and so on. That is what the people want the government to do for them- otherwise, what is the point? The government needs to serve the population, and the BBC report I cited suggested they are making progress, but that much remains to be done.

Why do I bring that up? Iraq.
I recently watched a video of two Army generals briefing the press about some initiatives relative to Iraqi police in training and in operations. They quickly reviewed various factual outcomes from those activities and initiatives. X number of police stations opened, x number of soldiers trained, x number of raids, x number of detainees, and so on. Then they opened the floor to questions, the most cogent of them were along the lines of "if everything is as great as you're making it sound, why is there (more improvised explosive devices attacks, a lack of adequate security, more murders, etc)?" It was an interesting dance between the generals and the press. The generals continued to "stay on message" about the good things that were happening, acknowledging that some of the outcomes the press was interested in would take time. The press would feign disbelief and a lack of understanding- the classic "help me understand how what you say jives with what we see happening out on the streets." Having had some of the same training in the military about handling the press, I couldn't tell if the responses were simply indicating the generals didn't get where the press was going, or if they did see it but were going to stay on message and positive. They used the "block and bridge" technique a few times, which is transparent to most observers, and must be maddening to the press- the respondent kindly (or not so kindly) doesn't answer the question asked, and guides their comments and discussion onto areas that you want to discuss. As a listener, when I see this happen, I always want to scream out, "ANSWER THE QUESTION!"

So I highlight this press conference to return to the results vs process discussion. The generals were talking about police activities. The Iraqi citizen really doesn't care how many police stations they have, how many police they have trained, how many criminals they have caught. The citizen cares about if they are safe in their homes, on their streets, if they will be dealt with in a society that understands and respects the rule of law and is not under the tyranny of the rule of terror or criminal activity or so on. That was also where the press were trying to take the discussion. I'm hoping that away from the press, that is also the focus of the generals and other leaders working with the police. It doesn't matter how many raids you are conducting if the violence continues to escalate unabated. Granted, the insurgent and criminal activity may be expected to temporarily increase in response to increased policing, but then it should decrease in the long run. The press is not convinced they are seeing that decrease at this time.

Here's to HOPE!
So I came across an article last night which helped me be a bit more optimistic about outcomes in Iraq that really make a difference:
Maliki warns insurgents of wider crackdown
Sun Mar 4, 2007 9:20AM EST
By Dean Yates and Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday told insurgents fighting his U.S.-backed government to accept an olive branch or face a security crackdown that will cover "every inch" of Iraq.

The article goes on to suggest he will also be rooting out corruption and ineffective leadership within the government as well. If (yes, big if here) he goes through with what is presented in this article, I would expect we'll see continued meaningful improvements in conditions there. We would be able to see the end results that we are all truly interested in.

I'll finish with my favorite MacArthur quote: The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

No comments: