Category Archives: Organizational Effectiveness

Income Inequality in NYC Extremely Depressing

New York Times reports the gap between rich and poor in NYC is widening further. Median income for the bottom fifth was $8,844. Median income for the top fifth was at a staggering $223,285.

What can be done? Sam Roberts of the New York Times interviewed Jilly Stephens, executive director of City Harvest, which helps get emergency food to hungry New Yorkers. jilly Stephens is in a unique position, because she runs a charity for the poorest in NYC, while she takes a salary for herself that places her in the richest fifth, earning $294,528 in total compensation in 2010. Her take on the problem? “The statistics demonstrate quite clearly that our most vulnerable neighbors are far from a recovery.”

Yes, she should know.


Just what we need: more cashiers with college degrees

The value of a college degree is already in question. Economists and educators are just beginning to realize that education (as distinct from job training) will not raise income or create new opportunities for the majority of the population. There just aren’t enough good jobs available. Furthermore, the good jobs that are available often require specific job skills and training that aren’t learned at college.

Walmart’s program to allow cashiers, clerks, and other low-level employees to spend $24,000 for an online bachelor’s degree seems rather absurd. Are there really better jobs available for the 1 million+ employees if only they had the degree? I think not – there aren’t enough jobs as it is.

Bush is to Ritz-Carlton As Obama is to….

I ran across the following when reviewing government contracts…

Under the Bush Administration, the Department of Homeland Security spent $13,094 for a conference room in the Ritz Carlton on July 8, 2008.The meeting was for the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC).

Attending the meeting: Mr. Erle A. Nye; Mr. Alfred R. Berkeley  III; Mr. Edmund G. Archuleta; Dr. Craig R. Barrett; Mr. David J. Bronczek; Mr. Wesley Bush; Ms. Margaret E. Grayson; Mr. Phillip Heasley; Mr. David Kepler; Mr. Thomas E. Noonan; Hon. Tim Pawlenty; Mr. Gregory Peters; Mr. James A. Reid; Dr. Linwood H. Rose; Mr. Matthew Rose; Mr. Michael Wallace; Mr. John Williams; and Ms. Martha Wyrsch.

In addition to approving the minutes of the previous meeting, the members offered insight to the Department of Homeland Security on the need to secure America’s privately owned infrastructure.

Full minutes available here:

Under the Obama Administration, NIAC meetings have been held at the Marriott.

Why the Department of Defense Failed to Secure Our Computers

Every day, new viruses emerge that compromise the security of millions of computers – both personal and corporate. As government agencies increasingly rely upon commercial software for Top Secret computer systems, they found themselves facing a difficult dilemma: continue using their 80’s era software or upgrade to the latest commercial systems, while exposing themselves to the security vulnerabilities that plague everyday users.

From 1999-2001, Robert Meushaw, the director of the NSA’s Information Assurance Reserach Laboratory (NIARL), and his team worked on a solution that coul dgive hte best of both worlds. The system he developed, codenamed NetTop, uses a “sandbox” technique whereby inherently insecure software (such as Microsoft Windows and MS Office) is granted access to a limited portion of the computer. Even if one of the insecure applications was infected with a virus, it is unable to spread beyond the specific machine.

Unfortunately, the results were disappointing. Two crucial missteps ultimately led to its slow adoption within government agencies and by the general public.

The first problem was that NetTop compromised security for functionality. By being neither 100% secure, nor 100% functional, security experts were unsatisfied, and users were frustrated.

The second problem was around cost. Each “virtual” system required its own licenses. Thus, Top Secret computers that accessed six separate networks would require 6 licenses for Microsoft Windows on a single computer! Furthermore, the virtualization component was developed by a for-profit startup named VMWare (now publicly traded NYSE: VMW). As VMWare grew larger and more successful, Microsoft started to tamp down the competition by restricting its licensing terms to make virtualization even less cost-effective.

The end result has been another expensive government project with limited application and a dim future.

Three Things Every Business Should Do in a Recession

Change begets opportunity. Given the current economic situation, here are three things that every company should do:

Renegotiate vendor contracts. This is not to say that you should squeeze all profit out of your vendors. Business relations should always be mutually beneficial. However, contracts that were negotiated a few years ago when things looked rosy should be carefully reevaluated. For example, one small business was able to renegotiate their contract with Verizon Business and cut their bill in half.

Foster employee loyalty. Employees are more likely to stay at their jobs now, if they feel the jobs are secure. The good news is it’s easier to retain employees. But don’t be lulled by this. Unhappy employees being forced to work harder and longer hours will not stick around once the economy turns. Now that employee’s expectations are lower, do small things to increase job satisfaction and make people feel appreciated.

Do more for your customers. Much advice centers on how to maintain price discipline and avoid doing work at (or below) cost. There’s a different opportunity, however. Given that your customers are likely facing a new environment, they may be open to help in new, adjacent areas. For example, a company that downsized may now be shortstaffed in certain areas and happy to have a vendor provide managed services. Look for these areas, and propose solutions for your customers’ problems.

The CIA and the Dark Side of Personality

If the CIA were a person, who would it be?

If such a thing as a “spook” exists, he would live within the National Clandestine Service, which handles the CIA’s covert/overseas operations.

The CIA tests the mettle of its case officers using a large arsenal of tools, one of which is a psychographic profile nicknamed “The Dark Side of Personality.” Research pioneered by Dr. Robert Hogan indicated that a person’s personality may be strikingly different under normal conditions versus periods of high stress. Essentially, personality consists of both a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Under normal situation, the personality of Dr. Jekyll is what we see. However, under extreme pressure, Mr. Hyde – the so-called Dark Side – emerges.

In the best of cases, the Dark Side of personality is simply a more extreme version of the everyday personality. Under stress, we would like to see someone with a take-charge personality take charge even more. However, in some cases the Dr. Jekyll may have a take-charge personality, while the stressed-out Mr. Hyde is indecisive. Such failures of personality are unacceptable when stakes are high.

Therefore, the CIA seeks two things in probing the Dark Side:

  1. A consistent personality. The Dark Side expresses itself as a more exaggerated form of the everyday personality. There must not be a “snap” – in which a stressful situation causes a sudden and unexpected change in an agent
  2. More interestingly, nearly all case officers have a personality characterized by caution above all else. In its positive form, it is skepticism (and avoiding dumb mistakes). In its negative form, it results in indecisiveness and resistance to change.

As an interesting side-note, the typical McKinsey consultant is classified as “Imaginative” – which, according to Dr. Hogan, leads to a dark side of “erratic decision-making and impractical ideas.”

Fragmentation in the Department of Defense

A recent article described a problem of drug-resistant bacteria infecting wounded troops in Iraq. As specialists attempted to track down the cause of infection, “reforms ran into a major obstacle: each link in the evacuation chain was owned by a different branch of the DOD.”

The lack of coordination within the DOD evacuation chain hearkens back to a similar issue within the Intelligence Community. As Mike Wertheimer, a senior DNI official, describes:

“I am unable to send email, and even make secure phone calls, to a good portion of the Intel community from my desktop because of firewalls.”

Fragmentation within government agencies is due in part to the principle of Unity of Command, a management concept in which each member reports to only one supervisor. This leads to clear and linear control structures and operational effectiveness within a small organizational unit; however it limits interaction at the outer edges of the command chain, where an individual at an outer branch is unable to coordinate (and in some cases even communicate) with individuals at another branch.