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Posted: 10/27/2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

Alan Greenspan Think I'm on to Something...

Josh Sawislak
Senior Fellow
Telework Exchange

 

A short while back I had the pleasure of hearing former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan talk about innovation and the global economy. Dr. Greenspan was pretty clear that there is no silver bullet to solve the global financial crisis, but that innovation and smart policy were certainly very good weapons in the fight.

Now, please don’t take this as a slight, but writing for this audience is kind of like preaching to the choir. It looks impressive when everyone is saying “Amen,” but it’s the folks who don’t come every week that you need to convince. So when Dr. Greenspan agreed to take some questions from the group, I figured I had a shot at some objective thoughts on some of my nature of work theories. My question to him was simple (well, I thought so). “In a knowledge worker economy, isn’t a ‘management by attendance’ approach detrimental to innovation and economic growth?,” I asked.  Ok, I was not that clear or concise, but that is what I meant to ask.

So, he kind of looks at me with a little squint and says, “I’m not sure I understand what you are asking.” Dude, I stumped Alan Greenspan! No, just was a little long winded in the question. After clarifying that I was talking about managing people by result (outcome), not effort (attendance), I got what I am defining as victory. Greenspan said, “I’m not sure that I know the answer, but I do think it’s a very important thing to study.” So, I am feeling validated in my discussions of the nature of work and will continue to keep Dr. Greenspan in the loop on my progress…

In that vein, I spent a day last week at the Telework Town Hall Meeting  here in DC and it seems that Greenspan and I are not the only ones who think there is something to this theory. We had a great event if you didn’t get a chance to join us. Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton joined us to say that telework is driving the state’s ability to continue its economic growth in spite of severe infrastructure needs. HHS Assistant Secretary Ned Holland also joined us to talk about what HHS is doing in this area. He said that leadership is the key to success in telework and I think he is correct. This is not a technology problem, it’s not a policy problem, it’s a management problem.

One of my favorite sessions (other than mine) was a management session led by OPM’s Justin Johnson. It featured PTO telework demi-god Danette Campbell and Microsoft’s Martha Clarkson, but stealing the show was DoD’s Jim Neighbors. Jim explained that he got interested in telework as a way to stem the loss of good people when he moved his staff due to a BRAC relocation. To ensure it continued to work, he followed a management approach attributed to the Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés, who is said to have burned his ships once in Mexico, so his crew understood that there was no “going back.” Neighbors just gave away the office space that was used by former full time office workers and saved the taxpayers some money at the same time. He’s in a different position now, but the person who took over his old office was motivated to carry on his telework plan or he would have to go try to get back the space.

Anyone not a history buff can skip this, but most historians think Cortés actually sunk (scuttled) the ships and did so to prevent some mutinous members of his crew from defecting to the Governor of Cuba. Whatever the method or cause, the effect was the same. It was a long swim home to Spain, so they better conquer the Aztecs or they were in for a rough time.

I hope you will join in on this discussion and help me explore these ideas. And as far as my validation from Dr. Greenspan, in the words of Carl “the assistant greenskeeper” Spackler from Caddyshack, “I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”  

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