Monday, October 15, 2007

How Do You Solve a Problem like Hawaii?

Seniority as the prevailing value in government is what turns off young people to government employment -- because young people value merit more than any other value as the categorical imperative of their lives.

It used to be that government employment was a service -- borne by all, and then they went back to doing whatever they were best at. Now it is a career in which seniority rules -- and so people of merit avoid those dead-ends -- and are attracted to other more fulfilling callings.

That is the “success” as well as the death of the public worker unions. The best workers are likely to be those who have done many different jobs, in many different organizations, and so they bring to their jobs a rare perspective -- rather than the rigid bureaucratic mindset that has done it one way, and thinks that is the only way it can ever be done -- forevermore. That’s what happens when “seniority” is regarded as its highest value and criterion.

If the objective is to recruit bright new minds to any field, you pay the new recruits as much as those who have only done that job all their lives -- because that’s where recruiters need to be competitive and not simply paying more for those who aren’t going anywhere else. For instance, if you want to attract people to teaching, you pay beginning teachers the same as the more experienced teacher because the job is harder for the newcomer -- while it is far easier for the most experienced person, and those for whom the job is naturally easy, so that all things being equal, teaching is the job they would choose to do. Those are the only ones worth retaining -- because they are rewarded for doing what they are truly gifted at.

But since the unions have instituted and corrupted this natural mechanism that favors the least able and capable, they drive out the creative new talent and all that is left are those with seniority who drive out those with less. The most telling thing is that the children of bureaucrats, don’t want to be bureaucrats -- but will choose any other fate if they can.

So more than just a promotional campaign, government at all levels need to change the culture of rewarding seniority -- that makes it unattractive to fresh, creative minds wanting to do things differently and really make a difference -- instead of being sucked in to the bureaucratic nightmare of doing the same old things the same way they’ve always been done -- until they retire. And then it is too late to make a difference.

It’s the same dismal fate for many other organizations that have rewarded seniority over merit so that all they have now are retiring baby boomers -- rather than the vital turnover of every member of society coming through their doors -- and leaving too, to go on to bigger and better things. I think government would be invaluable as being this kind of employer of first resort -- familiarizing and training people in the nature of the problems -- and then going on to establish other agencies and enterprises to eliminate these problems, rather than institutionalizing and bureaucratizing them.

That’s why great new ideas are killed -- and bad old ideas live on forever, plaguing their cultures in these age-old problems that can never be solved.


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