In my time in the P-3 community, I’ve never heard the word “productivity” uttered at work. We don’t talk about it because we don’t think about it. It’s irrelevant, unimportant.
Let me ask you a question and think not only of your response, but also of what your P-3 peers would say. If there are two people of comparable rank and timing in a squadron, and both turn in the same quality and quantity of work, who is viewed as more valuable? They are the same, of course. But what if one of them completes the work by lunchtime and the other is still toiling away when the Ops-O is getting ready to leave? Who gets the better FITREP ranking?
This isn’t a ground-breaking concept by any stretch of the imagination. No doubt, many in the community have noticed the unhealthy consideration given to time at work as opposed to results of work. This idea came up in an earlier post about the absurd hours requirements for qual flights. In that situation, there’s no benefit for completing qual tasks in a shorter amount of time. What I want to discuss here relates to P-3 ground jobs.
It doesn’t take an expert to see that our community does not value productivity. In fact, I would say that productivity is usually punished. If you don’t think that’s really the case, then you have to at least admit that the perception of that punishment exists. In this situation, the perception is just as bad as reality.
Let’s say I work in NATOPS for my squadron. I’m working alongside at least one direct peer and likely competitor for FITREP ranking. What incentive do I have to be productive? The perception is that the guy who is in the office when the Department Head arrives in the morning and is still there when he or she leaves at night will, by default, be viewed as a hard (and therefore a good) worker. How many times have you heard someone praise someone else by saying he “works his ass off”? What if he works his ass off because he’s stupid and has to work extra-hard to make up for it?
The “Harvard Business Review” blog site recently posted some articles by Robert Pozen, a professor and productivity expert. When I read some of his posts I was struck by two things. One – a lot of it seemed like common sense. Two – we (the P-3 community) go against virtually everything he recommends. But hey, what does he know? He may be an alleged “expert,” but we’ve been doing things this way for over 40 years.
But let’s suppose for a minute that there might be something we can learn from Pozen. One of main principles is that “it’s not the time you spend but the results you produce.” Again, this does not go against common logic. So, why do we have that concept backwards in P-3 squadrons? Here are some issues:
1. We don’t know how to measure results.
In a perfect world, a Department Head, XO, or Skipper would easily be able to compare the results of everyone’s work. Person A produced a better product than person B, etc. Person A wins. If person A and person B produced the same product, but person B did it in half the time, then person B would be rewarded as more efficient and productive (and would likely be tasked with more work to fill up that extra time). Too bad we don’t live in a perfect world. Instead, Person A works in NATOPS and person B in maintenance. The people making the decisions on who to reward have to try and compare productivity and results in two completely different areas. FNET’s inspection went really well, but so did the AMI. Who did their job better? (Here’s where the Department Heads duke it out.) “Well, my guy worked his ass off,” one DH insists. “He even came in on weekends.” There it is … we have a winner!
2. We’re stuck with the old shift-work concept.
Shift work is really effective for factories, coal mines, and lots of other workplaces. How else would the Starbucks baristas know when to show up? So, shift work is fine, but it’s not really conducive to intellectual creativity. Do you think employees at Google are told that they’ll be expected to check in with their boss at 0730 and out with him no earlier than 1630 everyday? That’s absurd! They can hoverboard in or out of the office throughout the day whenever they want! The environment fosters creative freedom, and that creative freedom brings innovation and improvement. Google even encourages their engineers to take 20% of their work time to focus on projects of personal interest. Can you imagine telling your boss in your P-3 squadron that you’ll be taking one day a week to work on your own projects and ideas? Is it possible that someone could use that time and freedom to reinvent outdated tactics or figure out a better way to plan a flight schedule? It doesn’t matter. It will never happen. It will never happen because…
3. We are a “lowest common denominator” community.
The 20% time idea is silly to us because the assumption will automatically be that the free time will just be wasted at the beach, or the bar, or in bed sleeping in. It’s much more important that we’re in the squadron “spaces” – visible, and setting a good example. Someone once told me of how they floated the idea of working from home. The logic seemed sound. He was doing computer work. He was forced to fight for an NMCI machine at work while he had an actual functioning computer collecting dust at home. But alas, it was a stupid idea because you aren’t really working unless you’re observed working. Of course, he was also reminded that there were other squadron mates of lower ranks who HAD to be there from 0730 to 1630, so he couldn’t very well have them see him leaving early! Again – lowest common denominator community. This isn’t a “big boy” or “big girl” club. This is a glorified kindergarten class (and I’m sorry, but Arnold is not walking through that door with a pet ferret). Yes. A Kindergarten Cop reference. I’m wicked hungover and that’s the best I could do.
The machine has been running this way for a long time and the company culture is ingrained in all the gears and cogs. We don’t want productivity; we just want the illusion of it (via somebody sitting in a chair at a computer). Then we will have a perception that the guy who sits in the chair at the computer the longest is doing the most for the command, even if it’s not the case. Then we’re faced with the choice between working at our best and most efficient but not being rewarded for it, and playing the game the way it’s always been played, because we ashamedly understand that’s the only way to be appreciated and rewarded. So we work on our spreadsheets and our trackers and the other tasks that we can complete in half the time as the person who tasked us, hoping that he’ll say of us, “Well, he is working his ass off.”