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July 13, 2007


Agency Culture and Transformation
Dave

US Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell recently sent a letter to Forest Service leaders, daylighting a report [PDF, "discussion draft", 46 pp] from Dialogos International on FS culture, transformation efforts, safety and more.

The report and accompanying studies show how all improvement efforts are grounded in and guided by organization culture and culture improvement. The studies were begun with an eye toward safety, but it soon became clear that safety could only be dealt with as part of a much broader organzaional transformation.

Noteworthy, the report highlights what I'll call 'Forest Service cultural impediments' that limit success in the short- and longer-run. The report, a "discussion draft", argues, among other things, that these "impediments" are "critical 'high leverage' points that must be addressed and transformed." They include:

  • Ceding Power — "[T]o the regions …[resulting in a] lack of a clear, central focus …"
  • Mission Confusion — "… [C]ompeting stories about the right and central focus of the Agency"
  • Family "Collusion" — "… [P]eople tend to use ["FS family"] as a defense, attributing that others do not understand as we do, and seeking to fend off positions of external stakeholders. …"
  • Lack of Straight Talk — "… People often seem to be unwilling to speak out and name difficulties that they see, and attribute that to do so is to run serious risks. …"
  • Capability Trap — "… [A] phenomenon where people are working increasing hard but where overall capability … is not improving and can in fact be deteriorating. …"
  • Impaired Learning — "… Errors are not generally embraced as opportunities for improvement, particularly now, in a climate where people fear that the admission of error may lead [to retribution] …. Many suggested that the Agency has been poor at reflection on itself, and learning from reflection. … [A] proliferation of rules and requirements … tend[s] to have the effect of creating compliance, but not internally motivated commitment to change and learn."
  • Physics of Accidents — "… Changing environmental settings … and budget pressures result in more demanding conditions that need to be faced with the same or fewer resources…. More intense circumstances, fewer people covering greater distances, simply icrease risks and chances for error.
  • Initiative Proliferation — "… [Tending] toward a fragmentation of focus.
The Chief asked that both the cover letter and study be distributed widely and that senior leaders in the Forest Service "hold and promote regional change dialogues, and report results" back to the Chief.

My question is whether the letter is being taken seriously, and by whom. It would be a mistake to think that the important conclusions drawn from the studies be limited to wildland fire and safety. We will keep an eye on this as various "transformation" efforts continue.

Note: For Chief Kimbell's letter and recent news from Transformation players, see this post in Adaptive Forest Management

Posted by Dave on July 13, 2007 at 03:49 PM | Permalink

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