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April 27, 2005

Fierce Conversations

Fierce conversations keep organizations healthy. They also breathe life into those that are dying. Albeit difficult, confronting problems early on always saves in the end. Fierce conversations provide a means to open up and guide important confrontations.

In Fierce Conversations (Viking, 2002), Susan Scott gives us a roadmap into this potentially treacherous terrain. As used here, “fierce” doesn’t mean menacing, cruel, barbarous, or threatening.  Instead, “fierce” is used to signify robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled, uncurbed, untamed. Scott outlines four purposes of fierce conversations. They are used to:

  1. Interrogate reality – “What each of us believes to be true simply reflects our views of reality. When reality changes (and when doesn’t it?) and when we ignore competing realities, if we dig in our heels regarding a familiar or favored reality, we may fail. Perhaps what we thought was the truth is no longer the truth in today’s environment.  (p. 21)

  1. Provoke learning – “A fierce conversation is not about holding forth on your point of view, but about provoking learning by sitting with someone side by side and jointly interrogating reality. The goal is to expand the conversation rather than narrow it. Questions are much more effective than answers in provoking learning.” (p. 118)

  1. Tackle tough challenges – “Hand in hand with the courage to interrogate reality comes the courage to bring to the surface and confront your toughest, most often recurring personal and professional issues. … It is possible that the emperor is, indeed sans clothing, that a sacred cow must be shot, that identities will unravel, that forms will break down, that there will be a period of free fall. It is also possible that a conversational free fall is what is most needed to help you turn the corner. … Because what’s on the other side of your toughest issues is worth it: relief, success, health, freedom from stress, happiness, a high-performing team, a fulfilling personal relationship. … And because of what’s in store for you if your continue to avoid addressing and resolving the tough issues….”  (pp. 124-125)

  1. Enrich relationships – “Successful relationships require that all parties view getting their core needs met as being legitimate. … So pry the permission door open just far enough to consider that you have a right to clarify your position, state your view of reality, and ask for what you want. … Coming out from behind yourself is part of the search, whether born of panic or courage, for that highly personalized rapture of feeling completely yourself, happy in your own skin. It is a reach for authenticity—a process of individuation—when you cease to compare yourself with others and choose, instead, to live your life. … Authenticity is a powerful attractor.  When we free our true selves and release the energy, others recognize it and respond.” (pp. 72-73)

Scott is one among many to advocate for fierce conversations. Here’s one more. In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (HarperCollins, 2001), Jim Collins says,

“Yes leadership is about vision. But leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted. There’s a huge difference between the opportunity to “have your say” and the opportunity to be heard. The good-to-great leaders understood this distinction, creating a culture wherein people had a tremendous opportunity to be heard and ultimately, for the truth to be heard.

“How do you create a climate where the truth is heard? We offer four basic practices:

1.      Lead with questions, not answers. … "[L]eaders made particularly good use of informal meeting where they’d meet with groups of managers and employees with no script, agenda, or set of action items to discuss. Instead, they would start with questions like: ‘So, what’s on your mind?’ ‘Can you tell me about that?’ ‘Can you help me understand?’ What should we be worried about?’

“These non-agenda meetings became a forum where current realities tended to bubble to the surface. Leading from good to great does not mean coming up with the answers and then motivating everyone to follow your messianic vision. It means having the humility to grasp the fact that you do not yet understand enough to have the answers and then to ask the questions that will lead to the best possible insights.

2.      Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion. … "[A]ll the good-to-great companies had a penchant for intense dialogue. Phrases like ‘loud debate,’ ‘heated discussions,’ and ‘healthy conflict’ peppered the articles and interview transcripts from all the companies. They didn’t use discussion as a sham process to let people ‘have their say’ so they could ‘buy in’ to a predetermined decision. The process was more like a heated scientific debate, with people engaged in a search for the best answers.

3.      Conduct autopsies, without blame. "In 1978, Philip Morris acquired the Seven-Up Company, only to sell it eight years later at a loss.  … Hundreds, if not thousands, of people hours had been spent in autopsies of the 7UP case. Yet, as much as they talked about this conspicuous failure, no one pointed fingers to single out blame. There is only one exception to this pattern: Joe Cullman [A Philip Morris executive], standing in front of the mirror, pointing the finger right at himself. …

“In an era when leaders go to great lengths to preserve the image of their own track record—stepping forth to claim credit about how they were visionary when their colleagues were not, but finding others to blame when their decisions go awry—it is quite refreshing to come across Cullman. He set the tone: ‘I will take responsibility for this bad decision. But we will all take responsibility for extracting the maximum learning from the tuition we’ve paid.’

4.      Build ‘red flag’ mechanisms. … "If you look across the rise and fall of organizations … you will rarely find companies stumbling because they lacked information.  … The key … lies in turning information into information that cannot be ignored.” (pp. 74-79)

Think about your own organization. Are fierce conversations the norm?  They were not when GE was a third-rate, failing organization. Jack Welch made sure that fierce conversations became the norm during GE’s transformation and thereafter.

I have championed some version of fierce conversations for many years in the Forest Service. Sometimes I too shy away from them, but not often. Mostly, though, I marvel at what I’ll call Zombie meetings, Zombie conference calls, etc. Coffee chatter and bar room chatter sometimes livens up, but the Forest Service meeting-norm tends toward corporate Zombiism. Can we do better? If not, why not?  If so, how so?

Posted by Dave on April 27, 2005 at 11:45 AM Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

Forest Service Centennial Film
John Rupe

The Forest Service Centennial Film called "The Greatest Good" is being screened in a number of location.  See this link.


It's a feature-length documentary film intended to document the 100 years of the Forest Service.  Produced in high-definition, it has beautiful landscape footage, rarely seen archival photos, documents, old TV commercials and shows, and extensive interviews of historians, Forest Service Chiefs, employees, and academia.  It succeeds best in describing the history of the Forest Service in the first 75 or so years.  The film is also great in capturing the views of retired Forest Service employees about the changes to the agency.  The film is somewhat less impressive in describing the history of the Forest Service from the 1970s on, (particularly for someone who has worked in the organization during this time) leaving out major topics such as RARE II, the sagebrush rebellion, or internal issues such as how computers and networks have flattened the organization.  It curiously never mentions Forest Planning or the culture within the agency with a bias toward rational planning.  The film spends considerable time on fire and fuels management, as well as timber harvest.  But it omits the importance of mineral development to settlement of the West, and Forest Service policies on mining, energy development, and other activities such as water diversion.  For someone who grew up in the West, it also seemed to miss the point of the intense local vs. National tension that has characterized the history of the agency.

Of course, it's been called propaganda by some:


However flawed, it's a great film, and an excellent chance to relook at the historical perspective of today's issues.

Posted by John Rupe on April 25, 2005 at 07:32 PM Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 21, 2005

The Curious Case of Forest Planning and EMS

When the Forest Service published the 2004 NFMA Planning Rule, it also requested comments on proposed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) "implementing procedures." In simple terms, the agency proposed to exempt—to "categorically exclude"—forest plans from long-standing requirements to develop Environmental Impact Statements, except where "extraordinary circumstances exist." 

The comment period closed on March 7. So now we wait to see what the Forest Service decides to do. Incidentally, the Forest Service’s decision cannot be made until it is reviewed by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for conformity with NEPA regulations on agency decisionmaking procedures (40 CFR 1505.1, 1507.3, etc.).

In the meantime, we might ponder a simple rhetorical question, "If the Forest Service hadn’t conveniently affixed EMS to planning, would it still be proposing these categorical exclusions for forest plans?" Maybe so? Maybe not? But there are interesting rumors swirling around.

Rumors I’ve heard say that in late hours of inter-departmental NFMA Rule negotiation, high level Forest Service folks ran into a brick wall at CEQ over forest plan "categorical exclusion" language, then embedded in the draft NFMA Rule.

The rumor mill has it that the brick wall was torn down, supposedly and provisionally, when CEQ head James Connaughton proposed an Environmental Management Systems (EMS) process in lieu of the then-standard Environmental Impact Statements requirements for forest plans. This rumor might have legs, given Connaughton’s biography and his wealth of EMS experience in prior roles.   

On the other hand, there is reason to doubt the rumor. Why would Connaughton propose EMS in lieu of EIS, when his legal advisors advocate both processes?

Deputy General Counsel for CEQ Edward A. Boling’s recent paper "Environmental Management Systems and NEPA: A Framework for Productivity Harmony" lays out a general framework that could serve as a basis for doing both a forest plan EIS and an EMS. Boling suggests that there is no reason to substitute EMS for the EIS process. He argues that the two processes are compliments not substitutes. And he makes a good case for forest plans to be used as part of NEPA tiering whether or not accompanied by EMS.

Boling's paper sits on the same website with another, written by DeAnne Zwight, Asst Director of Ecosystem Management Coordination, USFS Washington Office. Zwight’s paper is titled "Smokey and the EMS ." Zwight’s rendition has it that the Forest Service found its own way to EMS and away from forest plan EISs as a means to "change and continually improve environmental performance." 

Zwight is emphatic that the Forest Service ought not to create an EIS for the forest plan. She argues that doing both an EMS and a forest plan EIS would in fact undermine the EMS:

An EMS could not be successfully used in conjunction with an EIS because the nature of the EIS process itself, court decisions that have led to more and detailed plan analysis, and public expectation of very detailed and predictive plans have spawned plans that have taken 5, 6, 7 or even 10 years to produce. This essentially prevents the timely change and adaptation EMS is designed to accomplish. However … the Forest Service would continue to do EISs for some portions of plans no matter what final decision is made. For example, a "legislation" EIS would be required for wilderness designations.

Note that Zwight does not advocate for an EMS in lieu of an EIS, but rather advocates separating the forest plan from the EIS process. But such advocacy leaves many unanswered questions. in particular, "Why isn’t a forest plan a useful piece of a NEPA tiering process?" "Is tiering a useful concept for forest management?" "If tiering is to be used and the forest plan categorically excluded from EIS requirements, then what is to be done?" 

Many years ago I also argued against saddling a forest plan with an EIS. But back then agency was trying to gain NEPA sufficiency all the way from forest plan to project in one EIS—something I used to call 'once and for all NEPA.' Since that time I’ve warmed to the NEPA tiering process. I believe it makes sense to have the forest plan EIS a part of NEPA tiering. We might call this 'once and forever NEPA.'

I agree with Zwight that we in the Forest Service have a terrible track record in trying to effect cumulative effects assessments. But I do not believe it appropriate to de-link the Forest Plan from the process. Instead, the agency had better find a means to deal with cumulative effects and others aspects of NEPA.

One last question lingers, "Are there other agencies that have stepped eagerly up to the plate to tie EMS to strategic planning?"  If there are, maybe we can learn from them. If there are not, why was the Forest Service so eager to dip a toe into these waters? This last question proves particularly troublesome since the Forest Service has a penchant to unnecessarily complexify everything it touches, including NEPA compliance. Why would we expect the agency not to over-complexify EMS too?

Posted by Dave on April 21, 2005 at 02:33 PM Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 19, 2005

Blogging the Forest, Blogging the Forest Service

Civic Engagement is as close as our web browsers. Or at least it should be. Right now the Forest Service has many engagement forums, and likely will have more as time goes by.  We are experimenting with different formats, so be patient with us.

What we need now are readers and writers. We need to engage with one another, and the public generally, to make our policies, programs, and practice better. After all, this is The Communication Age. Why not take advantage of it?

Here are some examples, mostly just starting, but all open to the public:

Forest Policy – Forest Practice: a co-op web-log discussing broad ranging ideas, innovation, and places where we prove to be less than innovative


Forest Planning Directives: a few forest planners and others discussing What’s Right and “What’s Wrong with our planning directives


Somewhere National Forest: a few forest practitioners discussing what it will be like to launch web-logs for their forests--for outreach, engagement, feedback, and more.


Ecosystem Management Coordination Forums: Portal to EMS, NEPA, and likely other forums yet to be added.


EMS Forums: Discussion of Environmental Management Systems in the Forest Service.


NEPA Forum: Discussion of National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) compliance.



Eco-Watch Policy Dialogues: Historical discussions going back to 1990, and various forums that began in 1999 (not much used anymore).


Posted by Dave on April 19, 2005 at 09:36 AM Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 15, 2005

Civic Engagement in Rulemaking, Policymaking

Who would have thought that it would prove easy to engage the public in regulatory reform, policymaking, and more? And maybe it won’t prove all that easy. But at least for now it is looking ever more doable as our society becomes more web-savvy. Our little venture “Forest Policy – Forest Practice “ is just one of many emergent Internet possibilities.

Two years ago Robert D. Carlitz, Executive Director of “Information Renaissance” suggested possibilities in Once in a Lifetime: Opportunities for Civic Engagement. In proposing a way forward, Carlitz recommended:

  • A series of pilot projects that use the Internet to facilitate expanded public input on selected upcoming rules or policies.

  • Programs to educate the public about rulemaking, its impact on their lives and the roles they can play in the process.

  • Development of techniques for (a) identifying and notifying stakeholders, (b) online dialogue on rules, (c) creating materials that enable a broad variety of people to understand and discuss selected public issues, (c) quantifying and evaluating online input, and (d) scaling up to very large online events, which are technically feasible but would at present rapidly overwhelm the ability of any agency to digest the information received.

  • Assessment of efforts to increase public involvement in rulemaking, and dissemination of best practices.

  • Development of ethical standards. As online involvement processes for rulemaking and other areas evolve and broaden, standards will be needed in areas such as notification of stakeholders, provision of background information to the public and transparency.

Now many of his recommendations seem to be coming into reality. You can find some ongoing Information Renaissance dialogues here.

Last Wednesday NPR radio did a story on The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness and its Electronic Regulatory Forum. It looks like they are setting up to web-log many important regulatory rulemaking efforts, opening up to the public what has until now only been open to the special-interest few.

This could indeed become a “Once in a lifetime Opportunity.” And it may be an enduring one, ongoing for the rest of our lives.  Let’s hope so!

Posted by Dave on April 15, 2005 at 02:40 PM Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 04, 2005

Wildlaw's White Paper comments
Sharon Friedman

Is anyone going to take on Wildlaw's analysis of the new planning rule? I'd like to see some discussion therein.

Posted by: Steve Funk | April 4, 2005 12:36 PM

I agree, Steve, and copied your comment to a new post because I felt it deserves a thread of its own.

Here's the link to the paper:

Note that part of their paper uses information found on the FS public EMS forum  http://www.ecosystem-management.org/forum/. some of the issues they mention about the availability of the ISO standard are addressed in some detail at http://www.ecosystem-management.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=14

Currently on that forum are in-depth discussions of the availability of the ISO standard, why the federal government and the FS use the ISO standard, and in another thread, examples of other agencies using EMS for land management.

Posted by Sharon Friedman on April 4, 2005 at 04:53 PM Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 02, 2005

Sustainability in the FS
Tony Erba

I'll be writing a commentary on sustainability within the Forest Service. Keep in mind that sustainability can be looked at from three perspectives: ecologic, social, and economic. I like to hear your thoughts on the following questions:

· Where is the Forest Service headed on the pathway to sustainability?

· What should the agency now do to root sustainability in the Forest Service?

· What can the agency do to make sustainability truly part and parcel of the Forest Service?

Posted by Tony Erba on April 2, 2005 at 12:42 PM Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 01, 2005

US Forest Service Cited for Illegal Dumping

Breaking News: Forest Service cited for illegal dumping
4/1/2005, Washington D.C.

After a brief investigation, the US Forest Service was cited today for illegal dumping of paper into the Potomac River. Residents along the Potomac noticed debris floating in various parts of the river. Investigators soon identified the bulky rafts of debris as the Forest Service Manual and Handbook and traced the episode back to its source.

It seems that the Agency finally took seriously the advice of iconoclast economist Dave Iverson, who had for years suggested that a cure for organizational paralysis would be to toss the Manual and Handbook.

Agency spokesperson Betsy Bureaucrat said that agency apologizes for illegal dumping. The agency should have followed the advice of more prudent advisors and simply tossed the Manual and Handbook into the nearest recycling bin.

Laci Larkspur, BS News Service

Posted by Dave on April 1, 2005 at 12:03 PM Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack