Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Peter Principle and the VA


"What do you mean I failed? I was doing so well in the job I just left..."

Many of us who attended business schools years ago studied the 1969 book by the late Dr. Lawrence Peter. The book The Peter Principle - Why Things Always Go Wrong was a hit and read by millions. It explained why things do go wrong in many organizations. In fact, in my 36 years in industry, I have seen it happen more than once.

The Peter Principle is very simple - in any organization, people will continue to get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. The real work in any organization is done by the people lower down the food chain who have not yet reached that undesirable level. Today, there is no better place to observe this famous principle than in the White House or the VA.

In the White House, we took a man with no experience and made him the CEO of what was once known as "the free world". Classic fail. However, I have addressed that before. The better example is General Shinseki. A decorated and wounded veteran, the General served this country with honor for over 35 years and rose to the rank of a four star flag officer.  He was well suited to command thousands of men and women in the military. Seems like smooth transition to have the same man manage thousands of men and women in the VA.

In 2009 when the General took the reigns of the VA, it certainly was not ship shape - in fact it was a mess. It was so bad, that our incoming President hammered the former President on this issue while on the campaign trail. If elected, he would fix the wound, right the wrongs. After he was sworn in, the intoxication of Air Force One, free golf, and celebrity status caused him to develop great amnesia on this promise. The General, being a good soldier, did not want to give his CO any bad news. So, the wound grew bigger and deeper. Our proud and stoic veterans finally started to ring the alarm bell.

One of my former bosses would use the military jargon word, reclama. His interpretation of this much maligned word was "things are so screwed up, we need to start over". And we would. The VA has been in deep, deep need of a reclama for decades now. However, now people are dying.

The General needs to go - now. If the President cannot pick someone who is a "fixer", then let Congress pick someone. A ridged improvement plan needs to be put in place NOW with iron clad milestones. Everyone who works for the VA will be on a "one strike" employment term. The VA IG will be given new teeth. Every penny will be accounted for. There is no reason the VA has to use dialysis machines that are held together with spit and gum. There is no reason why illegal immigrants in this country should get better and faster treatment than our heroes.

It really does pain me to write something this scathing on Memorial Day weekend. However, if pains me much more to know this situation exists in 2014. Let us fix this sorry example of the Peter Principle and honor the promises we have made to our veterans. 


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