Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Therapy for DHHL, UH whatever else ails us as a state
by Larry Geller
I put this question to legislators attending the Good, Bad and Ugly meeting (*) at the State Capitol this morning (paraphrase):
“We’ve read in the newspaper about the dysfunction at the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and at the University of Hawaii, just to give two examples. DHHL has been mis-managing the development and distribution of tracts to Native Hawaiians for decades; at the University, they build new facilities while running up a $461 million repair backlog, among other problems….
While demanding accountability is good, what these organizations need is therapy, just like a dysfunction family might. Otherwise, even if those in charge are replaced, the organization will likely be just as dysfunctional as it was before.
Given the separation of functions in government between the executive and legislative branches, what can the Legislature do to provide “therapy” to these organizations?”
What I meant (following on an earlier context) was that holding people accountable is good, but doesn’t help the organization.
The question elicited suggestions from three legislators. I can’t remember them well enough to quote them here, I’m afraid. One involved working with the budget, and not raiding funds that were established to remediate particular situations. Another suggested that legislators could work more closely with the agencies in their subject area throughout the year, not just during session. A third pointed out that the Legislature took steps this session to move procurement responsibility from UH into the state procurement process and denied new construction in Hilo in favor of investing in reducing the repair backlog. I’m sure that I’ve missed part of the replies, but I was also looking at the clock and trying to keep the meeting to the agenda schedule.
My own thinking on this:
When a corporation is failing to thrive, often a "turn around expert" will be brought in to take over. While the popular press may paint that person as a corporate savior, it is seldom a one-person job to turn around a stumbling organization. Often that person will bring in others.
Those others will be experienced leaders and cooperate in the establishment of a new corporate culture. There will be new rules, new ways of doing business, of making decisions. The change will permeate the organization from the top to the lowest ranks. Ideally, the new structure will help ensure profitability and orderly governance of the operation on into the future.
Look upon the "turnaround" as "regime change." Imagine Fidel Castro taking over Havana from the previous dictator. He didn't do that by himself. It was a massive cooperative effort.
Now, a university is not a corporation, Though it may seem to resemble a dictatorship, it is not that, either. Unlike a corporation, the lower ranks of a university have tenure and cannot be easily changed, for example. I’m aware that the corporate model doesn’t perfectly fit.
The head of a university is often brought in alone, without any henchmen to complete regime change. As a result, the structure of governance of the organization remains essentially unchanged.
So the challenge is not only to find a competent leader, but to bring about the cultural and operational changes that will carry the institution on into the future.
I’ve written about the “garbage can model” of organization that can plague a mid-level university and suggested that it has to go. Not that it will be easy to put something better in its place—but how many more high-priced university presidents will we go through, expecting that governance somehow will improve?
The Regents are another issue entirely. How can we expect political appointees, some occupying their positions primarily as a reward for campaign support, to be effective leaders or change agents at all?
We could require that Regents have certain qualifications or training before they can serve. We can find methods of measuring their effectiveness in their position. And yes, we can apply therapy in the form of training before they are allowed to make decisions.
This is just my thinking. Basically, the idea is move from merely demanding accountability to seeing how these organizations can be provided with some help to do their jobs better.
(*) Disclosure: I am president of Kokua Council, which, along with the Hawaii Alliance of Retired Americans, sponsored the Good, Bad and Ugly session this morning, and I was one of the co-chairs of the conference.
In the case of DHHL, what is needed is enforcement of laws.
Regime change has occurred over and over; the problem is the legislature and government officials dipping into pies that donʻt belong to them and allowing others to do the same: Theft, Corruption, Parasites.
The very people being asked here to remedy, are the problem.
The thing about therapy is that you have to want to get help. The central problem at UH- both the administration and Regents- is that they think their you-know-what doesn't stink. People who use secrecy and throw money at the problem by hiring high priced consultants to insulate themselves from taking responsibility for their own actions are not the type to think they need help... it's everyone else (like "the media") that needs help.
Yes, you are correct. UH has admitted it needs help, though generally speaking I'm with you on this. I've started a followup article in which I mention that although they may not admit they need help now, government has one powerful lever to change their mind -- the budget.