Resist Administrative Growth

Tell me if this situation sounds familiar:

Boss: Rawr! Why did your knuckleheads screw this up?

DIVO: Sir! It is all my fault!

Boss: Of course it’s your fault! What is your corrective action?

DIVO (scanning known skills): I know! I’ll make a [binder/checklist/tracker]! That should fix it!

We’ve all done it, especially in the early stages. Given the hopeless feeling of being responsible but not really in control that is familiar to new Division Officers, the creation of new admin can feel like the most logical way to exert influence. We spent four years learning the intricacies of Excel and Word, so we might as well employ that skill. It’s the thing we instinctively know how to do—newborns know how to swim and officers know how to make paperwork.

ryu checklist

Unfortunately, admin is not a substitute for leadership. Much of the time, it will simply fail to achieve the desired end, at a minor price in time and credibility. Every now and then, a naively designed solution will turn into an administrative Frankenstein’s Monster— ungainly, insane, and finally returning to destroy its creator.

Admin also multiplies. Try this experiment—shove three random binders into a locker and forget about them. Do not open this locker for a month. When you return, the locker will contain no less than five binders. Scientists are actually looking into harnessing this phenomenon as a source of energy, but their efforts are being suppressed by the oil lobby.

The real trouble with monsters and admin is that they are especially hard to kill. Admin always sounds like a good idea to create, but once it has become a part of the status quo, getting rid of it becomes scary and dangerous. We come to depend on it, and then forget how we ever got along without it. Eliminating it sounds like a radical idea and an unnecessary assumption of organizational risk.

Species which multiply uncontrollably and lack natural predators have the tendency to overrun and destroy their habitats. This is why I consider admin population control to be one of the highest callings of a Junior Officer. While somewhat gutsy and requiring more effort than just going with the flow, one of the most useful things a JO can do is to find an inefficient or unnecessary administrative process and then take it behind the barn and shoot it.

For the would-be vigilante admin slayer, here’s where to start:

  • Find out why the admin was created in the first place. For instance, if it was imposed as a knee-jerk corrective action to some long-forgotten incident, it is probably ripe for deletion. Ask yourself: If this didn’t exist today, would we have to invent it? If the answer is “no,” you’ve found your target.
  •  Find the governing ship’s instruction—this is where the requirement usually comes from, and is what must be modified to fix it. If the requirement comes from some higher entity, there probably is a local instruction with the details of how to manage it. These instructions are often written by naïve go-getters who fill them with “extra”. While you might not be able to eliminate your burdensome admin, chances are that you can reduce it.
  • Don’t try to ignore a program to death. If it’s required in writing, you have to change the writing or meet the requirement.
  • Changing a ship’s instruction is going to require the signature of the CO, who probably underestimates the amount of time wasted on locally-generated admin (but doubtlessly grumbles about the admin created by ISIC). Be prepared for resistance—your proposal is going to sound like something that makes your life easier at the expense of potentially making the CO’s life harder. You’re going to have to make a good case.

Admin is not a substitute for leadership

Killing admin is somewhat of an advanced JO capability, not necessarily appropriate for the new Ensign still getting his bearings, but is an absolutely worthy ambition. The modification of ship’s instructions requires a little more clout than you might have at this point. A healthy sensitivity to the creation of new admin is appropriate for all ranks, though, and you’ll probably do more good than you can imagine by simply thinking twice next time you’re tempted to Hadouken-out an admin fireball at some dilemma.

Let’s take it to a higher level for a second. Little officers turn into big officers, and the little burdens they create turn into big burdens—be they cumbersome administrivia, data calls, politically-derived training requirements, or even entire programs and organizations. Given a finite budget of resources and manpower, every unnecessary burden comes at the expense of our Navy’s ability to actually fight and win wars. If we want to save our fleet  from the disease of uncontrollable administrative growth, we have to inoculate our youngest officers with a culture of fighting it.

So go find some inefficient process and murder it. It is your patriotic duty.

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6 thoughts on “Resist Administrative Growth

  1. I think you nailed it with the comment about senior officers creating senior-sized administrative burdens; it’s built into the bureaucratic culture. What we need is a culture shift to warfighters first, bureaucrats second. It starts with the JOs

  2. Great stuff here…and I’m trying to figure out how to contact you about a couple opportunities you may not be aware of within a few unofficial (and official) military innovator networks. Hopefully you can see my email, so if you get the chance, shoot me a line

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