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Tuesday, April 25, 2000
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I am Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. The Endowment was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. To find out more about the Endowment visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.
The Business of Government Hour focuses on outstanding government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our guests tonight are David Barram, Administrator of the General Services Administration, or GSA, Martha Johnson, his Chief of Staff, and assisting me in the conversation is Pat McNamee, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Welcome, David.
Mr. Barram: Thank you.
Mr. Lawrence: And Martha.
Ms. Johnson: Thank you very much.
Mr. Lawrence: And Pat.
Mr. McNamee: Thank you, Paul.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, let's begin this first segment talking about your careers. David, can you tell us a little bit about your career prior to joining GSA?
Mr. Barram: Sure. When I got out of college many years ago I worked at Price Waterhouse for a year, when it was Price Waterhouse.
Mr. Lawrence: Good start. Good start.
Mr. Barram: In Boston, then I went in the Navy for three years as an officer. My last year and a half, I was an officer in charge of a ship in Pensacola, Florida, so I was 24 years old and had this ship that I had to worry about whether it went to the bottom or not. That's what you worry about.
Then I moved to California. I decided then I didn't want to a 40 years old wondering what it would have been like to have lived in California, so I moved out there and had a young son. My daughter was born a year or so later.
I started at Hewlett-Packard as a staff accountant, the company that I considered the greatest in the history of the world. I still feel that way. I was there 13 years and we had about 80,000 people in the company.
I left in 1983 to become the CFO at Silicon Graphics, which had 30 people -- I was number 30 -- because Jim Clarke convinced me that this was a great opportunity, and he was doing some great stuff and I wanted to be part of it.
Two years later I was asked to go to Apple to be the chief financial officer. I spent eight years at Apple at a couple of different jobs. Then in 1993, after having spent a decent amount of time the previous year helping Bill Clinton get elected, I did all that in Silicon Valley, I got asked to come to Washington.
I came in as Deputy Secretary of Commerce for two and a half years, and then I came to the GSA in March of 1996. Actually, I am now, I am told, the second-longest serving administrator of GSA.
So it has been a terrific experience and I am delighted to be able to talk about it.
Mr. Lawrence: Martha, how about your background?
Ms. Johnson: Well, I also come from the business world. After college I went overseas and taught in Taiwan for a couple of years and had that experience. Then I finished my MBA and I went to Cummings Engine Company and worked in manufacturing and was there during the great press on the automotive industry to change its whole operational structures in order to compete internationally.
When I left there, I served for a while as the CFO of an architecture firm in Boston. I did some consulting while my children were being born. I joined the administration at the transition time. I joined the Clinton- Gore transition and was helping with the personnel hiring.
From there I went into the White House for about ten months and then went to the Department of Commerce where I met Dave and was working with him.
A couple of years later I accepted a job over in GSA and about two weeks after I accepted, Dave was appointed administrator so we ended up being at GSA again together. I have been at GSA also since the Spring of 1996.
Mr. McNamee: How have you found the transition from the private sector to the public sector?
Mr. Barram: Well, it is different. I mean, I've said many times when I first came to Washington, I noticed that Washington felt like a job factory to me. People would get up in the morning, and they would go to their jobs.
I was used to an environment where you get up in the morning and you went to get results, usually to work but maybe somewhere else. Maybe you stayed home. I thought that was one of the most fundamental differences.
I think that has changed. I have been here six years in Washington, so I have seen a fair amount of change, particularly in GSA, but that was one of the big differences.
Of course, the other one is that there are a lot of rules in government that you have to follow. Some of them make sense but not all of them. That gets pretty frustrating when you want to make changes and get things going.
So it's a tough transition. Plus, it's mean here sometimes, and that's too bad. If somebody in a Silicon Valley company were to entertain the idea of coming to work in Washington, they probably would ask me what I thought. I would tell them that it was a great honor, and I'm glad I did it, but that it can be a pretty mean environment, and you have to worry about things that you had no business having to worry about just to function here, and that is too bad.
Mr. McNamee: Martha, how about you?
Ms. Johnson: I have found it fascinating because I am really a culturalist or an anthropologist of cultures. I enjoy learning how big organizations work. It has been very tough, but I can't say it was that much easier in the private sector in the automotive industry when we were going through the kinds of changes we were going through.
So it's a different set of constraints. The people are highly educated in my experience, not always that worldly. They haven't been out of Washington or they haven't been beyond their particular job environments, but that is a gross generalization.
I have learned a tremendous amount, and I have found that people consider their environments their communities, and so there is a lot to work with in the government in terms of the people and how they want to respond to their work environments.
Mr. Barram: You know, one thing we probably share is a sense, and particularly in GSA I have noticed it, that we both have a lot of really nice people who, I believe, genuinely want to do a good job.
The ethic of government service is really pretty powerful. It is comforting. When I was in the private sector in '92 and before '93, those were the days when Ross Perot was talking about sticking his nose under the hood and seeing a bad system but good people.
I think to that extent he was right. There are an awful lot of good people who we have not given the kind of system to help them really flourish. Would they flourish in it? I don't know yet but I think we have to work on changing the system so they have a shot at it.
Mr. McNamee: Do you see some lessons from your private sector experience that you could bring in to make those kind of changes in the systems that people work in?
Mr. Barram: My adult life has been formed dramatically by my limited experience in the Navy being so young and having responsibilities. Then 13 years at Hewlett-Packard really formed me about the way I see really good enterprises function.
So I have some really powerful values that have to do with contribution and integrity and honesty. I think that the more we can help people exercise those values, which I think they have, the better. When the system gets in the way of it, it's really a shame.
Mr. McNamee: How about the reverse? What can the private sector learn from the public sector?
Ms. Johnson: I am quite heartened. If we can do it in the government, the private sector can do it. If you can do it within these kinds of constraints around your people, what kind of training they need, what kind of movement you want to be able to do with them, the private sector looks like a cake walk in comparison. But I do think that the private sector should have the government as one of the practices it looks at regularly.
I think that certainly in GSA there are a number of very innovative things that we have done with people, with our systems, with our forms of communications, our forms of awards that are best practices.
Mr. Barram: The private sector is not monolithic, as you know, but there are some really wonderful companies that are out there pushing the edge. I saw a bunch of those in Silicon Valley. I worked for some. There are some private-sector companies that are far less flexible and clever than we are.
So at GSA we are not the worst, and we are not the best when it comes to being a perfect work place, but I think we are certainly on the side of the middle toward the best. I really do. That feels good.
Sometimes you wonder what the reason to be in government is but at GSA, I wake up every day pretty excited that we are doing something really great, and the people are really doing something great and making a lot of change. I am convinced that the future is going to be a lot different than it is today, so we'd better be moving in that direction, and I think we are.
Mr. Lawrence: That's great. It's time for a break. We'll be back with more of the Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I am Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Tonight's conversation is with David Barram, Administrator of GSA, and Martha Johnson, Chief of Staff. Joining me is Pat McNamee, also a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
We were just talking before we went to the break about your careers. You indicated that you came to government, David, even though you knew it was going to be difficult. What attracted you to leaving the private sector and joining the government?
Mr. Barram: Well, you know, the President asked me. I used to think when I'd hear people say that that it was baloney, but the fact is that I did care to have this guy be elected. I wanted him to be. I thought he was, and I still think he is the right guy and has done a good job.
So when my time came and when the younger of my two kids was just about to graduate from college, I thought you can't say no to this kind of thing. You cared about this guy being in the office, and he wants you to help. You've got to do it.
I thought it could be a great opportunity. It could be some interesting stuff. It has been a wonderful experience. I never thought about doing it. I never wanted to do it. I don't expect to do it again, and it certainly isn't going to last forever, but it has been a great honor and a great experience.
Mr. McNamee: What was your biggest surprise?
Mr. Barram: Nothing really surprised me hard. I am fairly optimistic, and I really have thought we could change the rules, and there would be a way that you can manage people a little faster, "we" being the whole administration, the whole government.
That has frustrated me. It has borne out of what people have said to me, "Dave, why are you even trying to change that stuff? You're kidding. Lots of other people have gone to Washington and they have failed at it so why are you going to be any different?"
Well, I don't want to do anything that I don't feel like I'm actually pushing it, changing what I think needs to be changed, but that has been a tough spot.
I am surprised at the meanness of this town, too. The partisanship is really incredibly counterproductive to getting things done, and I am sorry about that.
Mr. McNamee: Well, Martha, just a minute ago, you also mentioned some of the challenges of managing staff. Given your perspective in both sectors, how is managing people in the government different?
Ms. Johnson: I find it frustrating. I find it frustrating because there really isn't a lot of movement you can make with people without your lawyers at your side. That is regrettable.
People are very concerned about taking any risk inside the personnel system with respect to giving feedback to discipline, to moving, jobs changing, and that ties your hands so much.
When you would like to have a conversation about the opportunities across the board, it is perceived as a conversation about poor performance because movement is punishment.
I hope we have changed that a bit at GSA, but that's very disheartening. It's just the climate of managing people that makes it so difficult. And, actually, we have pushed some of the edges of the envelope.
We have done some interesting things with incentives and with movement of the executive group, but we really needed to have done a lot more.
Mr. Barram: Let me piggyback on that. What people have said since the time I have been here, HR people and others have said, "you can do all the things you wanted to." Then I'll talk to a manager who will say, "sure, but I am not going to spend the next year of my life making that one move."
So it is really disingenuous when people say you can do all those things because, of course, you can't, it is not in the natural flow of things. It is so touchy to do that people don't do it, and that is really a shame.
We have done an awful lot of things at GSA. Martha has been a terrific leader at this. As she said about our senior executives, we have had over half, I would say three-quarters by now, of our senior executives in just the time we have been at GSA, probably because we were there, actually, when you think about it, but who have changed jobs. Some of them are in the same position, but many of them are in totally new jobs.
As Martha said, people used to think when you changed jobs, it was punishment. You were being sent somewhere. Well, when we asked Dennis Fisher, who was at the time a CFO and one of the best in government, to go run one of our big services, people said, "oh, I guess it isn't punishment." I guess it is because we need a really good manager, a leader, to take over something.
He has done a terrific job there. I think that has helped. A number of other people have taken on new responsibilities so with respect to our senior executive team we have had a lot of movement of people doing the key jobs. That is really important for the rest of the organization to see that change really makes a difference.
I still give this speech, but I used to say early on that none of us are going to be doing the same job in three years. Now, I said that before I had been here three years. So the natural thing, I would say, is well, therefore, each of us needs to be building the skills to move to the next opportunity so we can flourish in this one and the next one. Are you building your skills?
I think that people appreciate now inside of GSA that movement is a good thing, it makes the organization more vibrant, refreshes them and the organization, so we are doing a lot.
Ms. Johnson: Well, it's almost a pile-on. If people change jobs, they experience change. If the organization is changing around them, and they are experiencing change, they can then begin to lead it. They can be participants in it, but if they think that they can set policies around change and not personally change, they just can't lead.
Mr. McNamee: What type of skills are required by the leaders of people trying to make these changes in terms of getting the people to change jobs?
Ms. Johnson: I think strategic vision is one of them, having a large sense of direction and then being able to adjust rapidly because our markets change and our organizational structure needs to change, how we function. So they need to know that deep inside themselves.
Mr. Barram: You know, the most important skill any of us needs to have is the ability to adapt to change. Martha gave a speech at our first leadership conference, which is another great subject we can talk about, about strategic vision, the idea that you ought to be able to do visions in real-time.
You don't set up a vision for the whole year and expect it to stay. It is going to change. So if your ability to think strategically and to adjust strategically to adapt to change is well developed as an individual, I think you have a chance to be a good leader. Otherwise, I don't think you do because the world is changing too fast.
Ms. Johnson: I often tell in my speeches, I say what my eight-year old son says to me, "Mom, when you were eight-years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
I say, "Oh, I wanted to be the Chief of Staff at the General Services Administration." It is impossible these days to predict your careers. You have to be good at improvising, and you have to have a strategic vision about yourself and about your organization and the people around you in order to make that coherent. But you have to be able to adjust and move. That is an improv kind of skill that we introduced, and I think it resonated. People understand the importance of that.
Mr. Barram: Her son is Lucas. Lucas, if you are listening to your mother, she is kidding, but she is a great Chief of Staff.
Mr. Lawrence: That's great. It's time for a break. We will be back with more of the Business of Government Hour in just a minute. (Intermission)
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I am Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Tonight's conversation is with David Barram, Administrator of GSA, and Martha Johnson, the Chief of Staff. Also joining me is Pat McNamee, also a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Well, David, how about telling us about GSA? I understand it is its 50th anniversary.
Mr. Barram: Well, it is. That means in 1949 the Property Act was passed which put us into being. There are big parts to GSA, three services: our buildings, our supply service, and our technology, and we have a policy shop, also.
At one time, probably in the '70s, GSA had 41,000 people. It came down to around 21,000 or so in the early part of the '90s. In the six years of this administration, we have gone down to about 14,000 people, so we have had a dramatic change. This was off-loading big groups of people, so it wasn't just fewer people doing the same work, although in the last five years or so there has been a lot of that.
We did this all with buy-outs. We did all the cutting, if you will, with buy-outs in the last four or five years so we have lost a lot of people with a lot of institutional knowledge and, amazingly enough, we are doing better than we did before, which is a lesson we all should not forget to notice.
Clinger-Cohen also passed in that period of time, which changed a lot of things around technology and GSA's role vis-a-vis technology and the fact that everybody should then have a chief information officer, which we have taken with energy and really done a terrific job at.
Ms. Johnson: The other major change that was presented as we came three years ago was that GSA was midpoint in moving from being a mandatory, mandated supplier of services and was really entering the market place.
So two of our services are almost completely serving the federal worker but at their choice. They can choose to buy from us or they can go elsewhere.
Mr. Barram: So that is the Technology Service and the Federal Supply Service. In the third service, Public Buildings, which has been the biggest in terms of people, and the one people often think of when they think of GSA, is getting more and more non-mandatory, also.
We told our customers if you want to get a lease from somebody else, and you don't think we do a good job, go ahead. We'll even help you pick that company.
People haven't left us because we think we are the best, and we are proving it daily. We are also, by the way, measuring ourselves very well, particularly in the Public Buildings Service, a part of government that people didn't think about is good at measuring itself, terrific measurements and holding ourselves accountable.
If you were to travel to Phoenix or Sacramento or some place in this country and meet up with the person running the local PBS office and ask them how they are doing, instead of saying, "Fine. How are you?" they are likely to tell you "well, on the costs of cleaning for my buildings, we are at 11 percent below the benchmark private sector and tenth in the country or first in the country."
So we are changing the way we think. If you wake up in the morning expecting to get results and you know you are being measured, you are going to change the way you do work. I think that is what we are doing there.
This is a pretty interesting organization. When I first came, a couple of people said, "Why are you doing that, going there?" I said, "I think this is a better organization than you might think," and I found that to be true.
So we are marketing ourselves more. We have four visions that we have developed fairly soon after we arrived. One is that we are about change. It is not your father's GSA. It is even beginning to look like your daughter's GSA, which is good.
Mr. McNamee: You described what it was when you got there and what it is now, but how did you go about figuring out what it was going to take to get there?
Mr. Barram: We put people in leg irons.
Ms. Johnson: We did have this platform that we walked in on, so to speak, of moving toward the market and of being much smaller. In fact, we were concerned that we were losing skills, but that really did not prove to be the problem.
So what we did was we focused the first year or two on simply opening up GSA. I mean, a lot of it had been encumbered by these mandatory rules, by a lot of administrative drag, and by extra people.
So we focused on opening up. We handed everyone the Internet within about three months of our arrival. We didn't spend a whole lot of time worrying about that. We got into a meeting, it was a one-day meeting, and the leadership decided that was the thing to do.
Then we launched into kind of a process of trying out some visions. We made some statements. Dave put some things in his speeches. If we heard them back, we knew they resonated.
One is "this it is not your father's GSA," which is about change. Another one was "thrilling the customers," which had a giggle factor for about five minutes.
Mr. Barram: My wife said to me, "Why do you say stuff like that, that thrilling stuff?" But it was such an easy way for people to understand the point. We have all been thrilled by a vendor and we have all been satisfied. To me, satisfying customers is hygiene. If you think of Hershberg's ideas, it is only a hygiene factor.
If you want competitive advantage you better do something different. "Thrilling" was the way to say it. Tom Peters calls it "lusting."
Ms. Johnson: I said he couldn't use "lusting." "Thrilling" was all I could interpret to the organization. Then what happened was these ideas were strong enough that people took them and pushed them harder.
So we had a group that called itself The Thrillers. They went off interviewed a whole lot of people in the private sector, came back, and wrote up a brochure and created some educational tools around the difference between satisfying and thrilling. It was a substantial leap.
Mr. Barram: Do you know what they did? They held a meeting in Chicago. They got Starbucks, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, whose slogan, by the way, is "Ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen," a great slogan, a couple of other companies, Motorola, and Bob Galvin spent four hours with this group talking about the difference between really thrilling customers and just satisfying.
Our GSA group in my opinion really went away thinking, "What is this thrilling stuff? We're going to find out if it is real." They came back having proved it, and they enriched it.
As Martha said, they put together a brochure, a videotape, and a little slide show. They put it on our web page. You can open our web page and find it if you want, any of you.
Ms. Johnson: In fact, when we put up our chat line, which we have had running now for about a year and a half, successfully, I think, the first time was, "describe the time when you have been a thrilled customer as a private person" so that we could just share our ideas.
So we didn't go off for three weeks and craft a mission statement. We evolved these things and they have a whole lot more depth and breadth to them as a result.
Mr. Barram: One of our other visions, the first vision was change, and you know the world is about change. The second was excellence. If you are going to change, be excellent.
My phrase is, "If we are good, use us. If we are not, don't."
Ms. Johnson: And our slogan was, "Can't beat GSA."
Mr. Barram: Right. So what we are trying to say to our customers and to ourselves is we think we are good enough to warrant your business, and we are going to try to get it. You ought to buy from us. If you don't think so, then tell us why and don't buy, but also tell us why. That has helped us think about that, the excellence part.
The third was thrilling customers. The fourth was something we called honest conversations. It seemed hard to us to make all these things happen, if we weren't going to be honest with each other.
The one thing government people have built the capacity to do is to answer a simple question with many, many words that are not dishonest, but a real honest conversation would have been "no" or "yes" or something else.
Ms. Johnson: "Crisp" is the word.
Mr. Barram: So that has been one of them. The other is that when the union came in and talked about this, we wanted to be sure we were talking about a thing that was really important, not some euphemism and others as well.
So we tried to have honest conversations, and it is a high bar. Do we always have them? Of course, not. Do we have them more than the average? I think so.
Ms. Johnson: We're getting there.
Mr. Barram: I'll bet I get one e-mail a month that says, "In the spirit of honest conversation, let me tell you what a bozo you are."
Ms. Johnson: Or they will start conversations with, "I want this to be an honest conversation," as if all the others aren't, but we put up a chat line. We have been encouraging conversations about race in alignment with the President's initiative on race. We have been having some very important new kinds of conversations with our unions.
We just are trying to speak more crisply and, as with these visions, not to make them big ponderous statements, just make them things that people can all repeat. I think that cuts through some of the ---.
Mr. Barram: Here is what I want to happen: if someone says "Where do you work?" I would like people to say, "I work at GSA and let me tell you about it. Let me tell you what we are doing that is pretty neat."
Then we need the ability to describe that in a few words so it isn't like the typical government answer.
Ms. Johnson: It's the elevator answer, what can you say in an elevator ride.
Mr. McNamee: What is your proudest accomplishment at GSA?
Mr. Barram: I am proud that I am still here and liking it. That means that the organization is really responding well and giving me a lot of energy to keep going. A government organization as mature as GSA could wipe me out in a heartbeat, if it wanted to. It could just frustrate me to no end.
So I feel good that either I haven't let it or they are responding to things I care about, things I have talked about a lot so I feel most proud about that. That is not a bumper sticker answer, but that is really how I feel.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, we will be back with more of the Business of Government Hour in just a minute. (Intermission)
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I am Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Tonight's conversation is with David Barram, Administrator of GSA, and Martha Johnson, Chief of Staff. Joining me in the conversation is Pat McNamee, also a partner at Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
Mr. McNamee: Thanks, Paul. David, Martha, let's spend our final minutes together taking a look at the future of government. Where do you see GSA in the next 25 years?
Ms. Johnson: I'll let David handle that one.
Mr. Barram: I could probably handle the next 25 minutes, maybe even the next 25 days, or potentially the next 25 months, but the world changes so fast that I don't even think about that. I believe that there will be very little difference between enterprises in the near future, whether they be government, private sector, or nonprofit.
I think that the factors that are driving us in the world are going to affect all those enterprises the same way. It is going to converge. People want to have responsibility at the front line. We don't need as many middle managers.
Technology has changed dramatically the way we communicate. I think that the future of government is going to be very much like the future of the private sector, so the real question is what is the future of enterprise going to be like.
Ms. Johnson: When we began our tenure at GSA we took our executives into a conference and we asked them all to describe the future. We had a lot of technology, so they could describe it on a big board, and we could all see it. The 150 executives produced 150 ideas about the future.
To wit, we realized that you cannot predict the future, but you can exercise your muscles and be ready to be flexible the minute you see it coming around the corner. So we became more aware of getting away from the long-range speculation and all the energy that goes into that and instead positioning ourselves and being flexible and very fluid and able to deal with change personally. That is really about all we have been able to do.
Mr. Barram: I think that's good, though. I think that is the right thing for us to focus on.
Mr. McNamee: Did all of them have GSA in the future?
Mr. Barram: I have no idea.
Ms. Johnson: Not the political people, which are very few, but I can't answer that.
Mr. Barram: I don't think most people at GSA imagine very much about their organization long distance, certainly in the next year or two or even five for some people.
Ms. Johnson: But one of the things that we have said for three and a half years now is that our goal is for GSA people to be flourishing. What that means is there is a test for that. That means that on a regular basis, say, weekly, they are called by headhunters and seriously recruited for other jobs because they are so good, and they never accept them.
Mr. Barram: It's a ridiculous dream but it's okay. It really does speak to what we would like to see be the case.
Ms. Johnson: This is the choice. This is the place. You want this stamp on your resume that GSA is a really enhancing experience.
Mr. Barram: Maybe I am the reason that causes it. We tend to use words that are a little bit soft at times like "thrilling" and "flourishing" because they get to the point quicker.
Some people say well that's not hard-headed enough. You need to be more hard-headed in managing. Well, when it comes to those decisions we can make those decisions.
But people really have to be your most important resource. Flourishing people need to be your most important resource.
Ms. Johnson: Not drags.
Mr. Barram: That is right. We could give cases of people who looked like they weren't flourishing too well and have moved into new opportunities because we pushed them or they wanted to or both and have begun to flourish. And the enterprise is even more powerful because you have someone who wasn't flourishing, but now flourishing so both parts of the organization are better off.
So I think we have a lot of stuff going there that is about the future, and it is about change. If you build your skill set and your organization skills and your own individual skill set so you can flourish and adapt to change, you don't have to guess what the future is going to be. You are going to be able to handle it.
Ms. Johnson: Our issue is not working on job security. Our issue and our goal are to work on employability so that everyone is positioned to be the best they can be and therefore have all kinds of opportunities.
Mr. McNamee: Well, what does management do to make it flourish? What specifically do you do to take these people who were drags and make them flourishing people now?
Ms. Johnson: We have tried a couple of interesting things. One was a little experiment called the "Change Masters" where we took a group of people who had sat in administrative jobs for a long time. It tended to kind of a pink-collar ghetto that old sort of trap.
We put them through a program that did not emphasize skills. It did not emphasize team building. Instead, it emphasized two things, creativity. We had them try out some sort of interesting little tutorials on creativity with some actors, and it emphasized the customer. We sent them off to meet customers and to come back.
In the course of seeing the customer and understanding a little bit more about their creative capacity, all the people in this program came back and knew what skills they wanted to go after so you have to kind of try different things.
Mr. Barram: You can't possibly teach me a skill I don't want to learn. So the idea of training, I don't want to be too subtle about this, but it is about learning, not training.
You can have training programs, but you better have people who want to learn or it is a waste of time. We try to do something pretty interesting, I think, and that is create these five-minute seminar givers.
I happen to be reasonably proficient on Excel and Word and other kinds of software. I like it, so I learned it. I wanted to be able to use it well, so I learned how to use it.
But if you are sitting in the office next to me and you have a problem with Excel, and you can't make a graph work a certain way, or you can't get that silly shading out of it, you can either walk over and ask me, "what all should I do here" or call me on the phone.
If you know I am a five-minute seminar giver on that, great. That is the best way for you to learn for a lot of people. We are going to try to have people self-certified to be these five-minute seminar givers. I would like to see 1,000 of them. It doesn't have to be on software. It can be on big leases. It can be on selling furniture to overseas posts, whatever.
The future is about knowledge and knowledge workers and know-how. That is where productivity is. It is technology, but it is also know-how and knowledge. If you don't find a way to amplify and celebrate the knowledge people have about their business you are not going to be successful or flourish as a business.
I don't believe people are if they are not able to use the knowledge that they have gained and then go get new knowledge because they realize how important knowledge is.
The one thing I learned in Silicon Valley is that a manager who is a manager is the manager is not the case. David Packard one time said, "I don't buy that," and so all of us, of course, who worshipped at his feet said, "Yes, sir, of course."
I thought about it for years and years. I think that to a great extent he is right. You can learn techniques of management but you also have to understand the business you are in. That goes for everyone, from management all the way down the organization.
If you know your part of the business that you are in you need fewer people as information conduits. You need fewer checkers. All that stuff works so knowledge of your business and knowledge of the customer are all really critical.
We are trying hard to amplify and talk about that idea.
Ms. Johnson: We recently appointed someone to be our Chief Knowledge Officer, Sherine Ramiz. The idea behind that is we need to understand this better. We need to give it a name, and we need to focus on it. She has some very interesting concepts that she is beginning to play with, but they have to do with the fact that you have a computer, you have all of this information flowing in, so what do you do with it? The whole knowledge layer on top of that, we can't be just so enamored with our toys and our technology that we don't take it to the next level.
Mr. Barram: She used to be our Chief Information Officer. I don't believe we could have somebody be the chief knowledge officer who wasn't at one time a CIO or knew so much about information technology that she can avoid getting hung up.
Ms. Johnson: Or swamped or overwhelmed.
Mr. Barram: Because a lot of people would think well, that means we need to have a system or some technology that will do all this for you. She knows enough about technology to know that that is a dumb approach. Yeah, you want it as a tool? All it is, is a tool.
Technology is a tool and has been for a long time and will be for a long time. We need to think about it that way.
Mr. McNamee: I've noticed in our talk about the future you haven't really mentioned technology, how the Internet might change what you are doing. Is that intentional or do you have the use of the Internet?
Mr. Barram: It has already happened.
Ms. Johnson: We only have one hour.
Mr. Barram: As Martha said, on Flag Day of 1996 we gave everybody at GSA access to the Internet. If you would ask anybody at GSA, I am sure they would tell you at least one thing or maybe fifty things that they have done or thought differently simply by having this tool.
If we wanted our people to be great and the organization to be great, we had to give them the best tool available for them in the last three years of the '90s, and we did.
Mr. Lawrence: And we are out of time. Thank you very much, David and Martha, for spending time with us tonight. We have enjoyed our conversation.
Ms. Johnson: Thank you.
Mr. Lawrence: This has been the Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I am Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government.
To learn more about the endowment programs and research and the new approaches to improving government effectiveness, please visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.