Retiring Is Not for the Faint of Heart

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

For those who have read my Blogrige posts in the past, I am glad to be back. I am enjoying my retirement, including the opportunity to continue supporting the Baldrige Program, retiringwhile my colleague, Bob Fangmeyer, has the privilege of leading and guiding the program. But this blog post is not about leading the Baldrige Program or retirement, it is about the process of retiring.

In hindsight, I wish retiring was a repeatable, “error-resistant” process. That is what I anticipated. But in reality, in government as elsewhere, it is a complex process, with multiple process hand-offs and many places for potential process failure. Let me give a few examples from my own experience. To start, I completed the necessary forms and then handed them in to a department that re-keys the information into an automated system. After re-keying, my address and salary were incorrect and an incorrect box was checked on the life insurance form. This caused some rework for the errors that were detected in the information I saw, but there were others that persisted. Some were detected  later in the process, requiring more time-consuming and expensive rework. Other errors? I don’t know yet. But I do know there were errors in other parts of the process, that had nothing to do with the forms.

In subsequent processes other errors occured. Let me give a few additional examples.  A check for the full value of my Thrift Savings Plan [401(k)], administered for the government by a major financial institution, was sent to an incorrect address for my new plan trustee. And yes, it was a check in the mail not an electronic funds transfer. Because of various regulations/policies the money was “lost’ for over a month. My retirement savings, gone!

I received my first net pension payment right on schedule and went to the payment website to see what the gross pay and deductions were, since this was an interim payment until my final pension is determined. The statement was already available on the web site for the next month, but there was none for the current month and the amounts did not agree. I sent a request for information and was informed it would take about thirty days for a reply. Let me quote from the eventual reply, “You may not be able to see this payment on line because this was an adjustment payment; however you should still be able to view it online.” Huh?

I use these examples (and there are quite a few more) because I know I am not unique, because I know my organization is not unique, and because the examples illustrate so many management system failures that great organizations using the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence avoid. Let me illustrate with just a few questions from the Criteria:

  • How do you enable customers to seek information and support? How do you manage customer complaints?
  • How do you…ensure the effective use of voice-of-the-customer and market data and information (including aggregated data on complaints) to build a more customer-focused culture and to support operational and strategic decision making?
  • How do you make needed data and information available…to your workforce, suppliers…and customers?
  • How do you design your…work processes to meet all key requirements? How does your day-to-day operation of work processes ensure that they meet key process requirements?

I will not go further with Baldrige Criteria questions seeking the results you achieve, trends over time, or how you compare to other organizations. You get the idea I am communicating.

In my mind, the considerations addressed in the questions above are obvious. Yet how many organizations and how many business processes do not address these basic questions? I am sure everyone has their own examples.

So please recommend the Baldrige Criteria to your stakeholders. And maybe next year will be the year for process leaning and improvement!

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9 Responses to Retiring Is Not for the Faint of Heart

  1. Jon says:

    Why be surprised when government is involved?

    • Harry “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon” says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jon. This was not intended to be a comment on government anymore than all large instituitons with embedded processes. As a matter of fact, as mentioned in the post, the most concerning issue came from the private sector manager of the government Thrift Savings Plan.

  2. Cheryl Janoski says:

    Harry, you’re scaring me. I retire from my own government agency at the end of next week… keeping my fingers crossed (hardly a systematic approach). I’m glad to see retirement hasn’t dulled your storytelling skills though!

  3. Craig Larson says:

    Harry,

    While government agencies often deserve bad reputations and many are struggling because of reduced funding, I want to share a positive example. Missouri’s Public School Retirement System is a wonderfully run and administered system. It works to maintain the reserves needed to be actuarially sound (hard in the last recession), and it supports thousands of retirees with a pension and with wonderful, personal service.

    Good luck as you adjust to retirement and thanks for your years of service to the Balrige Excellence process.

    Craig Larson
    Examiner

    • Harry “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon” says:

      Thanks Craig for your good wishes and comment. Just to re-emphasize, my blog post reflected issues that most large organizations face. There is also a lot of good work happening in government, including in the agency that I worked in for 40 years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

      Harry

  4. Bruce Finne says:

    Harry I retired about ten years ago from the State of Illinois that is now trying to reduce or eliminate or cost of living. Other than that retirement is fine. I still follow Baldrige through the Illinois quality organization and when up in Wisconsin with Brian in the Minnesota quality group. I think this is my fifteenth year of listening to Mark’s lecture. Always instructive. I did notice on the day of retirement is when I fixed in my mind the value of a dollar. So I’m always shocked now at how much stuff costs. Also and I guess this is a sign of getting older, but I know the identity of more dead celebrities than live ones. Welcome to the pool and keep those columns coming. Bruce

  5. Chris Mitchell says:

    Harry,
    I enjoyed reading your article. As a new “green” quality professional within a state agency/former professional in the legal industry, it was helpful to read a quality article that included “real life facts.” Most of the reading that I completed in my former career included facts that were applied to a particular rule of law or case law. Can you pick one area of the criteria (rule of law) and apply it to your facts to illustrate how the organization could have done better? Thanks for considering. The application of your knowledge would go along way in helping with my learning curve.

    Chris

    • Harry “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon” says:

      Chris,
      Thanks for your question. At the end of my post I listed several Criteria questions that would help address the issues I raised. If I had to select one item in the Criteria as an example of how one would be caused to proactively deal with the issues, I would suggest 6.1 that deals with Work Processes. It looks at how an organization designs, manages, and improves its key products and work processes. That item includes the question I highlighted in the blog post:
      ■How do you design your…work processes to meet all key requirements? How does your day-to-day operation of work processes ensure that they meet key process requirements?

      Harry

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