As analogies go, something called the Leadership Academy, offered to state employees by the Division of Administration (DOA), could best be described as Nero fiddling while Rome burns.
Did we say offered? Of course, we meant to say mandated, as in employees had no choice but to attend. And what they got was reminiscent of motivational courses offered a few years back to employees of the late Office of Risk Management. In those ORM classes, motivational speaker Ron Jackson of Baton Rouge offered employees the opportunity to build structures out of plastic drinking straws as some kind of motivational exercise.
And for his trouble, Jackson was awarded a $49,000 contract by ORM. In another of Jackson’s sessions, employees were asked to draw an energy-efficient automobile.
It is not known if Toyota, Kia, Nissan, GM, Ford or any other carmaker has moved to incorporate any of the revolutionary automotive designs that came out of that little exercise. And to our knowledge, no architectural firms have inquired about plastic straw building designs.
Jackson did hold one-on-one sessions with ORM employees to receive “confidential” thoughts, suggestions and complaints but few employees placed their full trust in the word “confidential,” and thus did not participate.
One reason for that lack of trust was the name of one of board members of his company, LEAD Training Resources Group. Before the contact information was removed, the LEAD website contained the name of a board member who, coincidentally, just happened to be an employee of DOA. And as if that were not enough, her contact information contained her state email address.
So now DOA is following that example by offering its Leadership Academy, complete with handouts of a book entitled Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.
The list price of the book is $24.95 but it’s likely that DOA got a steep volume discount. Total cost for all copies of the book was only $448.80, which computes to only about 18 copies at full price and considerably more copies than that were passed out.
Another $565.45 was spent by DOA on the reproduction of handouts and binders, bringing the total cost of leadership to $1,014.25 for the undetermined number of DOA employees assigned to attend the academy. Of course, the time spent by employees away from their duties to attend the lectures was not computed into the equation so that cost is undetermined.
And while no one was asked to construct a building of plastic straws or to design an energy-efficient car, attendees were given a list of six pairs of choices, or preferences, printed on a sheet of paper. That list is as follows:
• Beach or Mountains;
• Hamburger or Hot dog;
• Hotel or Camping;
• Fiction or Non-fiction;
• Pie or Cake, and
• Movie Theater or DVD.
Participants were asked to circle one preference on each line and then to visit other employees in attendance to compare lists to see who came closest to their choice of preferences—to what end we’re not entirely sure. Perhaps it was a test of compatibility for some new type of dating service.
The academy consists of five sessions. The first was held on Feb. 13 and the final session for the last group of employees is scheduled for next Wednesday (March 6), according to the itinerary provided employees.
We’re also not certain what happened last Wednesday but following that session, Vincent Miholic, Ph.D., training and development program manager for DOA, sent a somewhat curious email in which he apologized to attendees.
“My apologies, again, for miscalculating and running out of time,” he wrote. “Was really looking for a robust discussion, rather than the failed timing. Thought I could ‘power’ through it…very dangerous, drag-racing without enough pavement. Hope you’ll let me chalk this one up to success as ultimately a product of failure.”
“…chalk this one up to success as ultimately a product of failure”?
Can someone please tell us what that means?
The handbook contained a letter to attendees from DOA Chief Staff Steven Procopio, Ph.D. ($122,000 a year).
“On behalf of the Office of the Commissioner, (Commissioner Kristy Nichols ($162,700), thank you for your attendance in this valuable professional development activity,” Procopio wrote. “Your participation is an investment in professional growth and evidence of a strong commitment to the mission of the Division.”
Excuse us, Dr. Procopio, just how is required attendance indicative of a “strong commitment” to anything?
And as for the “mission” of the division, that’s a little difficult to quantify considering the mission of the governor’s office seems to be a little vague these days. It’s virtually impossible to discern any mission when Gonenor Jindal never seems to be around to look in on little things like an ever-expanding sinkhole in Assumption Parish that just happens to be leaking toxic gases.
It’s hard to define a mission when efforts to overhaul retirement and schemes to pay for school vouchers are shot down either by the Legislature or the courts.
Where’s the mission when an agency like the Department of Health and Hospitals, which has more than $650 million in assets and more than $7 billion in annual revenue is allowed to decimate its audit section in favor of a single contract auditor (who subsequently walked away from that contract) only to see an employee misappropriate some $800,000 in state funds before being caught?
Sorry, but having sat through a few of them ourselves, we really do not see the value of these touchy-feely sessions that may be intended to spread a warm fuzzy message throughout an agency but which accomplish little more than provoke derisive ridicule from the very ones the sessions are intended to benefit.
Where’s the mission in a campaign hell-bent on gutting higher education, handing out lucrative contracts to political supporters as public education is offered up as a sacrifice to the god of charters and vouchers and systematically dismantling the state’s public health programs?
From our perspective, this “Leadership Academy” is nothing more than meaningless lip service and an empty gesture designed solely to convince employees that someone up the food chain actually cares about them.
Sadly, the reality is nothing could be further from the truth.