TVA – organization-wise or organization heavy?

TVA – organization-wise or organization heavy?
January 17, 2011

What does an organization like TVA do when the answers keep coming up wrong? TVA was thoroughly chastised (but not punished) for trying to steer an independent contractor away from TVA culpability in the Kingston ash dam disaster. Will there ever be accountability for that one?

And as TVA CEO Tom Kilgore has stated, one of the reasons for the largest organizational overhauls in TVA history was to help prevent that kind of thing from happening again. Well, the millions of dollars spent on that fix haven’t panned out too well so far.

A special outside group has been hired to fix it, something TVA has been unable to do for many decades. Now it looks like some other millions have been wasted on finding the “root cause” of anything at TVA. If perception is reality, then everyone knows that the problem with TVA is its culture of wagon circling, working within silos of silent groups of people.

So the efforts of outside consultants, still not understanding the core problems in TVA, have devised some statistical methods to measure the “health” of the TVA organization. Two surveys of about 2/3rds of TVA employees, one last October and the other two months later in December 2010, have been completed. The next one is slated for February of this year with the remaining third of employees also to be given a longer, more comprehensive survey.

Stop right here. Their method already is flawed because the results of the first two surveys have been released and available to the remaining group. To keep any measure of comparability the surveys must be the same but the big mistake was not performing just one survey for everyone at the same time. Otherwise, the results will and most certainly have been statistically skewed.

Their methodology seem to have come directly from the small tome, “How to Lie with Statistics” by Darrell Huff although I’ll hold judgment on that until I can see their statistical plan.

Clearly, the consultants are not happy with their results to now and are expanding their survey. But that does not stop TVA management from heaping praise on their numbers. From a TVA report to employees, “This is great news, since it means we are trending in the right direction,” says Steve McMillen, vice president of TVA’s Talent Management group.

Having a positive attitude is one thing; how can McMillen claim good results if half of the TVA organization (“perceptions of organizational improvement increased to 48 percent”) is a good thing?

Score so far in my opinion; silos destroyed – none; fourth percentile of the metric of the health of the TVA organization – how do you measure disbelief of most TVA employees? TVA people cannot be quantified, these are 12,000 living, breathing and working human beings trying to do their best in understanding TVA’s bi-rule methods, that is, what the “book” says and what the undercurrent management says.

This cannot be a healthy, normal work environment and there can only be one way to rectify the longstanding mess the TVA has developed. “Throw the baby out with the bathwater”, a plaint I heard in Washington whenever there was talk of federal reorganizations or even the most horrifying words ever heard by federal employees, “RIF”, reduction in force.

Now I know there are many highly skilled workers at TVA, very good at what they do. When management changes, there will be every opportunity for every present TVA employee to remain or be transferred to other needed positions. Some will lose out in the wake of a cutback in staff caused by the present and probably long term recession we’re now in, necessary cost cutting actions that present management seems reluctant to take.

Ours is becoming a skills based economy and as the old saying goes, “the more you know, the more you’re worth”. Those with low expectations out of life surely will receive their wish. Others motivated to do better for themselves and their families will prosper through hard times like many Americans before us have done and for longer periods.

And we must never forget that America is based on an entrepreneurial and free-market economy not one with an ever expanding government base of which TVA is a small part.

There is hope for us all in this new and challenging year ahead, a chance to exceed our own high expectations with belief in the principles on which the world’s greatest country was founded; with opportunities as wide as our minds can conceive yet before us.

May God bless us all.

Ernest Norsworthy

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