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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Organization Theorists on the War Czar (long post)

The War Czar: An Organizational Perspective

This represents views of half a dozen organization theorists on the recent appointment of General Lute in response to this query.
[Recently] the White House announced the appointment of a War Czar. Lt-General Lute is to serve in this important integrating role. He will report directly to the President, but he will be ranked as a Deputy National Security Advisor.
Imagine you are a member of the President's Board of Organizational and Leadership Advisors (a body that does not yet exist, but let us imagine that it does). The President has belatedly (that is after making the decision) called on you for your advice as to whether this makes sense organizationally.
Please consider the pro's and con's of the appointment and its position and give your advice as to whether this is sensible or whether alternative arrangements should have been made.
Please reply to me on or off list and I will post the results of this inquiry later.

The responses can useful be categorized using Bolman and Deal's categories of structure, human resources/interpersonal, political, and symbolic.
Respondents are numbered in the order of receipt.

  • Structural
    • Respondent #2:
      I am not sure I have enough information about the position to provide a clear response. On the face of it, War Czar makes no sense to me whatsoever. The president is CINC, period. His senior military advisors are the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he's the decider and he cannot give away that final responsibility with abdication. His National Security Advisor function is broader than just military and is good input to him, but War Czar? The SECDEF is the 'War Czar' if there is such a thing. It did used to be a War Department at one time. So, I am quite unclear what this War Czar is going to integrate. The system with a non-line set of military advisors in the Joint Chiefs, a line responsibility through the SECDEF to the War Lords (4-star combat commanders), and a staff function in the White House itself of National Security Advisor seems appropriately dispursed and balanced.

    • Respondent #4:
      First, let me say that I view an organizational structure as a command and control network, which filters information on the way up the structure and expands information on the way down the structure. I like the horizontal organization structure, but realize that there are limits on the number of relationships a person can manage. Effectively, we are pre-wired to manage approximately 150-200 relationships (span of control) (R.I.M Dunbar, "Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates," Journal of Human Evolution(1992), vol. 20, pp. 469-493).

      Now for my analysis of your question:

      From an organizational viewpoint, I see a minimum of 21 standard direct reports (information streams - the cabinet & cabinet ranking members) to the U.S. president. This does not count the NSA, the leader of the intelligence Org, who does a daily briefing, or other special study groups. Therefore, we can conclude that there are 21+ channels of organizational filtered information flowing to the president (the decision maker). The span of control is higher than a typical business, but should be reasonable given the number of relationships that a human can handle. Therefore, adding another direct report should NOT be an issue.

      This organizational structure (chain of command) establishes priorities on the information flowing through each channel. In other words, some of the information, which may be important in understanding the overall picture, is filtered as it moves up through the organization. To resolve the filtering issue, organizations have historically established alternative paths of communication to the key decision makers for highly important areas of concern. This is accomplished by creating task forces, special studies groups, etc. Therefore, I conclude that if you want to limit organizational filtering of information, then an alternative channel of communication must be established, which bypasses the standard organizational structure. Therefore, if the objective is to reduce/limit the filtering of information on the war(s), then an appointment of a “War Czar” (Most likely a media label) or a Deputy National Security Advisor is an appropriate action to take.

    • Respondent #5 (repeated under Human Resources):
      I'm generally disinclined to recommend solving a problem by adding an "overlay" role or organization (e.g., DNI, DHS, NCTC, and now the czar) to provide coordination of units that are not working well together. Better, in my view, to work on the relation (especially the interdependence) of the constituent organizations.

    • Respondent #6 (aka Martin Evans)
      I am ambivalent about the appointment of a war czar.

      On the one hand, it is an indicator that the Bush administration must be finally getting serious about negotiations. When the sole branch of our strategy in Iraq was a military one, the need for integration between the Pentagon and the State department was minimal. The appointment of a coordinator means that the need for integration between the two departments has increased. This means that the administration is about to engage in diplomacy as well as military action. This is a very good thing.

      However, as an organization theorist, I do not think that the appointment of a single individual to the role is sufficient. The problems and activities to be coordinated are enormously complex, so the coordinating mechanism also needs to be complex. What is needed is a War Cabinet made up of senior officials from Defense and State which meets on an ongoing basis to set policy and monitor its implementation. Then we would have a chance of coordinating happening in a timely fashion.

      A single individual, especially one with dual reporting relations (to the President and the National Security Advisor) isn't going to be able to get his hands on the necessary levers of power.

  • Human Resource/Interpersonal
    • Respondent #1
      My reaction in that situation would depend on the President's participation practices - his batting average in selecting the most appropriate level of authority for participants - and the extent to which he has established trust with his reports. Tannenbaum and Schmidt popularized a range of participation levels depending on several factors. (The situation you describe is within this range) Victor Vroom and his team refined that range with specific suggestions. However, neither considered the characteristics of the people called on to participate in a decision (see Norman Maier and Blake and Mouton).

      So, to give you firmly specific, unambiguous, response - it all depends. (Don't ask for my opinion on the existing situation).

    • Respondent #5 (repeated under Structure):
      I'm generally disinclined to recommend solving a problem by adding an "overlay" role or organization (e.g., DNI, DHS, NCTC, and now the czar) to provide coordination of units that are not working well together. Better, in my view, to work on the relation (especially the interdependence) of the constituent organizations.

  • Political
    • Respondent #6 (aka Martin Evans)
      The appointment gives political cover to the President as it now appears that he is doing something new and different.

  • Symbolic
    • Respondent#3:
      First, the appointment title War Czar I feel should be changed or removed as
      it leads to confusion for example he is ranked as Deputy National Security
      Advisor, why is the appointment not made under that title?
      The War Czar from a layman's perspective sounds very aggressive and Russian
      so not very American.The focus should be on resolving global issues diplomatically and hence the title War Czar gives the impression of planning wars in advance. War is the last tool available in any crisis and only to be used as a means of defence. The cost of War as our great nations and people know is paid in highest by our service people who lay down their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. The service people's friends and
      families pay the rest of their lives by not having loved ones return.
      How about a new title of Deputy National Security Advisor on Global Peace initiatives. It is argued without understanding both the global issues and the fears for national security by a home nation the advisor cannot really advise. The latter comment then requires both a military mind and that of a economist mind. Does Lt-General Lute have both or at least a team of economic or business minded people to help serve both his role and ultimately that of the President.

      To conclude then the President would be ill advised using this title and no one who cared for him and the people of America and the world would recommend this. Personally I would push for the suggested title even if it cost me my job, which at present I do not have as I'm a mere student be it a middle aged one catching up.

There it is: some of us dislike the symbolism of the title, some think it structurally appropriate, others do not, yet others think "it all depends."

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