Bob Stone
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Lessons in Changing America's Military and Govenment

Foreword by Tom Peters

“Some people look for things that went wrong and try to fix them. I look for things that went right and try to build on them.”—Bob Stone/ Mr. ReGo/ Energizer-in-Chief.

* * * *
THE PARTIAL REGO* (*Re-inventing Government) HEROES’ HONOR ROLL:  Lynn Gordon. U.S. Customs/Miami.    Joan Hyatt. OSHA/ Colorado.     Bill Freeman. OSHA/ Maine.     Joe Dear. OSHA HQ.    Marie Urban. FDA HQ.     Ed Esparza. FDA.     Sue Bruederle. FDA/ Chicago.     Bob Wenzel. IRS/ Fresno.    Hugh Doran. VA/ Kansas City.     Joe Thompson. VA/ New York City.     Jerry Bolden. Ag/ Gulfport, Mississippi.    Mike Loh. USAF.  (Remember these names … damn it.)
* * * *

Bob Stone re-invented the Department of Defense. Not content, he then re-invented the entire Federal Government. 

Well, actually, that’s bull. The job’s not done.

But the progress—mostly unsung—has been stupendous.

(Yes, damn it, s-t-u-p-e-n-d-o-u-s.)

Bob’s business cards read … Energizer-in-Chief. Which is to say that Bob didn’t re-invent government. But Lynn Gordon & Bill Freeman & Bob Wenzel et al. did. (See above. See within. Their stories are the story.)

This is, simply, the best text ever on “making it in government.” That is, getting BIG Things Done That Matter. This may also be the BTE/best text ever on large-scale organization change. Anywhere.

Here’s the deal …

Bob Stone was a nerdy engineer.  With a proclivity for solving thorny problems.  And, as we old Navy types put it … Damn the Torpedoes (i.e.. recalcitrant bosses who failed to see the light/his light) in the process.

He fixed things. He was blunt. (Most engineers are.) He was constantly in trouble. “Didn’t suffer fools lightly” comes to mind.

But Bob’s raw skill and sheer chutzpah finally landed him a job as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations. (“Bases” to civilians.)

Bob was appalled at what he found. He’s genetically averse to “good enough for government work”—and believes/believed that Great Bases are the cornerstone of motivated troops and defense readiness. In short, a million bits of petty B.S., ordered from on high, shouted distrust of civilians in government service—and impaired rapid, efficient common-sense practices at every turn. Readiness & troop morale were the victims of this complex, unintentional, anti-excellence conspiracy.

The Stone Way was resisted—mightily—at  headquarters. (The Pentagon.) But Bob found real people who cared—mightily—in the field where the soldiers and sailors and airman and marines live and work.

Bob met Bill Creech, one of my all-time “corporate” heroes. General Bill, in astonishingly short order, had turned around (turned upside down!) the massive Tactical Air Command of the U.S.A.F. (Now the Air Combat Command.) Creech empowered the front line, cut the crap, re-installed pride in work sapped during the wretched, hyper-centralized McNamara years … and arguably created the most battleready force in U.S. military history. (Witness TAC’s performance in the Gulf War.)

Gen’l Bill reinforced Bob Stone’s belief that “it” “could be done” “fast.” Despite Washington’s micro-management.

To make a long story short (read the book), Bob recruited Bill (or vice versa, it doesn’t matter) … and the field-led, Bob Stone-energized campaign for more troop-friendly, high-performance bases was on with a vengeance.

Bill Creech was the model. And “model” is a (the?!) key word in this astounding saga. Bob is an avowed enemy of command & control, “gotcha” management. And a maestro of “show ‘em an example of someone ‘real’ who’s doing it right”—in spite of the same B.S. that everyone else faces. (Bob gives me some credit for this, but he ought to cite Ken Blanchard, for whom “catching someone doing something right” is Axiom #1 of effective change and leadership.) At Defense Bob’s showcase/s (literally) was the Model Installations Program. And Creech provided the first certified exemplar—a long way from HQ—another Stone-Creech principal tenet. (Message: Good weird things rarely happen in the shadow of headquarters.)

Model Installations pissed off the Pentagon, whose Ultimate Authority Over Positively Every Small Thing it challenged—and was enthusiastically embraced by caring commanders, obsessed by readiness, in the field. And the world of Defense wobbled a bit on its axis.

As the years (Reagan Years) passed, Bob irritated most everyone in his hierarchy—which proved to be the right launching pad for the Main Game reported in these pages.

I remember well sitting at my desk on my farm in Vermont late one evening in 1993. The fax clattered … and out spooled a brief handwritten note on the stationary of the Vice President of the United States of America. “Guess who’s been picked to re-invent government?” it read. Signed … Bob Stone.

Exaggeration? No, it turns out.  VP Al Gore made an early decision, supported by his boss, to make the dull (or so it appeared at the time) task of “reforming government” into a moral crusade of the first order. And he chose an apparently unassuming-but-uncivil servant to do the job. (Message: In the repetitious past, a “famous” businessman was typically chosen to do “it”—and the “reform” “product” was an inflammatory report informing us that all two million government “bureaucrats” were jerks. This time Gore wisely chose an insider who fervently believed the gov’t was loaded with “radicals” who ached to break the insipid rules, make big waves and do a great job of serving their customers—soldiers and sailors and U.S. taxpayers.)

Through one of those “networking things” Mr. Gore encountered Mr. Stone. (Stone admits that “learning” networking didn’t come easily for a reluctant, just-the-facts engineer … but master the art he did. And he commands all would-be change impresarios to do the same. TP1: Right on, Bro Stone. TP2: Networking = Suck up, build and mind your Rolodex = Absolute Essential for those who want to Make a Difference in large systems.)

Bob got his Moment-in-the-Big Office. He was the consummate “briefer” by now. Not the typical engineer-bureaucrat-consultant’s slide-after-slide awash in 8-point-type numbers. But Story after Story after Story of Hero after Hero after Hero … illustrated with physical props that graphically revealed the silliness of life-in-gov’t for those determined, against all odds, to make things better for their “Customers” (whoops … the “dirty” C-word … see below.)

Bob got the job!  The Dream Job. Only one thing left … make it happen. Fast.

He was painfully aware of the dusty fate of most “Commission Reports” on “good government.” The war against excess paperwork usually resulted in … more unread paper.

So Bob and his Merry Band of Battle-scarred Reprobates from all across government took a diametrically opposite approach, reminiscent on a large scale of his DOD effort. And that approach is the cornerstone of this magisterial book. Stone & Co. chose not to pontificate and analyze. He/they chose not to hire a battalion of consultants. (Beltway Bandits, as they’re all too appropriately called.) He and his instead sought Heroes. Within. He sought out what Nancy Austin and I, in A Passion for Excellence, called “pockets of excellence.” Those daring souls who had already chosen, against the odds and at risk of job (yes, even the civil service), to follow the True Path of Public Service … and Make a Damn Difference by Providing Excellence Directly to Their Customers.

Thus the unearthing—and boisterous celebration—of those whose names led off this Foreword. Lynn Gordon, Bill Freeman et (many, many) al.

Some important Executive Orders were written along the way, but it turns out mostly that we didn’t need to re-invent government.  We needed instead to recognize the heroes within—and do anything and everything to make their way the new way.  Which often meant just getting out of their way.*  Celebrating their successes with megaphones in hand. Urging others to walk-trot-sprint down this same path to excellence … bullet wounds for pioneers not withstanding.

*Peter Drucker: “Ninety percent of what we call ‘management’ consists of making it difficult to get things done.”(And PD was talking private sector!)

Management & Change are my bailiwicks. Such work has traditionally been tuned into The Plan … The Processes … The Edicts from On Holy High.  Bob Stone turns that conventional wisdom on its head. And I say … Hooray! Long overdue! (Private and public sector.)

PowerPoint slides are the staple of my 100 seminars per year. I tried to capture Bob’s Grand New Change Message on just one slide. I ignored his “rule of three” (sorry, Bob) … and offer my 12 Lessons in Stone instead. To wit:

  1. Demos & Models.  “Model Installations.” (DOD.)  “ReGo Labs.” (Re-inventing Government Laboratories.) In any event the idea is that we learn  … By Example. Period. “Go there.” “Look.” “Do your own version, but understand that we have some Concrete Exemplars of the New Way … performed by people like yourself.”
  2. Heroes. An obvious extension of the above. Consider the folks the President puts in the House Gallery during the State of the Union address. These heroes are the living embodiment of folks “just like us” who have made a damn difference—relative to topics central to POTUS’s strategic agenda.
  3. Stories & Storytellers. Several prominent students of leadership, notably Harvard’s Howard Gardner, have argued that stories are the leader’s … most potent tool. I’d add … AMEN. Such stories take on added potency when there are—a la Bob Stone—leave-behind props that illustrate graphically the Main Point. Addendum: There were … and are … Great Storytellers. Effective leaders need a Garrison Keillor gene, perhaps. (Or they can learn it—again, see Formerly Nerdy Stone.)
  4. Chroniclers. We need the Hard Evidence. Bob S. did a masterful job of spreading The Stories … via world-class Videography, Pamphlets, etc. If it’s not solidly chronicled … then it never was!
  5. Cheerleaders & Recognition. As always, Positive Reinforcement remains the most powerful “device” known to man. Bob S. was a badges & buttons & baubles fanatic … in a world where praise is sparing. (Understatement.) (Hey, Mary Kay had nothing on the ReGo troops when it came to r-e-c-o-g-n-i-t-i-o-n.)
  6. New Language. Winston Churchill famously said, “We shape our buildings and then they shape us.” So, too, words. Bob Stone’s insistence on using the word “customer” was mocked by some—but made an enormous difference over the course of time. In general, he changed the vocabulary of public service from “procedure first” to “service first.” From “HQ boss first” to “field service provider first.” From “distrust” to “trust” (of the service-delivery team). From “adversary” aiming to “score” at the customer’s expense to “partner” aiming to “get the right things done.” And so on. A Very Big Deal!
  7. Seekers. Finding the New Heroes is not necessarily a walk in the park—they’ve been working to stay beneath the radar scope for years; hence, a/the primary mission of ReGo staffers is to ferret them out.
  8. Protectors. Some of Bob’s New Heroes didn’t want the publicity—they were already at odds with their bureaucracies. Hence, staffers must protect those they discover. (Face time with VP Gore kept a few of Stone’s Heroes from losing their jobs—hard to fire someone who just pocketed an Award of Valor, in front of the press, from the Vice President of the United States!)   
  9. Support Groups. Pioneers need pals—like-minded souls to commiserate with and learn from (new tricks for beating the system and avoiding capture). ReGo events and networking practices helped here. Lots.
  10. End runs/Pull Strategy. This is less a ReGo strategy than a corporate strategy I’ve observed among change masters. Forget changing recalcitrant insiders; hook up with oddball customers and vendors who end up pulling the enterprise, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the future. In as way, of course, this was the Whole Deal for Stone & Co.
  11. Field/ “Real People” Focus. At DOD, Stone started revolution—among concerned Base Commanders … a long way from home. “Headquarters revolution” is by and large an oxymoron!
  12. Speed. Move fast, Stone counsels … before the forces of evil have a chance to kill you by memo and endless reviews. Former Air Force Colonel John Boyd said whoever has the fastest O.O.D.A Loops wins (O.O.D.A. Loop= Observe-Orient-Decide-Act Cycle). Confuse and confound the enemy by your speed per se: He’s busy scheduling the review … as you finish the job.

The above, I believe captures the outlines of a most remarkable transformation executed by Bob Stone and a small and remarkable band of True Patriots—aiming to allow those closest to the scene to serve their customers with vigor, imagination and efficiency. As I said at the outset, the job is not done … by a long shot. But perhaps the process is close to irreversible. Public Servants who care have been exposed to a Taste of Excellence & Empowerment. They are not likely to soon lose their appetites.

Bob et al. found the best of the best and paraded them before the Veep, their compatriots, and as often as possible the citizenry. These new exemplars offered heart and hope to others. While not all public servants have the pioneering spirit, Bob Stone and I believe that the great majority would rather do a good job than a bad job. A well-intentioned system of government checks and balances run amok has often kept them from doing so. “By the book” has become synonymous with delay and obfuscation … and downright disregard/contempt for the “customer” (soldier, sailor, taxpayer).

Bob Stone has a lovely array of commendations in his quiver. But each one is matched—times ten—by barbs and arrows shot at him. Yet he has persevered. He believes in the basic tenets of Public Service. And he has made an enormous contribution. By taking the time to share his extraordinary experiences with readers in the private as well as public sector, he has done us all one more great service.

Thanks, Bob!

Tom Peters/19 May 2002/West Tisbury MA

Copyright 2008 by Bob Stone. All rights reserved.