If you hire someone to do something for you, how do you control quality and outcomes? Do you outline the expectations, milestones, and deliverables explicitly? Do you track progress regularly? Are you careful to negotiate well but equitably?
If you're the vendor, would you rather the definition of success was in your hands or those of the people that hired you?
Say someone came up to you and said "I want you do this job, I'm not going to tell you how, I'm not even going to tell you what success looks like, you have to figure that out for yourself, but I will pay you a ton of money. Oh and by the way, I'm almost never going to check up on you." Would you be interested? Well - duh!! You get paid and you get to say what you have to do get paid, and they may not even check that you actually did the work - how sweet is that!
Does this happen often? Yep, and especially in governments and other ultra-large organizations. Two examples come to mind - first, the use of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan:
According to a recent Wartime Contracting Commission report, there are about (the exact number is not known) 240,000 contractors in these two theaters. The commission states that the greatest opportunities for improvement include focus on the "leadership, culture and accountability" of the agencies that do the hiring, the process for defining contractor requirements, performance and cost-effectiveness, and visibility into and accountability of subcontractors. This can't be good...
This NY Times article on a Pentagon-funded Afghani warlord is classic - the US military has anointed an illiterate highway police officer with more wealth (gets paid $2.5 million/month!!), and more power than any democratically elected or appointed official in the region! First, I'd put money on this guy and his army going against his current "benefactor" at some point very soon. Second, how does accountability work when your vendor has more power than the local government, and is protecting your employees (soldiers) and property?
Literally $ billions are spent on these contracts, an untold number of random people become wealthy and powerful, and yet there is almost zero oversight and hardly any expectation of actual performance. Let's not even think about what happens to these "made men" a few years hence (think: Taliban, Saddam Hussein, etc.).
The second example is the No Child Left Behind Act - while conceptually a good thing, it is hampered by the weird jurisdictional dance that the Feds have to play with the States and local governments on education. The concept was good - let's figure out a way to push schools to graduate every student, and also improve what is taught.
Using the only power they had (money), the Feds paid for outcomes, but left it to the States to define those outcomes, define their baseline, and define how to measure progress. The results speak for themselves - students got dumber, money got wasted, everyone was more frustrated.
When the measure of success is a specific test, and all the actors (school administrators, teachers, parents, students) know it; then with their short-term brains in full gear, they also know that passing that test (vs. actually teaching/learning anything) is all that matters, nothing else "counts," helps them get paid, and all else falls by the wayside.
Another classic example of wanting to do something, having the best intentions (as with the Pentagon above), but making an absolute mess of execution.
To their credit, though they haven't rescinded No Child Left Behind, the present Department of Education has implemented a new approach (Race to the Top), though again the performance measures are flawed. Measuring teachers based on student outcomes is a failed strategy, and will ultimately create poorer graduates - let's hope they fix this before it creates irreparable damage.
- Think before you act, and then think again. If your first (and only) thought is "I'm going to pay someone else to do this," you're going to fail. Before the "how" you've got to know "why" you're doing something, and then "what" you will do. The "why" helps you clarify the goal and the desired end-state. The "what" helps you map your approach to the goal, and test to make sure it does get you there; then you can worry about "how."
- Own the outcome. Just because you've hired a vendor to do the work doesn't mean you don't own it anymore. No matter what happens, you own the "why," the "what," and the choice of this particular "how" as it relates to the goals you need to achieve. The larger the organization the more likely the people who made the decision will be in different jobs when there is a reckoning - that doesn't absolve the organization of responsibility.
- Separate performance from measurement. This should be obvious but it isn't. If the people you're paying are also measuring the results and reporting them back, there is NO realistic expectation that you will ever get the truth. Consider the simple fact that they get paid if their results look good, and they get paid more if their results look better...
These are pretty universal, and any well-run business will operate this way. It seems though that the bigger you get, the dumber you get...