Confusion has its cost

My wife and I were listening to a favorite CD on a day trip by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young called “So far.” It is the first album recorded after Neil Young joined the band. One of the songs is called “Helplessly Hoping.”

The song title is an excellent metaphor for what many feel about the tenure of the US president. A key line of the song echoes a concern that I have – “Confusion has its cost.”

Going into this administration, I expected a heavy dose of untruthfulness, bullying and name calling from the president. I expected concerns over policy decisions he might make, pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, being an example. Sadly, I have not been surprised on these fronts.

What has surprised me is the level of chaos and incompetence present in the White House. And, I am not alone in this assessment. Conservative pundit David Brooks uses the term “equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Together, they cause confusion.

There is confusion around inconsistent messaging, unstable decision-making, overshadowing or derailing emissaries, being swayed by biased or misinformed sources, and a disdain for study or receptivity to input counter the president’s set notions.

This confusion has a cost. Other leaders have lamented they do not know who speaks for America. Republican leaders feel the same, but can only grumble under their breath. Perhaps, the best metaphor for the Trump presidency is his communication people hiding in the bushes to discuss what to say about Jim Comey being fired. Not only did the regal-minded Trump not tell Comey he was fired, he failed to tell his communication staff.

Ron Christie, a former Bush communication official noted that well run White Houses have monthly, weekly and daily talking points. I think one reason the daily press briefings went away, is the lack of such.

Confusion has its cost. Our reputation, our word, our commitment, our governance require clarity. Another measuring rod is White House turnover, which is much higher than previous administrations.

America’s Top 40 – 40% turnover that is

Every Sunday for many years, Casey Kasem would play America’s Top 40 pop songs. Earlier this week, NPR reported another, but ignominious top 40. The current White House has experienced an unheard of turnover rate of 40%. In other words, four out of ten staffers who were on the payroll a year ago have departed.

To add some seasoning to this, two of the most difficult jobs to keep people are customer service representatives and bank tellers, which often see turnover rates at or above 40%. So, to see similar turnover is alarming. But, how does this rank to other White Houses?

Earlier this year, an article appeared in the Brookings Institute webpages called “Why is Trump’s staff turnover higher than the five most recent Presidents?” by Kathryn Dunn Tenpans. She focused on A team turnover, but the turnover problem is pervasive. Per the article, “President Trump’s A team turnover is record setting – double the previous leader, Reagan, and more than triple his immediate predecessor, Obama.”

Why is this important? There is a huge loss of productivity in those that leave as  well as those who replace them, as they get up to speed. Plus, there is downtime for the managers as they backfill and take time to interview, hire and coach. In some of my previous work in HR for a large bank, i used average productivity ratios and turnover by group to estimate the cost of turnover at roughly 1 1/2 times the compensation expense of the departed people.

Per the Brookings article, “while some turnover is expected and possibly beneficial, excessive turnover portends a problem.” This data is relevant with more than a few stories about the low morale in the White House. Several sources have cited feuding factions and jealousies as well as a leader who perpetuates and accentuates a highly toxic environment.

When people are not productive in jobs of import, it is harmful to their efforts. It is also harmful to our country. The President has been covered extensively over the years by financial reporters and biographers. His sales skills are envied, but the same cannot be said for his management skills. Trump has said on more than one occasion that he likes to pit  people against each other and does not mind the chaos. Well, that is an absolutely horrible management approach. And, the inconsistent messaging from the White House reveals as much, as well as its turnover.