It's a yes man's world

The rise of the 'yes man', seen in recent defence force debacles, has also contributed to the current problems facing the economy.

We have all seen it. The executive who challenges the leaders does not get the promotion but rather it is a 'yes man' (see footnote), with good theoretical qualifications who is promoted.

The views of the leadership group are therefore never challenged, especially as the non-promoted executive often leaves.

I believe that the promotion of 'yes men' is an important reason why Australia has got itself into such an avoidable mess (Ten Ways to Crash the Economy, September 10).

All of those decisions were taken by leadership groups who did not look around them and challenge what had been put on the table.

In many ways Australia has become a victim of the so called Dunning-Kruger Effect, which says that people will tend to overestimate their own level of skill and fail to recognise genuine skill in others.

In Australia, a series of inquires about defence blunders has given us textbook cases of what happens when you appoint 'yes men'. But the problem is much wider. Strangely, none of the inquiries that document the defence blunders have isolated the promotion of 'yes men' as the main underlying cause of the mistakes.

In the case of the defence department, their biggest blunder is undoubtedly the Joint Strike Fighter, which is not a competitive aircraft with those that will be used by Indonesia, China and India. But no one will challenge the defence leadership view that all is well. Only one Defence Minister from either side of Parliament (John Faulkner) has been prepared to challenge the 'yes men'. He was removed.

Yet what is happening with the JSF is simply a re-run of a succession of blunders caused by the same decision making process.

For example the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee reporting on Procurement Procedures for Defence Capital Projects highlighted the defence decision to acquire Super Seasprite helicopters for the Navy's ANZAC ships which was approved in 1996.

But, having failed to deliver the required capability, the project was eventually cancelled in March 2008 with a total expenditure of $1.4 billion.

Not only did Defence lose $1.4 billion but Australia's naval aviation capability especially in the area of anti-submarine warfare also suffered, the committee concluded.

The Senate committee says that the Super Seasprite project stands out as an example of where Defence, through the requirement definition process, did not fully comprehend the risks associated with the acquisition and under estimated the costs and the difficulties attracting and retaining appropriately qualified personnel.

"This failed project provides a raft of lessons for any future project. It especially drives home the need not only for the adequate resourcing of early activities but to ensure that the advice from subject matter experts is communicated to key decision-makers, who are able to comprehend and heed such advice and take decisive action – that is take responsibility”, the committee says.

In other words, don’t allow decisions to be made by 'Yes men'.

That’s exactly what is happening with the JSF. Seasprite lessons not learned.

Footnote: I have used "Yes Men” rather than "Yes People” for two reasons. First I think this is one if those cases where the male gender term covers both sexes but more importantly the people who are making these mistakes are actually men. I think women executives often bring in wider views.

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