Monday, April 02, 2007

An Interview with Gene Barton, PhD, Paradigm Systems

Gene Barton graduated in 1972 from the US Military Academy at West Point . He received his Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Fairleigh Dickenson, and his Ph.D. in Computer Architecture from the University of Texas. He served with the U.S. Army for 22 years before retiring as a Colonel and forming Paradigm Systems, Inc.

Gene has over 30 years of experience in the analysis and design of computer architectures and the development of associated applications. He has been a pioneer in the development of innovative software applications in a variety of fields, including unique products to support leadership development, e.g. SBPT™ 360-degree profile, and PulseCheck™ survey. (see

He is an expert in computer systems, project management, processes analysis, and control systems, with knowledge encompassing all aspects. He has built systems literally from the transistor through the operating system level. His ability to understand and solve problems has breadth as well as depth. Gene is frequently called upon to assess and design systems. His analyses and predictions are accurate, provably correct and understandable to management.

Recently I asked Gene if he would be willing to be interviewed for the Allied Ronin News letter. He agreed.

AR: Gene, you had a long career as an Army officer. Looking back on it now what were some of the most important leadership lessons you experienced that you feel would serve today's leaders, managers and organizations?

GB: Leaders who take a "can-do" attitude, and not give up will find that the attitude will spread through the organization. Against conventional expectations, this is more likely to move up than down. That is, a leader who takes initiative will often find his boss taking on the same attitude. In other words, Leadership stands on its own, and it is surprisingly easy and effective to "lead from below."

AR: As a West Point graduate what were some of the lessons learned at the Academy that you wish you would have seen more of once you arrived into what has sometimes been referred to as "the real Army" ... and how is this mirrored in today's business and government environments where good leadership is so important?

GB: There is a tendency to have tunnel vision. At West Point, the emphasis was on "the big picture", perhaps even too much. However, in both the Army and in the private sector, focusing on the immediate job at hand, while laudable, can be carried to extremes. Too often, a perfect job is done on the wrong task. That is, by not stepping back, or making the effort to see what is going on around oneself, it is often the case that good work is wasted on something that does not fit, is duplicative, or has become irrelevant, to the detriment of morale as well as the loss of opportunity. Leaders should seek to be informed and ensure that others are aware of the "big picture".

AR: From the perspective of the benefit provided to leaders and organizations, what was your purpose in creating Paradigm Systems?

GB: While organizations profess to have the leaders' interests and betterment as their goal, in practice the tools available hurt more than they help. Indefensible metrics that attempt to quantify subjective values invite gamesmanship at best, and subterfuge at worst. Even good metrics are inherently judgmental. A tool that provides confidential, irrefutable feedback was needed.

AR: Why is feedback important to leaders?

GB: There are plenty of resources available to leaders to learn what to do. What they lack is a tool to measure their effectiveness without prejudice. Every manager wonders how he is doing, but has no good way of finding out without penalty. Self-Boss-Peer-Team was developed to meet that need. It does not presume to measure the leader, but to tell him how he is perceived.

AR: Can you give an example where feedback has assisted a leader you know to turn the organization to a new and more effective direction?

GB: One major client found that annual management training was considered a waste of time by the participants, and an unnecessary distraction from their daily work. When SBPT was introduced, they discovered that they had shortcomings of which they were unaware. Now the management training became an opportunity to improve under the guise of a scheduled session. Overnight, managers began to look forward to the training, and were making suggestions as to what should be included.

AR: How about an example where feedback was needed but the leader (or leaders) refused to seek it out, and either they or their organization suffered as a result?

GB: Another client implemented SBPT feedback throughout the organization. One leader insisted on requiring his subordinates to perform their ratings on him with his oversight. This was the most glaring example of his micro-management and refusal to trust others. If he had accepted the feedback, he may have come to understand how much he was hurting others and himself. Not surprisingly, he was eventually terminated.

AR: A number of years ago when you first introduced me to the Self-Boss-Peer-Team 360 Degree Feedback Program that you have developed you spoke of its potential value if it could replace the Army's Officer Efficiency Reporting (OER) system. Explain your thinking, and what you felt the value would be to the Army in general and the individuals themselves.

GB: The OER could be an excellent tool. As implemented, it purports to give the leader a comprehensive feedback of his skills. The competencies it covers are good ones, yet it fails in major ways. First, it only captures the boss's opinion. Peers and team members have no way to provide input. Unless absolute anonymity can be guaranteed, such input would be detrimental to morale and discipline. That leads to the second failure. There is no privacy. The report can be viewed by anyone. Indeed, it is a public record. Even in its generation and handling, it is seen by dozens of people. That leads to the third failure. While pretending to be a feedback mechanism, it is in fact a report card. As such, it becomes hopelessly inflated. If it contains even the slightest hint of feedback, it ruins the officer’s career.

AR: In your work with your clients and other organizations what do you find are the most important things they face today when it comes to effectiveness with people and influence?

GB: The most important problem is that organizations have no way to measure effectiveness, so they concentrate on efficiency, which can be measured, and use it to claim effectiveness. Thus, effectiveness with respect to clients is incorrectly measured by sales. Effectiveness within the organization is measured by budget, turnover, ROI, etc, which are measures of efficiency, not effectiveness.

AR: What is PulseCheck and for what purpose was it developed?

GB: SBPT was developed to provide feedback to an individual, but organizations, too, need feedback. PulseCheck provides a mechanism for an organization to din out how it is perceived, both internally and externally, and to see how that perception differs across demographics.

AR: What trends to you see that young emerging leaders will have to deal with over the next five to ten years?

GB: Emerging leaders will have to deal with an emerging workforce. That workforce is technically savvy, but tends to be narcissistic, selfish, and unaccustomed to working as part of a team. The challenge will be to satisfy individual goals while providing tools for collaboration that will coax individuals into interaction in a non-threatening way.

AR: What do you see as the future for Paradigm Systems?

GB: Paradigm Systems will continue to offer to its clients exceptional service, either through existing tools, or through rapid development of customized tools. The ability to respond to clients in days, rather than months, and the "no excuses" unconditional guarantee are unique in the industry. Our approach of "Give us three days at no charge, and then we'll talk," continues to work well as the only marketing we need to do. That lets us pick clients and tasks that enrich our workforce as well as our clients. We do not want to grow large, we just want to take on a limited number of interesting tasks in partnership with visionary clients.

No comments: