If the environments in which Navy operations were perfectly static, if the Sailors, their skills and motivations were always up to date and incapable of evolving, and if tomorrow were always exactly the same as today (which was the same as yesterday), organizational change within the Navy would have little consequence. In the modern time however, this is far from the case. World demand for services and protection are going up; manpower and budget for the US Navy is going down. Naval leadership must recognize that while some of her leadership sees the next (current) generation as part of the problem (Hall, 2008), one of its greatest assets in efforts to affect change is “the ability to harness the creative and intellectual capabilities of the [Navy’s] human resources and focus them on a common goal” (Berger, Sikora, & Berger, 1994). Adapting a healthy change process from the fortified, nearly incestual, leadership succession and power-distribution culture into one where communication and problem solving are truly encouraged at all levels will not be easy. This paper explores placing the foundation for this transformation in place at the accession sources for Naval Leadership and promoting the open communication culture through continued executive education through ones career. Only through complete and sincere buy-in by her leaders will the Navy be able to take the next step toward positive transformational (and critical) change.
Developing A Change Strategy
Effective change management must include an extensive effort from top to bottom of any corporation (Berger, et al., 1994). For the Navy this means developing (through education and cultural reinforcement) a deep-seated appreciation for the benefits of changing the way it does business. A modification from the strictly top-down hierarchical pyramid structure of one-way communication to a more open system where communication and problem solving is multi-directional is the ideal start. Just as in many civilian organizations, efforts to change status quo (in this case through broader communication) is a threat to an organism held holy by those in power. In these terms, for Naval leadership to grant authority to subordinates to openly criticize the system, they are allowing the implicit infallibility of the system to become vulnerable to being called into question. Ironically, to suggest a corrective effort, to point out a flaw in the system, is viewed by many as disloyalty, rather than dedication to the big picture.
The resounding truth however is that those who seek to improve a system are actually more loyal to it than those that merely grasp at status quo; for a subordinate to offer change process solutions, he or she must (by nature of stepping out of line) be inherently interested in the betterment of the whole. Instead, he or she is likely to be scrutinized for stepping out of line. A robust and mature educational program for leadership and management at all levels, even if it were only to explain this simple fact, would be a huge step in the right direction.
Educating The Current And Future Leaders
Our nation’s leaders are exceedingly eager to qualify processes as best practices rather than looking for the most effective practices. The lexiconical slip is not slight; in one, the leader is deciding what he or she feels is the subjectively best for his or her style of leadership; the latter is actually what may work best for entirety of the team. We must shift the Navy’s focus from the lock-step mentality of the gray and outdated hierarchical traditions of the past to the radiant empowerment offered by greater diversity and the openness it affords. There is great value brought to our Navy by the new (current) generation of young Sailors.
One may notice at this point the convention of mention new and current simultaneously. This is because the change demanded by the new (current) generation of Sailors is not only incoming (new), but also present and ongoing (current). The change is coming whether or not leaderships is willing to adopt it. We must embrace the its potential, rather than resist its challenges. Again, more education about this inevitability is key.
Same Food, Different Platter. The remarks by Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Roughead, at the Institute for Public Relations Strategic Communications Summit on June 6th, 2011, sought to address this pressing need. His admonishment of the organization (every Sailor and leader in the Navy) was that the current echelon has been hesitant to adopt the mentality applauding its new supporting staff as the solution to the Navy’s growth trepidations, not the cause of them. It is as though the current powers considered their roles to be that of caterers in a grand ball. In an effort to keep the buffet line moving without discord, leadership (and its cast of chefs) anxiously supply new condiments to the tables, re-plate the same food without changing recipes, and vigorously sell the idea that it is all fresh and digestible. But it is not. This practice completely ignores the appetite for change, the metaphorical bread going stale, and the heat lamps wilting the main course. Leadership has to change with the times, it cannot re-plate old ideas and try to serve them fresh to each situation.
Knowing Who One Is Leading Is Critical to Leading Them
Culinary Tedium. The Navy is not serving the same society (with the same people) it was ten years ago (Houppert, 2005); the missions have changed; the Sailors have changed; their internal and external demands have changed (Hall, 2008; Roughead, 2011), but the leadership philosophies guiding them have basically stayed (tediously) the same. Scroggins (2008) writes that the new (current) generation of workers is pursuing employment with deeper and more qualitative meanings and quantitative pay-offs than the workers from earlier generations (p. 57). Even a plebian look at the U.S. military can come to the conclusion that these are not the military’s specialties. The incoming future of the Navy perceives the value they bring to the Navy as something that should be regularly rewarded and publically emphasized. Unlike us, the present leaderships’ generation, the new cohorts are extrinsically motivated rather than working for work’s sake (Sandrock, 2008). This is a difficult meal to swallow for the current (gilded by the past) leadership to appreciate, and will require some serious communication maturity (Hall, 2008; Scroggins; 2008) – provided, in part, by a robust on-going education program to help realign their thinking. Again, at some point we will be leaving this fine organization and will, quite inevitably since the Navy cannot hire from the middle like a civilian organization can, be replaced by the very people many among us are resisting letting our Navy’s processes adapt to. It is we who must adapt, not the 70% of current Sailors who have joined, at time of war, since 9/11.
How To Change The Main Course. Scroggins (2008) presses that for an “organizations concerned with the retention of high performing employees, attention to the creation of meaningful work experiences may be a key component [in] reducing employee intentions to leave and maintaining high performance” (p. 58). In the Navy, this is critical. Society is supplying a different generation of players and participants to the ball. A major cultural shift is necessary or soon the leadership will be replaced, as is unavoidable in an organization where mobility is inevitable, by a generation of people unprepared to tackle the issues (because through current mistrust, resolution techniques and methodologies are being shielded from them).
Education. In this author’s doctoral studies on, and discussions with, (high-level) Naval leadership, the conclusion has been blaring; the problems with change is not the change, but rather in convincing people to leave the safety of the past and come to terms with the inevitable future (that is, embrace the already-in-place change initiatives). The current force is one-third smaller than it was in 1990 (Hall, 2008), but the Navy is still enthusiastically employing chain of command concepts as if there were 200,000 more Sailors to rearrange at random. There is a distressingly common declaration during board meetings when talking about problems: throw people at it. People, as a generality, are not the solution; specific people may be, but not simply increasing manpower (especially when there is no pool of free-bodies from which to draw). “Unlike the years of Vietnam, during the days of the draft, today’s enlisted ranks do not include the extremely disadvantaged. Instead, the ranks are filled with the upwardly mobile working class, 96% of whom have graduated from high school, compared to only 84% of the rest of America” (p. 28), yet leadership is still dismissing the intelligence of the working-class and excluding them from the problem-solving efforts (Houppert, 2005). The first initiative of a plan to implement change within the Navy would begin by simply educating the middle- and upper-echelons about exactly who the new (current) Sailors are. We must know, and understand, who we are leading (serving) before we can lead (serve) them well.
Crotonville For Naval Officers. It is not bleak, complaints are louder than compliments, and there is certainly vastly more going well within our ranks than the scant number of efforts going poorly. Still, we cannot ignore that we are missing an excellent opportunity here to embrace (and steer) the change coming with the next generation rather than be over-whelmed (and run-over) by it. We must educate ourselves. A Sailor who claims to have nothing to learn about improving his or her leadership ability is either seeking irrelevancy or is in innocent denial that true quality leadership is constantly adaptive. We, the Navy, may benefit from a mobile training team concept of cultural experts, set up for middle- to executive education effort aimed solely at addressing the current and forecasted trends in recruiting and generational dissimilarity among the ranks. It is a conversation we have all had at the water-cooler; it is time we formalized it and opened the dialogue, at al levels, about how we, the Navy, can best maximize the values and benefits of the past, current, and future generations of Sailor.
There, executive educational objectives would solidify the suggestion that topnotch habit patterns of management “should be injected into people’s DNA by the way they are managed” (Tarley, 2002, p. 53). Under the consistent educational and cultural (peer-supported) reinforcement, leadership would, by its every move, be consciously and subconsciously training the next generation of leadership in communication, openly accepted innovation to processes, cross-pollination of ideas and the broader Naval vision for the future. By understanding the personal and cultural underpinnings of their subordinates, the communication methodologies and venues will strengthen (Sandrock, 2008), and the culture of exclusiveness should, in time, change to a more positive and productive culture of inclusiveness (Greiner, 2003; Scroggins, 2008).
It will take constant and appropriate training and reinforcement to affect change in an organization the size of the US Navy. Loyalty to the big-picture will meet great resistance from those loyal only to their small piece of the puzzle, but is worth it. Among the proven beginning steps for change management are broader, more open communication, cross-pollination of skill-sets into levels of the conglomerate, and a mature leadership ethos that includes All Hands in innovations, experiments, and growth endeavors, and finally career-long education for all executives to learn and promulgate these ideas (Christensen, 2005; Greiner, 2003; Kotter, 1996; Roughead, 2011; Scroggins, 2008; Tarley, 2002).
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