Category Archives: Seamanship and Leadership

Discover what qualities make a good leader and a good seaman.

Finding New Ways to Fight, Pt. 1

How the Mad Foxes of Patrol Squadron FIVE are harnessing their most powerful resource – their people – in an effort to cut inefficiencies and improve productivity.

By Kenneth Flannery with Jared Wilhelm

The U.S. Military Academy’s Modern War Institute recently published a thorough primer by ML Cavanaugh on what it means to drive innovation in the military. The most important takeaway was the large difference between the simple buzzword “innovation,” and the people who actually do the dirty work of driving positive change – oft-cited as “innovation”– within the force: “defense entrepreneurs.” This series focuses on an operational U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol Squadron that is full of defense entrepreneurs, and how their unit is taking the “innovation imperative” from on high and translating it to the deckplate level. Part 1 focuses on the “Why? Who? And How?”; Part 2 reveals observed institutional barriers, challenges, and a how-to that other units could use to adapt the model to their own units. 

The Innovation Imperative

Today, the U.S. Navy remains the most powerful seafaring force the world has ever known, but there is nothing destined about that position. To maintain this superior posture, we must find leverage that allows us to maintain an edge over our adversaries. One of our most powerful levers in the past has been our economy. We were once able to maintain supremacy simply by outspending our rivals on research, development and sheer production. While the United States still has the largest military budget of any nation, that budget is increasingly stretched to counter threats in a dizzying array of locales to include the South China Sea, Arabian Gulf, or even an increasingly vulnerable Arctic. Additionally, the rest of the world is catching up economically. Some assessments indicate that China will have the largest economy in the world by 2030 and they are already producing their own domestically-built aircraft carriers. It isn’t just China on our economic heels; by 2050 the United States could have slid to third place behind India as well. Finally, our adversaries’ continual embrace of technological theft and espionage involving some of our most expensive proprietary platforms has shrunk the technological gap that the U.S. enjoyed for multiple decades. These realities make it clear that the U.S. must find a new way to counter opponents besides technological advantage.

Much like the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia,” the Department of Defense is experiencing what some might call a “Pivot to Innovation.” Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s “Defense Innovation Initiative” and Third Offset Strategy both signal a reinvigorated focus on maintaining and advancing our military superiority over both unconventional actors and near-peer competitors alike. 

In alignment with Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson’s intent, VP-5 is investing time and manpower in the idea that that new counterweight will be the innovative ideas of our Sailors. Just as nuclear weapons and advancements like stealth and Global Positioning Systems kept the U.S. military on top during the conflicts of the Cold War and Post-Cold War eras, it will be our ability to rapidly assess challenges and implement solutions that will guarantee our security in the future. This will require a reimagining of how we currently operate and how we are organized. Our squadron believes the key to this revolution lies with its junior enlisted and junior officer ranks.

Tapping the Innovative Ideas of the Everyday “Doers”

VP-5 is taking a multi-pronged approach to molding an innovation-friendly climate to best tap the ideas of those accomplishing the mission on a daily basis. Patrol Squadron FIVE (VP-5) is currently experimenting with a dedicated Innovation Department in our command structure, but this isn’t the first time that the squadron has embraced change to maintain the technological and fighting advantage over adversaries. The unit is based at the U.S. Navy’s Master Anti-submarine Warfare facility at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL, where we became the second squadron Fleet-wide to transition from the P-3C Orion to the P-8A Poseidon aircraft. This successful transition was based on new training and simulation technologies, but also on a rich history that spans from our founding in 1937 to involvement in World War II, Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba during the Cold War, the Balkan Conflict, and our recent involvement in the Middle East. Throughout this time, we have used no less than five different types of Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

VP-5 Mad Foxes
The VP-5 Mad Foxes. Courtesy Ken Flannery

Just as the transition in 1948 from the PBY-5A to the PV-2 brought new tools to the squadron’s warfighting capabilities, today we are augmenting the new technologies of the P-8A with a change to our organizational structure and business practices. A traditional operational naval aviation command administers a standard set of departments including Operations, Training, Safety/NATOPS (Standardization), and Maintenance. By implementing a new Innovation Department led by a warfare-qualified pilot or Naval Flight Officer lieutenant (O-3), VP-5 seeks to elevate the innovation construct to a position alongside the traditional departments required for squadron mission accomplishment. In addition to the lieutenant department head, the Innovation group is staffed by an additional lieutenant and a Senior Chief. Its mission statement reads:

“Lead Naval Aviation in accomplishing our mission by sustaining a culture based on process improvement and disruptive thinking. The force that knows the desired outcome, measures progress in real time, and adapts processes to overcome barriers has a sustainable advantage over adversaries who tolerate their deficiencies. Similarly, the force that can innovate transforms the battlespace to their advantage.”

The establishment of the Innovation Department sends a strong signal to the department heads and the senior enlisted that innovation is a priority, but it may not necessarily trickle down to the average junior enlisted Sailor that VP-5 is a different type of squadron. To ensure the culture reaches everyone, we have implemented large “Innovation Whiteboards” throughout the squadron and encourage all members to post ideas and suggestions. Sailors can see what others have posted and leave reactions of their own. Similar to the “CO’s Sticky Note Board” on the USS Benfold (DDG 65), the ideas written on the whiteboards are then compiled for further action by the Innovation Department.

Whether an idea has been generated via a whiteboard or suggested by means of a more traditional route, the next step in the process is to create a “Swarm Cell.” Swarm Cells are small groups of people that aim to rapidly implement solutions to the problem being addressed. These groups follow a predetermined set of procedures that begin with specifying the desired output. Starting with a clear description of the end result discourages the Cell from veering off course or diluting their product with superfluous features that do little to help the original problem. The Swarm Cells then move to address the actual problem or process for which they were created, all the while making sure that their efforts lead them toward the desired output. Next, the Cells measure their progress to decide if the desired output has been achieved. From there, the members of the group can choose to share their knowledge or revisit their solutions if they have determined that they have not met their output goals.

These Swarm Cells are not on an innovation island. The squadron strives to provide support and guidance for those working to realize their ideas and provides each Swarm Cell with an Innovation Accelerator. This Accelerator may be an official member of the Innovation Department, but is not necessarily so. If the Swarm Cell is like the train conductor, deciding the destination and exactly how fast to get there, the Innovation Accelerator is the train track, allowing room for minor deviations, but keeping the train on course to its final goal. Accelerators need not be intimately involved with the minutiae of their Swarm Cells, and as such may be facilitating two or three different Cells concurrently. By asking simple questions the Accelerator can refocus the team:

1. Has the Cell outlined a clearly defined output?
2. Is the Cell working to achieve that vision, or have they allowed distractions to creep in?
3. Are they continually measuring their progress along the way?

Again, in VP-5 innovation belongs to everyone. Sailors of all ranks and pedigrees are encouraged and expected to turn a critical eye to established procedures in an effort to push our squadron into the twenty-first century. However, change for the sake of change is not one of our objectives. To guard against this, the product or design is subjected to an internal Shark Tank once each Swarm Cell is sufficiently satisfied with their work. These Shark Tank events are open to all hands and are designed to prod for weak spots in the proposal and introduce the idea to the whole team. The Swarm Cell’s program or improvement is critiqued from every angle to determine its overall benefit and structural integrity. These sessions are designed to be thorough in order to weed out underdeveloped initiatives or those that may not provide a quantifiable benefit. If a program passes muster, it continues in whatever form is appropriate, whether that is a new or revised squadron instruction or perhaps a meeting further up the chain of command.

Meaningful Results

Our modest foray into innovation has already begun to bear fruit. One of the most promising results of the innovation process has been the development of a dedicated command smartphone application called Quarterdeck. What started as a search for a better way to communicate has blossomed into a robust “app” which boasts capability far beyond that which was initially envisioned. Currently available on the Droid and Apple App stores, the application meets or exceeds DoD information assurance requirements and includes features like flight schedule postings and peer-to-peer instant messaging, among many others. Thanks to motivated junior officers who attended the 2016 Aviation Mission Support Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG) at Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) in Silicon Valley, the Adobe Company is now conducting market research, has shown interest in acquiring the hosting rights for the app, and is currently developing a professional version based on the VP-5 prototype.

The application developed by the Mad Foxes’ Innovation Department. (Courtesy Ken Flannery)

Another of our most promising innovation programs appeared to be headed toward realization before being dismissed due to concerns about running afoul of the Program Management Aviation (PMA) office. The plan was to implement an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) to replace the existing system of paper flight publications. This innovation would use tablet computers and digital flight publication subscriptions to save each squadron approximately $17,000 annually. PMA is currently developing a parallel program, but the estimated fleet delivery date was still at least a year away at the time our project was initiated. Our program would be able to deliver tablets within months. Every detail of the program had been meticulously researched, and drew heavily upon long established, similar programs used by the airlines.

The EFB program was widely supported among VP-5 junior officers, Fleet Replacement Squadron instructors, our own CO and XO, reserve unit squadrons manned by commercial airline pilots, and even had the interest of Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group (CPRG). Unfortunately, information security concerns rooted in a risk averse culture combined with the lack of official approval from higher authorities halted the project prior to purchase. Even though our organic EFB proposal was not accepted, our efforts to address the issue sparked broader interest and pressured PMA to move up its timeline. It is a testament to the power of this innovation process that it could conceive and develop a product that rivaled a parallel effort of the standard acquisition pipeline and a regular program office. Tablets are now forecast to be delivered to the fleet by the end of this year.

Other achievements include a redesign of the Petty Officer Indoctrination course, a Command Volunteer Service Day suggested, planned, and led by an E-3, and an “Aircrew Olympics” which pitted two combat aircrews against each other in a variety of mission-related tasks. These ideas were all generated and executed from within the junior enlisted ranks.

Conclusion

We do not intend to suggest that a smartphone application or volunteer service holds the key to dismantling Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear program or China’s grip on the South China Sea. What we are trying to do is develop a framework in which creative solutions can be cultivated. Not every idea is going to be a grand slam, but before you can hit a grand slam you have to get people on base. The most important point we’ve learned is that the ideas are out there, we can cultivate them, and we’ve so far proven that we have “defense entrepreneurs” that can see these innovative ideas through from the white boards to implementation.

Formalizing an innovation process within a squadron is a new way of doing things and this new approach has been met with a variety of challenges. From stubborn, bureaucratic restrictions to “innovation stagnation,” the innovation construct at VP-5 has faced hurdles along the way and been forced to adapt. In the next installment of this series, we will explore some of these obstacles and describe the ways in which the Innovation Department has evolved as a result.

Lieutenant Ken Flannery is a P-8A Poseidon Instructor Tactical Coordinator at Patrol Squadron FIVE (VP-5). He may be contacted at kenneth.flannery@navy.mil.

Lieutenant Commander Jared Wilhelm is the Operations Officer at Unmanned Patrol Squadron One Nine (VUP-19), a P-3C Orion Instructor Pilot and a 2014 Department of Defense Olmsted Scholar. Hey may be contacted at jaredwilhelm@gmail.com

Featured Image: A P-8 assigned to VP-5 (U.S. Navy photo)

Design Thinking for Military Advantage

In collaboration with U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC)

Introduction

The United States Navy has a proud tradition of mission accomplishment, regardless of the odds. From John Paul Jones taking the fight to the British shores aboard the Bonhomme Richard, to the hard-fought victories of the Pacific campaign, our naval service has been able to find the competitive advantage necessary to win. We have been fortunate that great people throughout our history have risen to the call when necessary. This long and storied list contains names such as Decatur, Preble, Farragut, Morton, Ellis, Puller, Hopper, and Halsey. The right person, with the right answer, at the right time— almost as if fate was on our side.

These larger-than-life figures make for compelling stories, but what if they were never born? What if these legends were not in the right place at the right time to save the day? What if the Navy fostered an environment wherein the creative problem solving, critical thought, and extreme ownership that called these legends to action were core competencies across the force? Imagine a force that spends less time prescribing exactly what to do and instead harnesses the power of the collective, a force where our competitive advantage is not simply people, but rather capable, empowered, and passionate teammates. We should develop teammates truly capable of leading us into the future because we are too comfortable reacting to the present.

To truly realize our potential, we must deliberately build upon our strong history and shape the ongoing cultural change across the force. We must make creative problem solving, critical thinking, and collective ownership core competencies, and go out of our way to enable teammates who reflect these traits. Our training pipeline and personnel system should reinforce those tenets. In the absence of that, or rather in parallel, we must focus on shaping culture at the unit level. This entails the creation of connective tissue across many efforts that seek the same outcomes to ensure scalability while creating new norms and delivering outcomes we have yet to imagine.

This article seeks to shine a light on the unnecessary level of risk aversion and bureaucracy in our organization, describe the fundamental principles behind design thinking and deckplate innovation, and share revealing examples of these principles in action at U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC). 

A Learning Navy

In the Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, the Chief of Naval Operations lays out numerous lines of effort as a vision and strategy for the Navy’s future. The green line of effort, which challenges the Navy to “apply the best concepts, techniques and technologies to accelerate learning as individuals, teams and organizations,” is being realized in an emerging grassroots movement which has taken the challenge to “set aspirational goals” and use a combination of critical thinking, lessons from history, and methods of human-centered design to encourage creativity and innovation to create advantage.

A sustainable competitive advantage is difficult to identify, and often results from an interwoven mass of tangible and intangible factors. Tangible resources are easy to identify and range from financial capital to physical assets like airplanes and ships. Intangible resources, while more difficult to quantify, may be the most valuable assets that an organization possesses. Human resources provide long-term exploitable skills, productive effort, and tacit knowledge that is difficult to replace and hard for competition to replicate. Personal and organizational experience builds tacit knowledge, and can be described as the collective know-how of a group. Organizations often struggle to quantify or pass on this knowledge through verbal or written communication.

In order to prevent stagnation, the Navy must become a learning organization. A learning organization continuously transforms itself by properly unleashing its people’s tacit knowledge. Throughout the rich history of the Navy, innovation and creativity have often ebbed and flowed. As Peter Senge points out in his book The Fifth Discipline, many successful learning organizations share a common vision, willingly challenge their own mental models, and encourage their people to seek personal mastery and engage in team learning. The results are the Googles, Facebooks, Ubers, and Warby Parkers of the world. This is not to say the Navy should model itself in the image of Facebook or Uber. Clearly the business model of fighting and winning our nation’s wars differs from that of social networking or crowdsourcing vehicular transportation. But just as many different corporations with different goals and models have embraced rapid learning to achieve maximum possible performance, so too can the Navy, and the first step in becoming a learning organization is admitting that you are not one.

Though many senior leaders may disagree, our Navy, as a whole, is not a true learning organization–at least not yet. Everyone needs to grow comfortable with a continuous departure from the status quo as the start of a new way of thinking. Through the combination of these ideas, an organization can leverage the knowledge and abilities across the spectrum of its constituents. The core competencies of creative problem solving, critical thinking, and collective ownership will help us break this mold. Our current system fails to assess, develop, or value these competencies. But unbeknownst to many, a deckplate revolution has commenced.

A Revolution in Thought and Action

This revolution continues to bring smart creatives from across the Navy together to create a movement. They focus on reimagining our culture as one founded on the aforementioned core competencies. This is where design thinking comes into play. Much contemporary writing focused on change references design thinking, but what is it exactly? Is it a perceived silver bullet from industry that the military is attempting to latch on to? A fleeting “buzzword” quickly forgotten? Hopefully not.

Design thinking is about embracing the combined knowledge within an organization for maximum possible performance. Creating solutions can be difficult, especially if you have not effectively defined the problem. Design thinking provides a process to focus efforts and achieve results. Though many techniques and tools differ, design thinking is rooted in four major elements: define the problem, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and refine/execute.

NOSC San Jose Sailors engaged in a 45 minute divergent thinking exercise designed to capture ideas in order to address an opportunity statement provided by NOSC leadership. (Photo by LCDR Owen Morrissey)

Defining the problem is very easy to gloss over, but it can be the most important step. Are you solving the right problem or simply a symptom of a higher systemic impediment in your organization? Design thinking encourages approaching the problem from different perspectives to ensure you are still solving the correct or complete problem. Seek to ask why until you have worked past the easy answers and get to the truly hard question. Don’t just look for the simplest and most obvious solution, but seek as many different solutions as possible. Divergent thinking facilitates this concept, especially with many people working together. The goal is to diverge into as many ideas as possible, where the most opportunities appear when you are not constrained by finding the “best” solution. Think quantity over quality; many people can’t arrive at the right answer without fully embracing their comfort in the group or without pulling ideas from previous ‘bad’ examples.

After generating as many opportunities as possible, design thinking uses tools to group, merge, and then pare down the solutions until, through synthesis, converge on the best functional results. To higher leadership, this can be considered a catch-all in removing the ‘Good Idea Fairies’ from the group and allowing the best solution to bubble to the surface. This solution will be free of emotion and carries with it a vector towards positive change.

After arriving at a solution, seek refinement and development through basic prototyping. Design thinking provides tools to prototype solutions that seek to test the foundations of the idea rather than building a working physical product. This enables testing and further development with minimum resources. For higher levels of leadership, this may work towards an entire command or unit. When implemented from the ground-up – individuals, workcenters, divisions, and departments – this equates improvement across the spectrum.

After the solution has been refined, execute. Ideas without execution are meaningless. It takes action to bring an idea to fruition, and without that action, design thinking is truly just the latest “buzzword” spoken in an echo chamber.

Leadership’s Role

Upon the conclusion of the event, the collaboration and support of the participant’s leadership is necessary to promote the success of these young leaders by providing them with time, trust, and top cover. These core aspects drive the successful engagement of our young Sailors and Marines, and inspire every ounce of our commitment and progress. Without them, we don’t have the perspective to see beyond our silo of thought. The relationship between leadership’s time, trust, and top cover and rank and file empowerment defines the success or failure in the leader-led relationship. All of the time and trust in the world does nothing if you don’t have someone blocking for you along the way. Conversely, there is no top cover that someone can give you that would produce results without the adequate time and trust that goes along with it.

The illuminate Th!nkshop at Fleet Forces

Officers assigned to SEVENTH Fleet in Yokosuka participate in an executive course collaboration exercise focused on developing rapid prototypes in order to gain perspective of the Illuminate effort. (Photo by LCDR Owen Morrissey)

The illuminate initiative at Fleet Forces Command is one grassroots program bringing design thinking courses to Sailors and Marines. Turning the traditional paradigm of learning on its head, they encourage shrugging off bureaucracy, taking ownership, and focusing entirely on problem-solving and process improvement as opposed to passively receiving top-down innovation initiatives. Based in the concepts of design thinking, the Th!nkshops seek to identify solutions through a process of divergent and convergent thinking, coupled with the critical thought and positive mindset vital to the process itself. 

Like many other organizations in this grassroots movement, illuminate champions the fact that the foundations, objectives, materials, and format are designed and taught by a small team of active duty Sailors and Marines. Led by a passionate group of individuals, the course has already made a difference across the Navy. These efforts have primed the pump of an ad-hoc network of like-minded Sailors and Marines that seek to collaborate and achieve results. With the right resources and an expanded inventory of design thinking and organizational learning methods at their disposal, this network could move from an ad-hoc group of facilitators to a connected group of command sponsored representatives that will achieve maximum performance across the Navy.

Refining The Process

Getting the Th!nkshop pilot off the ground would not have occurred without an incubation phase. Illuminate needed people to iterate and a laboratory to experiment in order to refine the course. Enter Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC). The Echelon IV command participated in numerous iteration sessions  and helped develop the Th!nkshop curriculum.  Throughout this process, NCDOC personnel received personal and professional development training and provided candid feedback to the illuminate facilitators. The USFFC Th!nkshop facilitators refined the course based on the feedback. This cycle of iteration, development, and growth continued for several months. As a result, NCDOC adopted and launched its own chapter of illuminate utilizing their own in-house facilitators, while USFFC simultaneously began to spread illuminate across the naval enterprise. 

Since leaving NCDOC in December 2016, USFFC has impacted numerous commands. These include more than 40 commands at Seventh Fleet (C7F), Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC), and Naval Operations Support Center (NOSC) San Jose. They are scheduled to travel this summer to NOSC Dallas, East and West Coast Submarine Forces, SWRMC, and SPAWAR. They also conduct a series of Th!nkshops in Norfolk where they have trained Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic (FRCMA), National Guard, Reserve Forces (RESFOR), and Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR); summer plans include OPTEVFOR (Commander Operational Test & Evaluation Force), Transient Personnel Unit (TPU), Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 12, and Special Boat Team 20.

NCDOC’s support and assistance provided the fertile ground for the Th!nkshops to blossom from an amazing idea to a training mechanism directly impacting Sailors and Marines. Their partnership laid the foundations for illuminate to scale across the fleet.

The NCDOC Experience

The time, trust, and top cover of a trusted ally provided the fertile ground for the illuminate Th!nkshops to grow and develop. In its early phases, illuminate took root at Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC). But long before opening their makerspace for Th!nkshop incubation and refinement, NCDOC began a deliberate culture shaping journey. A journey as unique as their mission; one that continues to make them the Navy’s “Purple Cow,” to borrow a term from Seth Godin.

They don’t use a Command Assessment Team to assess climate, they have a Culture Club that shapes culture. They use a 360-degree hiring panel to select new civilian teammates, and conduct 360-degree feedback for all E-7 and above as well as supervisory civilians. They have shaped a culture that truly combines the power of the 21st century mindset with the best of our strong Navy tradition. The foundational experience among NCDOC Teammates is their tailored version of the illuminate Th!nkshop, which is integrated within their 100 Day Onboarding process. Over the last few months, the Th!nkshop alums have reinvented peer recognition, reimagined mentorship using the NFL draft as the model, developed a locator tool to navigate their building, crafted a New Teammate Handbook using Valve’s New Employee Handbook as inspiration, redesigned their next Command Climate Survey, and directly leveraged design thinking to reorient operational execution.

The most visible evidence of the significant culture shift at NCDOC is the aforementioned New Teammate Handbook. It not only serves as a vehicle to reinforce their ongoing commitment to culture-shaping initiatives, it also serves as an example of how the public sector must both lead and engage if they are to give Smart Creatives reason to join the team.

The formatting of the handbook is not what you would expect from a government organization and neither are the words contained within. Everything from the internally developed Waypoints that articulate shared behavior across the NCDOC team, to the “Allowed To” list that compels all teammates to be “Doers,” speaks to a team that truly values competence, collaboration, and character. And because words are hollow when not supported by action, one need only watch their Innovation Cross Functional Team coach “Idea
Champions” at all ranks through the process of making their ideas reality to see that the “Doer” philosophy runs deep across the team and produces results.”

NCDOC’s New Teammate Handbook (Click to read)

NCDOC serves as a visible example that it’s not about the Th!nkshop itself; it’s about the culture it fosters and the operational outcomes that a culture of creative problem solving, critical thinking, and collective ownership generates. The NCDOC team interacts differently than any other within the Navy. Their spaces are different from any other within the Navy, and their approach to just about everything is different from any other within the Navy. It’s not about being different for the sake of being different, but rather about caring enough to question everything, to allow expertise to trump rank, and to prioritize long-term significance over short term success. NCDOC is a prime example of how a sustained commitment to facilitating Th!nkshops impacts thinking, doing, and mission accomplishment at the unit level. A Th!nkshop experience may leave you inspired to do more, but without the visible commitment to the tenets it teaches by leaders at every level, you will quickly be reminded of the short shelf-life of inspiration.

The Future

The work at USFF and NCDOC is not Navy-mandated, but simply the result of some forward-thinking minds within the Navy and Marine Corps, the desire to make a difference, and the opportunity to do so. Th!nkshops have inspired many, but we measure impact by our ability to sustain and scale the transformation ignited to date. Th!nkshops alone won’t generate the outcomes we need; command triads committed to culture shaping and helping each teammate realize their potential will. We offer our Th!nkshops as a vehicle to kickstart local initiatives, and welcome the opportunity to partner with units across the Navy. These partnerships grow and strengthen our network of leaders committed to creating an environment that affords us the opportunity to evolve into a true learning organization. This environment not only ensures great ideas are prevalent, but as our Chief of Naval Operations has made clear, allows us to turn those ideas into something real.

Contact us below for more information on how you can be a part of the Th!nkshop movement.

LCDR Owen Morrissey and LT John Hawley are currently assigned to USFFC in support of the CNO’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. They can be contacted at owen.morrissey@navy.mil for executive engagement and john.w.hawley@navy.mil for more information and to schedule an illuminate thinkshop. For more information on the NCDOC state of mind, contact Dr. Rebecca Siders at rsiders@ncdoc.navy.mil

Featured Image: Sailors assigned to NOSC San Jose participate in a rapid ideation session during a reserve drill weekend. (Photo by LCDR Owen Morrissey) 

Leadership Development Week Wraps Up on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

This past week CIMSEC featured a topic week on leadership development. In response to our Call for Articles authors shared insightful writings on how to foster creativity and innovation, be better leaders, and recognize the importance of leadership as a key warfighting advantage. We thank our authors for their excellent contributions, listed below.  

Making Good Leaders Great: Recommendations to Improve U.S. Navy Leadership by Will Wiley

“This paper will suggest some items for consideration to improve the leaders of today and tomorrow. Some will require funding streams, while others just require forethought and creativity by the leader. These recommendations, when coupled with the immense amount of formal training leaders receive, can make the Navy an even more formidable force today and in the future.”

Enabling Leadership from the Bottom by Jacob Wiencek

“While we should all strive to develop as a leader, to grow, rise up the ranks, and become a senior leader, what we do now can have a profound impact in how we act as we move further up the chain. What I often see neglected is not so much ‘How do I improve and move on to the next rung of leadership?’ but rather ‘How can I be a leader now?'”

Embracing Creativity: A Leadership Challenge by David Andre

“Certainly creativity has always existed within the Navy, but until recently, it was not recognized as an integral value of leadership. Placing it on the same level as compliance and character requires change. And balancing the tension that exists between these values is one of the biggest challenges facing the Navy.”

Innovative Leadership Development: Why and How by Joe Schuman

“According to the Navy Leadership Development Framework (NLDF), effective leaders demonstrate qualities such as humility, honor, courage, commitment, integrity, and accountability. While few would disagree that these character traits are necessary for Navy leaders to be successful, the rapidly changing security environment of the 21st century makes it such that these skills are not sufficient. If the Navy is serious about producing leaders who will be “ready for decisive operations and combat,” it must place a stronger emphasis on promoting innovation throughout its leadership development process as a whole.”

Maritime Profession of Arms in Dangerous Waters? by Tom Bayley

“Although not a real directive, the time may have come for such a dramatic act of courage and leadership to repair the weakening trust within the Navy. The all-volunteer force has completed four decades of service and perhaps that transition was not properly executed. An overly bureaucratic military organization grown over time to train the masses of inducted service members with a ‘one size fits all’ methodology has created an ideology that relies upon lengthy detailed procedures and extensive requirements rather than leadership and good judgment.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: Chief Gunner’s Mate Jamario Perry is pinned to the rank of a chief petty officer aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Schneider/Released)

Maritime Profession of Arms in Dangerous Waters?

Leadership Development Topic Week

By Tom Bayley, CAPT (ret.) USN

—— OFFICIAL INFORMATION DISPATCH FOLLOWS ——

RTTUZYUW RHOIAA0001 0232338-UUUU–RHSSSUU.

ZNR UUUU

R 130001Z FEB 17

FM CNO WASHINGTON DC

TO NAVADMIN

INFO CNO WASHINGTON DC

BT

UNCLAS

NAVADMIN 00Z/15

SUBJ/TRUST, RESPONSIBILITY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND NAVY TRAINING//

MSGID/GENADMIN/CNO WASHINGTON DC/N1/OCT//

RMKS/1. TRUST IS CRITICAL TO OUR NAVY AND I HAVE COME TO THE CONCLUSION THE HEAVY BURDEN OF TRAINING REQUIREMENTS HAS NOT ONLY ERODED THE TIME AVAILABLE TO COMMANDERS BUT HAS ALSO ERODED TRUST WITHIN OUR PROFESSION. USING SUCH A BUREAUCRATIC ACTION TO GET “CHECKS IN THE BOXES” DOES NOT ADDRESS THE ISSUES, REDUCES TRUST ACROSS OUR NAVY, AND UNDERCUTS THE COMMANDER’S RESPONSIBILITY.

2. AS SUCH, EFFECTIVELY IMMEDIATELY, I AM SUSPENDING ALL MANDATORY TRAINING REQUIREMENTS RELATING TO PERSONAL BEHAVIOR (TO INCLUDE ALL REQUIRED GENERAL MILITARY TRAINING). I HAVE DIRECTED THE CHIEF OF NAVAL PERSONNEL TO FORMALLY REVISE APPLICABLE INSTRUCTIONS ACCORDINGLY IN DUE TIME.

3. WITH THIS DIRECTIVE, I AM TRUSTING MY COMMANDING OFFICERS TO DO WHAT IS REQUIRED TO UPHOLD THE VALUES WHICH GUIDE OUR NAVY. ADDITIONALLY, THIS ACTION DEMANDS HOLDING PEOPLE APPROPRIATELY ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE ACTIONS THEY TAKE. THIS DOES NOT MEAN ANY FAILURE SHOULD BE DEALT WITH A HEAVY HAND BUT RATHER EACH CASE JUDGED ON ITS MERIT AND CONTEXT. THE INTENT IS TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT TO PROPERLY DEVELOP OUR PEOPLE, DISPEL THE ZERO RISK MENTALITY, AND ALLOW OUR COMMANDERS (WHO ARE BEST POSITIONED TO KNOW THEIR PEOPLE) TO PROPERLY GUIDE THEIR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. THIS IS A COMMANDERS’ BUSINESS AND CAN NOT BE ENTRUSTED TO THE PENTAGON BUREAUCRACY.

4. TOGETHER, AS MEMBERS OF THE NAVAL PROFESSION, I AM TRUSTING EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU TO DO YOUR PART IN MAKING OUR NAVY BETTER EACH DAY. OUR FUTURE WILL BE DETERMINED BY THOSE WE LEAD AND IT IS THE LEADERS WHO MUST ENGAGE LEADERS TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN. I TRUST YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING –NOW EXECUTE!

5. RELEASED BY ADMIRAL CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS.

BT

Although not a real directive, the time may have come for such a dramatic act of courage and leadership to repair the weakening trust within the Navy. The all-volunteer force has completed four decades of service and perhaps that transition was not properly executed. An overly bureaucratic military organization grown over time to train the masses of inducted service members with a “one size fits all” methodology has created an ideology that relies upon lengthy detailed procedures and extensive requirements rather than leadership and good judgment. Thinking and discretion of leaders on the deckplates became subjugated to the requirements and guidelines produced by the bureaucracy inside the Pentagon.

Retention Alarms

The “2014 Navy Retention Survey1 raised some somber issues regarding feelings and beliefs of individuals who responded to the survey (which can be extrapolated to the rest of the Navy and is statistically valid). Besides the usual concerns of feeling over-worked and undercompensated, the most troubling findings relate to issues of trusting leadership and aspiration to leadership.  

The executive summary of the survey reports “49.4% of responding Sailors do not want their boss’s job”2 – nearly half of the respondents. The report specifically highlights “an increasing belief that positions of senior leadership, especially operational command, are less desirable because of increasing risk aversion (68.7%) and high administrative burden (56.4%).”3  This should serve as a “RED SOUNDING”4 for the naval profession which is founded upon ultimate authority and command at sea.

One of the unwritten aspirational values our Navy holds is that of “ultimate command.” When nearly half of the profession is no longer aspiring to such positions, the profession’s core tenets are being questioned which thereby endangers the profession itself. Combine this with societal findings of trust where 40 percent of baby boomers believe most people can be trusted, but for millennials, the belief is only 19 percent.5 A recipe for deep levels of mistrust within the organization exists.

An equally troubling facet of this survey is an issue of distrust of Navy senior leadership. Almost half (46.7%) of the enlisted and nearly two-fifths (39.9%) of the officers surveyed distrust Navy senior leaders.6 Even more troubling was only a small minority (10.7% enlisted and 4.2% officer) expressing some degree of trust with the remaining majority of being unsure or undecided.7 This is hardly a strong vote of confidence in Navy senior leadership. 

What might breed such distrust within the ranks? The survey alludes that some of this might be from a perception the Navy suffers from “a significant risk averse culture and zero-defect mentality.”8 The survey’s author quoted a senior Navy leader at the Surface Navy Association as saying “We don’t have a retention problem.”9  By the end of the year the survey was released, then-Chief of Naval Personnel VADM Bill Moran stated the study was “useful” and acknowledged certain retention issues.10 The first step of the 12-step program is admitting you have a problem.

As an example, look at how the Navy reacts to a bad example of behavior from what is claimed to be a very small fraction of servicemembers. Concerned with many behavioral lapses (sexual assault, fights, or discrediting conduct) being linked to alcohol abuse, the Navy instituted the use of breathalyzers to test members of this profession on a random basis.11 With sound bites from Navy leadership that the vast majority of our Service members are fine and outstanding individuals, such a reaction from the top does much to signal distrust of its members. This reflects the bureaucratic response of issuing new policy and instituting mandatory training for the masses. It is typical of the reactive response which tends to fire “accountable” personnel, implement a new policy, and mandate additional training requirements. These are the ways a bureaucracy reacts to such incidents as opposed to how a profession should be responding. 

The Honesty Metric

Another sign of distress within the ranks relates to issues of honesty within the profession. A recent report about dishonesty in the Army12 shares many indicators of  weakening honesty and integrity that are probably equally applicable to the Navy. Mandatory training requirements that exceed the time available pressures responsible leaders to “check the box” and stray away from the intent of the training. Training is a process (means) which does not always imply that learning is occurring (ends). The inability of members in the profession to say “no” in attempting to do more with less in a fiscally strained environment says much about the culture of the profession to be honest with itself.

Many of these indicators were relayed in a very candid e-mail by ADM John Harvey just prior to his retirement as he addressed the surface warfare community.13 This four-star epiphany essentially serves as a confession of senior leadership failing the surface community with a bureaucratic push for efficiency and “doing more with less” while not listening to the rebuttal from the deckplates. With the repetitive use of the royal “we” nearly 80 times in this candid address, Admiral Harvey essentially admits leadership had failed the surface community: “When the assumptions behind the man, train, equip, and maintain decisions did not prove valid, we didn’t revisit our decisions and adjust course as required. In short, we didn’t routinely, rigorously and thoroughly evaluate the products of the plans we were executing.” He then went on to say, “And when we did gather together as community leaders, we did not get to the heart of the matter: our Sailors and our ships and their collective readiness to carry out our assigned Title 10 missions. I could have done better. We could have done better. You MUST do better, because now we know better.” Although this message was directed to the surface community, it could readily apply to the broader issue of failure in the Navy.

A Call for Candor

Such a demonstration of honesty is required as proposed by Dr. Wong and Dr. Gerras in their aforementioned report on dishonesty in the Army. In their recommendations to deal with the eroding culture of integrity inside the profession, is a call for “confronting the truth.”14 This calls for moral courage, especially at the senior ranks, to conduct what will be an uncomfortable assessment of the profession. In Wong’s and Gerras’s recommendations, they also call for reviewing the burden of requirements which they contend has pressured the service to compromise its integrity. This can be expanded by a call for heavily reducing the bureaucratic tendencies that guide the Service by eliminating numerous policies and procedures. This tendency has promoted an ideology that puts members into a reliance on rules and regulations, thereby discouraging individuals from exercising ethical decision-making and initiative which would do much to remove the zero defect mindset and risk aversion. And finally, issue a call for leaders to engage as leaders and stewards of the profession. They must be honest and frank about their assessments and begin an effective dialogue (which implies 2-way communications) with the members of the profession, and demonstrating such in practice through their actions – regardless of how uncomfortable it might be. An example can be found in a recent Proceedings article whose author declared his leaders to be the reason he stayed in.15

Conclusion

The Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment are more than just words or concepts. They must be guiding principles for the conduct its members. It requires moral courage to entertain the thought the profession might be trending away from what makes it a profession. It requires a moral commitment to the oath all members have taken to serve a higher cause – no matter how painful it might be. And most of all, it is the honorable thing leaders should do – trusting the people they honor as the most important asset. Actions speak louder than words, and a call for action by senior leadership to make leaders engage leaders is the only way ahead. This dangerous trend will not be corrected with more training and powerpoint slides. It is a leadership issue and requires having the discussions to restore the trust that is foundational to the strength of the profession, both within and external. Perhaps someday, the Navy may actually see a message similar to one which started this article, demonstrating courageous and candid leadership that would restore trust among the ranks.

The question remains: will the uniformed leadership take up this challenge as stewards of the profession of arms or will bureaucratic tendencies prevail? The warning signs are there and it calls for living up to the Navy’s cores values of honor, courage, and commitment. 

Tom Bayley is a former Naval Officer who retired as a Captain in 2005, with over two decades as a nuclear submariner. He then joined the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College, where he is currently the Deputy Dean for the College of Operational & Strategic Leadership (COSL) and NWC’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. The views expressed above are his own and do not reflect the official views and are not endorsed by the United States Navy, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other body of the United States Government.

References

1. An unofficial survey conducted by volunteers across the Navy received 5,536 viable responses to the online survey which resulted in a +/- 1.3% margin of error for a Sailor population of over 323,000 Sailors.  An independent review of the results indicate this survey is credibly valid in its findings.  It can be accessed at: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5353c5e1e4b073dfbc7e1326/t/5403d33fe4b0e9cf18a45ee5/1409536831840/2014+Navy+Retention+Study+Report+-+Full.pdf

2. Ibid. p. 7

3. Ibid. p. 7

4. “Red Sounding” is a water depth limitation set to indicate imminent danger to the ship is present if nothing is changed.

5. David Brooks, “Leaderless Doctrine”,  NY Times, March 10, 2014

6. “2014 Navy Retention Survey”, p. 18.

7. Ibid. p. 18,

8. Ibid. p. 18.

9.  Ibid.

10. Sam LaGrone, Interview: U.S. Navy Personnel Chief Worries Over Potential Service Retention Problems, USNI News, December 2, 2014. https://news.usni.org/2014/12/02/interview-u-s-navy-personnel-chief-worries-potential-service-retention-problems

11. NAVADMIN 012 of 2013, CNO WASHINGTON DC 231937Z JAN 13

12. Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras., “Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession,”  Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press (February 2015). 

13. ADM. John C. Harvey, Jr., USN “The Fundamental of Surface Warfare:  Sailors and Ship”, September 14, 2012.  U.S. Naval Institute.   This email was sent to the Surface Community by ADM Harvey as he was preparing to retire as the senior surface warrior.  In this candid assessment he admits he could have done better and had concentrated too much on the short term tasks and responsibilities. This author ascertains he suffered from being a product of a culture which had more bureaucratic tendencies toward efficiency and processes than reliance upon expert knowledge and decision making by members of a profession.  http://news.usni.org/2012/09/14/fundamentals-surface-warfare-sailors-and-ships#more-691

14. Wong & Gerras, p.28.

15. Brian Kesselring, “Why Did You Stay In,” USNI Proceedings, March 2017. https://www.usni.org/node/90090/why-did-you-stay

Featured Image: SAN DIEGO (Feb. 27, 2017) Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3, Rear Adm. Cathal O’Connor speaks to the crew of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during an all hands call. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kyle Hafer/Released)