Tag Archives: Leadership

Self, Shipmate, and Ship: Bringing Balance to Naval Leadership

By Jimmy Drennan

Secretary of Defense James Mattis was on a plane last year, wrestling with how he would explain President Trump’s “America First” policy to our allies, when an idea came to him. He would draw a parallel to flight attendants requesting passengers put their own oxygen mask on first in the event of an emergency, before assisting family members. Say what you will about our national leadership, this is a wonderful metaphor. America can only contribute to the common interests of our Allies when we first secure our own national interests, across the entire political spectrum. Taking care of our own interests first allows America to be what our allies need – a strong, legitimate partner in promoting freedom and democracy.

Sliding all the way down the U.S. military chain of command, the youngest Seaman Recruit swabbing the deck on a Navy warship receives a very different message. He or she is taught a traditional saying that sailors use to succinctly describe their priorities: “ship, shipmate, self.” Like most nautical jargon, the aphorism has a certain graceful ring to it that captures the Navy’s mission-first mentality in very few words. It evokes dramatic notions of sailors agonizingly shutting a hatch on shipmates to save the ship from flooding, or sacrificing their own safety to save a shipmate from an engine room fire. Unfortunately, like most dramatic notions, these are largely fictional. In the real world, the U.S. Navy does not jump from one dramatic moment to the next. It operates a global force of six fleets, 284 ships, over 3700 aircraft, and 324,000 sailors, and it does so 24/7/365. Instead of maximizing mission effectiveness, using “ship, shipmate, self” as a set of priorities creates unrealistic expectations and tension in the minds of U.S. Navy sailors.

In truth, neither “America first” nor “ship, shipmate, self” are perfect models for sailors.

There are times when sailors truly should sacrifice their own interests and the interests of their shipmates for the sake of the ship, but more often than not, the energy they pour into the ship is in line with their own interests, not contrary to them. There are also many times when sailors need to prioritize their shipmates over the ship – just consider the massive amount of operational resources and time dedicated to recovering a single man overboard. Furthermore, and perhaps controversially, sailors often encounter situations in which they should prioritize themselves over their shipmates and their ship, although these situations often go unnoticed due to Navy culture epitomized by “ship, shipmate, self.” Over the past ten years, an average of 44 active duty sailors died by suicide each year. Imagine how many sailors could be saved by focusing on “preventive self-care” vice reactive clinical treatment. Many will probably view this “selfish” approach as subversive and contrary to what the Navy stands for, but radical ideas are often viewed this way at first. In fact, it is a dynamic approach to leadership that encourages emotional intelligence, in leaders and followers alike, to optimize mission effectiveness. To truly achieve sailor wellness and promote an effective mission-first culture, the Navy should use “ship, shipmate, self” not as a set of priorities, but rather as a triad with each element being critical to the mission.

Ship

Understandably, the ship is traditionally the focal point of naval operations. For centuries, ships were the only means that the world’s navies had at their disposal to project power on their enemies.

Today, even with the advent of naval aircraft, missiles, and other deployable systems, ships (and submarines) remain the quintessential element of maritime presence and power projection. There is no metric for naval strength quite as easily understandable as the number of ships a navy operates and maintains. Much naval strategic planning happening right now in the Pentagon and D.C. think tanks revolves around President Trump’s stated policy of achieving a 355 ship Navy. So, it makes sense that tradition would coalesce around a maxim that prioritizes the ship over all else. After all, sailors literally rely on the ship for their survival, and to return them to their loved ones after deployment.

Yet, for all its traditional primacy in Naval operations, the ship is no more important than the people who operate her. Just as sailors rely on their ship, the ship relies on her crew. It has long been said in naval circles that a new ship is “brought to life” when the commissioning crew runs aboard. What’s needed now is a shift in mindset away from the idea that the ship is something separate that sailors need to prioritize over themselves, toward the idea that sailors and ships are interconnected parts of a larger system that drives toward mission accomplishment, neither being more important than the other. Viewing the ship as a separate and distinct “other” for which one must continually sacrifice their own interests naturally breeds tension and eventually resentment, especially when sailors hear lip service about their wellness being the Navy’s top priority. In truth, the Navy’s top priority is, and always will be, to win our nation’s wars at sea. People, platforms, and payloads are all equally important to that mission. The message to sailors needs to be “take care of the ship, take care of your shipmates, take care of yourself, you are all critical to the mission.” When sailors view themselves as a critical element of a system of mission accomplishment, they begin to find purpose – a reason for the incredible sacrifice all sailors must make. Military leaders have long recognized a sense of purpose as being one of the most powerful motivators for transforming individuals into effective warfighting teams.

The nature of this generation of young sailors is another reason compelling reason to reshape the way the Navy characterizes its priorities. Millennials, as children of the “Peace Dividend” of the 1990s that followed the end of the Cold War, watched their parents pursue individualistic dreams and often expect the opportunity to do the same. Many Millennials were not raised in a time period that was as focused on the same selfless sense of service that some previous generations took for granted. Patriotism just looks different today. However, every American generation has been convinced the following generation was deficient in some way. Even the parents of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” probably lamented in 1920 that America’s youth were not ready for the challenges of the “real world.” The prevailing view of Millennials is nothing new, and it’s also not helpful. The fact is, the Navy’s workforce is composed mainly of Millennials, and the challenge of leading them rests with senior leaders, to put it plainly. In this author’s experience, what is often misinterpreted as a “what’s in it for me?” attitude, is in fact a Millennial trying to determine “how do I fit in?” Sailors today seek to thrive personally even as they serve the nation. 

Shipmate

In the past, it would have been obvious to say that sailors will put the needs of their shipmates ahead of their own. They are military servicemembers after all, and most of them joined the Navy motivated by some level of selflessness. There are countless times throughout a sailor’s career when they will rightly sacrifice their own interests for the sake of a shipmate, but as a hard and fast rule, it is not necessarily beneficial to the mission for sailors to constantly put themselves last. Sailors sometimes need to prioritize their own health and readiness to ensure they are capable of contributing to the mission. Sleep, for example, is a hot button issue in the Navy right now. Some claim that systemic lack of sleep in the fleet is causing sailors and officers to perform sub-optimally on watch, potentially contributing to two tragic collisions in 2017. To be sure, the Navy needs to examine its own processes to ensure it is affording sailors the requisite time to rest so that they can do their jobs. Still, some responsibility falls on individual sailors to ensure they are getting enough sleep. This is not strictly self-interest. Sailors are one part of a system geared toward mission accomplishment. So, by declining to help out a shipmate on a late night task so they can get enough shut-eye before watch, a sailor is not only taking care of themself, but also supporting their ship’s mission. A four-star admiral once said “Tired staffs are okay, tired commanders are not.” This was not permission for commanders to work their staffs into the ground, rather it was meant to illustrate that staffs have built-in resilience due to depth, whereas commanders represent single points of mission failure. The admiral was directing his commanders to ensure they prioritized their personal health and readiness, because a commander who cannot make sound decisions due to exhaustion could actually endanger the mission, vice support it.

Today, Millennials are often motivated by more individualistic goals. That does not mean, however, that they are not willing to prioritize their shipmates over themselves, and even their ship. Consider a “man overboard” scenario. When a sailor falls into the water, every sailor stops what they are doing and supports the recovery in some way, even if it is just to muster for accountability to help identify the sailor in the water. Prioritizing the sailor above all else is not just contained to a single ship. Every ship and aircraft that can be contacted proceeds to the scene at top speed. Small boats are deployed in questionable sea states. Helicopters might be launched with winds just outside acceptable limits. Short of actual combat or avoiding collision, nothing is more important than recovering an overboard sailor. Every day, sailors put their piled-up workloads aside to give their junior shipmates on- the-job training. Entire career paths, such as Culinary Specialists and Yeomen, are dedicated to the service of other sailors. In fact, every sailor puts in work to serve their shipmates, their ship, and, ultimately, the mission. The key for leaders is to enable sailors to see how they contribute to the mission.

Self

Taking care of yourself is not necessarily selfish. Usually, it is the mindset of “ship, shipmate, self” that leads sailors to perceive those who prioritize their own wellness as “selfish.” On the contrary, when sailors understand how they contribute to the mission, they can maximize mission effectiveness by ensuring they are prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally to give 100 percent focus and effort toward their duties. It is important, of course, for sailors to understand how they fit in to the overall Navy system, and to not take “self-care” too far. Inevitably, there will be times when sailors will only be looking out for themselves, regardless of how their actions affect their shipmates, their ship, or the mission. Clearly, in a “ship, shipmate, self” culture, these sailors are highly frowned upon and quickly corrected. If they cannot be corrected, they are typically shunned.

The problem with this dynamic is the Navy ends up with sailors who are not contributing to the mission. Worse, in almost all cases, selfishness is not an immutable aspect of a sailor’s character, but rather temporary behavior that can be discouraged through sustained command-wide effort. So, the key is understanding one’s role on the ship and in the mission. As one Commanding Officer once put it, “Everyone can contribute. It’s up to the leader to help them figure out how.” Sometimes that might involve creative solutions such as reassigning sailors to other divisions or so-called “Tiger Teams” – small groups dedicated to specific short-term tasks. Sometimes, the answer is as simple as effective command indoctrination, mentorship, and training. Once a sailor truly understands that they are part of a team and how they contribute to the mission, performance will inevitably improve, usually significantly. This growth process requires leaders to exhibit emotional intelligence – the ability to manage emotions in oneself and in others to guide behavior and achieve one’s goals. To help a person who doesn’t want to help themself is often emotionally taxing, and it can be tempting to dismiss that person, but this does nothing to advance the mission.

When the leader views their relationship to an unmotivated sailor not in an adversarial way, but rather in terms of an interconnected system, that leader can begin to see even small ways the sailor might contribute, which is critical because that enables the sailor to then grow their own emotional intelligence. The key insight is that the sailor’s health and readiness are critical elements in an overall readiness system, not afterthoughts to be prioritized behind the ship and shipmates.

Conclusion

Importantly, transitioning from the idea of “ship, shipmate, self” being a set of priorities to a description of an interconnected system not only improves individual sailor wellness, but overall mission effectiveness as well. As much as Navy leadership discusses the importance of sailors and ships, nothing ever comes before the Navy’s mission to “maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.” Fundamentally, accomplishment of the Navy’s mission comes down to individual sailors working as teams to operate the finest ships, submarines, aircraft, and supporting systems in the world. To truly contribute to this mission accomplishment, every level of leadership, from work center supervisors to fleet commanders and beyond, should seek to understand how their organization fits into the overall Navy system. When the Auxiliaries Officer sees how auxiliary services support the ship’s mission, and a Strike Group Commander understands how naval air power supports their fleet, they can empower the most junior sailor with a motivating sense of purpose.

Every sailor should understand more broadly how the Navy contributes to national defense. When a sailor examines how they fits into the overall Navy system, it can be extremely fulfilling to realize that their nation depends on him to keep enemies far from its shores. If Navy leadership wants to move toward a more effective warfighting force, a good first step is the recognition that ship, shipmate, and self are all equally important, interrelated elements dedicated to mission accomplishment.

Jimmy Drennan is the Vice President of CIMSEC. These views are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of any government agency.

Featured Image: (June 19, 2018) Hawaii-area Sailors render honors to retired Chief Boatswain’s Mate and Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Emory during a farewell ceremony held before he departs Hawaii to be with family. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Pacheco/Released)

The Strategic Readiness Review: Opportunities for Future Success?

The following was submitted in response to CIMSEC’s Call for Articles on restoring warfighting readiness.

 By Tom Bayley, CAPT (Ret.) USN

The Strategic Readiness Review provides a good start for institutional reflection and debate as the U.S. Navy moves forward in addressing warfighting readiness. However, trying to address the complex “system of systems” contributing to readiness in 80 pages is a daunting task. Further examination is required to ensure the institution is doing more than identifying symptoms and contributing factors to a complex situation. Candid discussion and debate is needed in an effort to identify root causes and systemic issues to ensure the Navy learns from this introspective study.

Leadership

The last paragraph of the Executive Summary to this report claims “leadership is the most important element to this journey” to restore readiness. Although not specifically calling out Navy senior leadership as an underlying cause, the issue of “institutional accountability” alludes to the royal “we” of how senior leaders could have (and should have) done better. The 2012 message by ADM John Harvey to the Surface Community just prior to his retirement should have been a red flare, invoking the royal “we” nearly 80 times in his candid reflection. He warned the community was straying from standards in excellence and opined they had lost focus on effectiveness over emphasis on efficiency.

A thorough debate of the SRR’s findings is warranted, asking the “why?” question several times to get to the root causes. As an example, the Executive Summary states “Many of these deficiencies have been observed and authoritatively documented for years, however the naval capacity that had been built up for the Cold War masked their impact” (p. 1).  Why were these deficiencies masked if they were observed and documented?  Why was no action taken on these?  Several times the report references the culture of the Navy, both where it had strayed and recommending where it needed to go. This begins to get to the real underlying causes of how good intentions and senior decisions over time were in adequate in shaping the complex system of systems of  warfighting readiness.

The need to develop and grow the Navy’s leaders for the future is a warfighting imperative. Being able to view all the facets of readiness, including multiple perspectives is essential. Developing the proper temporal perspective where short-term goals can have long-term impacts which run counter to the mission and the ability to resolve these differences is essential. Being able to seek out possible unintended consequences and mitigate (or even avoid) them is critical. Seeking out opportunities for success from challenges being presented is part of the recommended “learning culture.” 

As the Navy Leader Development Framework states, leadership involves competency and character. Clearly there were competency issues involved in understanding this system of systems concept toward readiness. But the issue of character is equally important where leaders must have the character to stand up and be heard, even when the news may not be good. Being able to “lead up” (whether through the operational or administrative chain of command) is required. Also being able to effectively  “lead out” is required for senior leaders, such as educating and conveying to Congress the convincing argument in an environment of competing resources (including money AND time). The Navy’s leaders and their staffs must develop the cognitive capacity to handle these complex problems with the appropriate strength in character to ensure success in warfighting.

Organizational Considerations

In reading this report, one might conclude a hint of victimization by the Navy where the Goldwater-Nichols Act (GNA) and Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) hindered the Navy’s ability to execute its responsibilities of train, maintain, and equip naval forces. This points to the challenge where the Navy failed to thoroughly grasp the context of this legislation. The Navy’s culture to react (vice being proactive), combined with a degree of over self-confidence in excellence took the Navy down a path it might have otherwise embarked. Although a review of these dated requirements might be warranted, so should an effort of working within these guidelines be considered.

Coming from the Cold War Era, where the Navy enjoyed a great deal of independence with its “Blue Water Navy” focus to offset the Soviet threat, the Navy resisted the move toward “jointness.” It relied heavily on joint waivers for Flag Officer promotions as required by DOPMA and failed to comprehend the implications of GNA upon the Navy’s organization. OPNAV’s Strategic Plans (N5) continued to focus on strategic operational planning to support force structure positions but strategic proactive thinking was lacking at Navy headquarters. It wasn’t until the Maritime Operations Center with Maritime Headquarters (MOC/MHQ) Concept came out in 2005 where the Navy finally recognized its Fleet Commanders were the operational-level naval commanders for the Combatant Commands (vice the CNO). Even today, OPNAV N5 attempts to do theater engagement priorities for countries which sometimes runs counter to the Combatant Commander’s priorities (and responsibilities). Being from a previous Fleet Commander staff, there were numerous times where the priorities of OPNAV didn’t align with the Fleet Commanders. Hence, it’s at the Fleet Commanders where the ADCON and OPCON came together and the creative tension was fostered. Every Deployment Order required two separate routing chains. One up through the associated Combatant Commander while also chopping a separate package up through Navy channels to OPNAV. It was at the Joint Staff where the two chops would converge for review and recommendations to the Secretary of Defense. Navy’s lack of understanding of the joint processes resulted in its being handicapped in this effort as it resisted the effort to make officers joint. Just like it ignored the manning requirements of Fleet Headquarters Staffs (through community management to focus on the “higher priorities” of individual communities), lacking adequate Navy representation on Joint staffs was minimizing the Navy’s perspective.

In September 2005, the National Strategy for Maritime Security (NSMS) was issued. This was a missed opportunity for the Navy to think proactively on its implications. With the typical reactive mode of solving problems, the Navy viewed this as tasking for supporting plans with stove-piped efforts of  the Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) Plan of October 2005 (FUOU) and the  National Plan to Achieve Maritime Domain Awareness (which was updated in 2013). Much time and effort was devoted to effectively implement these supporting plans for the Navy without the benefit of deeper assessment. Being the first time of having a national strategy for maritime security, the Navy missed an opportunity to fully explore the implications of this new document and associated implications.

Having long suffered the issue of maritime force apportionment across geographic boundaries based upon littorally-focused boundaries (i.e. the Unified Command Plan), maritime boundaries in the middle of oceans have created frictions and tensions for decades. These issues are highlighted with the supply/demand issue in the SRR. However, with the NSMS, the nation was recognizing maritime security from a global threat perspective.

Reflecting on how the Department of Defense has evolved with GNA when faced with global threats (i.e. transcends sovereign boundaries), single organizations were assigned responsibilities and authorities for these threats. In the case of nuclear deterrence, U.S. Strategic Command was created. Additionally, it took on cyberspace responsibilities  with U.S. Cyber Command assigned as a Subordinate Unified Combatant Command (and now with plans to transform into a separate Unified Combatant Command). When the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) resulted following 9/11, specific responsibilities for terrorism were assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command as a Unified Combatant Command. The mere fact U.S Transportation Command as a Unified Combatant Command with global transportation responsibilities exists would support consideration of a Unified Combatant Command responsible for maritime security across the globe. This responsibility could be assigned to the U.S. Navy, putting the big “O” back into the Chief of Naval Operations duties. Much of the command and control already exists with the various fleet headquarters and the Maritime Operations Centers. This would then relieve the dual chain of command issue (OPCON/ADCON) that pulls at the Fleet and possibly better align the Service responsibilities of Title X with its operational responsibilities, including a more centralized line of accountability.

Fiscal Disconnect

Demands exceeding supply is nothing new. Managing costs is central to any organization whether it be government or business. It is true the current federal budgetary process does hinder the ability to conduct long-term planning and execution (especially with the consequences of the Budget Control Act). However, building the compelling and convincing argument for required resources from Congress has been a challenge. Mired by a degree of mistrust with stories of the $10,000 toilet seat, cost over-runs, and inability to clearly account for expenditures, the Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act (1982) mandated that agencies implement internal controls and systems to assure fiscal accountability in effective and efficient operations. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report of 1984 highlighted concerns with the Department of Defense’s response in grouping all the Services together. Congress continued to push hard on accountability concerns with the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 identifying significant losses with fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, requiring increased attention to fiscal accountability. The Department of Defense was singled out in the National Defense Appropriations Act of 2010 which required DoD to improve its financial accountability with the requirement to have validated financial statements no later than 30 September, 2017.

As a result of the 2010 NDAA, the Navy spent considerable time and effort the last six years in improving financial accountability. The SRR highlighted concerns voiced in the above legislation when discussing “Surface Steaming Days” (p. 59) as being an inaccurate accounting for readiness costs. Additionally the SRR calls out “the inaccuracy of the models” (p. 60) to predict maintenance requirements (relating directly to costs). The inability to accurately account for costs has hindered the ability to develop valid models to inform planning and senior level decision making. Critical thinking has been lacking to address the implications of the changes the Navy has experienced. Even the “four or five ships at home to provide one forward” rule of thumb expressed in the SRR (p. 20) has not been adjusted for the reality of delayed maintenance periods, when it may be more on the order of 6:1 required.

Clearly, the ability to accurately tell the Navy story has hindered obtaining the needed resources. However, in taking advantage of the effort to increase fiscal fidelity and accuracy mandated by law, the use of big data, and technology, there should be opportunity to revisit modeling and planning efforts within the Navy. An initiative to capture big data relating to actual operating costs should be a priority with today’s technology to see what insights it would reveal. Clearly, better models for informed decision making are warranted by the SRR’s findings and recommendations. “Big data” analytics is a growing field in the business world and the Navy should revisit its business practices accordingly.

Manning and Training

In addressing the implications of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA), the SRR implied a degree of victimization of the naval officer due to the unique demands of the Navy and its mission. The SRR hints at a “relaxation of Goldwater-Nichols Act provisions, combined with a reduction in joint headquarters billets” (p. 39) as a possible solution. The SRR does a good job of highlighting the increasing demands on our personnel (especially the officers with increased scope and depth of responsibilities) and limitations in properly preparing them. The concern for “mastery” is a recurring theme in the Manning and Training section of the SRR.

Looking forward, the future continues to grow in scope and breadth of VUCA (vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). The effort to develop the well-rounded “jack of all” (and master of none) naval officer applies. Pulling back on graduate education (as hinted in the SRR) is not the solution. From Churchill’s remarks, “now that we have run out of money we have to think”, cutting back on education would be a short-sighted perspective that has long term implications of secondary effects. Developing critical thinking abilities in senior leaders is essential for future success. The ability to understand the complexity of the systems of systems, ask the hard questions, see multiple perspectives, and have the cognitive capacity to be proactive is a war-fighting imperative.

One possible solution to this was proposed by ADM (ret.) James Stavridis and CAPT (ret.) Mark Hagerott in a joint article they wrote in 2009, “The Heart of an Officer: Joint, Interagency, and International Operations and Navy Career Development.” Perhaps an idea before its time, they recognized the increasing complexity of the world and the resulting increasing demands to best prepare Naval Officers for the future. They addressed many of the concerns highlighted by the SRR. However, they proposed the idea of developing separate career paths for officers based upon their assessment of environment and future trends. Their proposal builds a strong case to allow specialization of the officer corps (Unrestricted Line) along three career paths: Joint/Interagency Operations, Technical, and General Operations. Perhaps revisiting their proposal is well warranted as the time has come out the urgency produced by the SRR.

Conclusion

Just like readiness is described by the SRR as a system of systems, so must the way forward. However, without serious reflection and discussion to reveal all the issues involved, getting to root causes, the Navy risks an incomplete way forward. This risks further unintended consequences which could run counter to the warfighting mission. To be a learning organization requires a call for candor in open dialogue. This is a leadership challenge at all levels.

A hard look in the mirror is needed, starting with Navy culture. A good methodology might be that suggested in the recent edition of the Harvard Business Review  “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture.”  In this article, the authors provide a possible framework to assess culture (whether at the unit level or institutionally). Through this assessment process, the framework offers a means of understanding culture which can then be linked to outcomes for the organization. “Culture” is equally (if not more) complex than the issue of “Readiness.” Both relate to organizational performance which is a warfighting imperative for the Navy.

The culture of the U.S. Navy has been its greatest asset when faced with adversity and challenges yet it has also handicapped itself as the SRR contends. Living the core values “honor, courage, and commitment” demands this critical assessment and committing to the way forward. Problem-solving is one the Navy’s greatest abilities but a more proactive approach for the future is essential. Standing up the Readiness Reform and Oversight Council is a good start. Hopefully it will be more than a problem-solving effort to stovepipe solutions for managing, but rather take on a comprehensive and integrated approach that goes beyond problem-solving and into seeking opportunities for success. The way forward cannot be solved solely by management of policies, strategies, and programs. This is a leadership challenge for future success.

Tom Bayley is a former Naval Officer who retired as a Captain in 2005, with over two decades as a nuclear submariner and designated a Joint Specialty Officer (JSO). He then joined the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) to assist in the implementation of the Maritime Operations Center (MOC) Concept across the Navy. He is currently a Professor of Practice in Leadership & Ethics and is 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.

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Featured Image: South China Sea (Feb. 6, 2018) Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Stephano Troche, from Lajas, Puerto Rico, assigned to the “Sea Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, verifies a tools list during routine maintenance on an MH-60S Sea Hawk in the hangar bay of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan/Released)

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)