Thursday, November 5, 2009

Firefighters

As a native of California, fires were a constant on the evening news during the summer season. I remember on many occasions local firefighters traveling long distances to help the cause in other "jurisdictions." Though neither lives, nor property were at risk in the following instance, a small group of "firefighters" from distant lands were assembled to temper heated discussion on the latest strategic initiative. Though the topic du jour was the creation of the Navy's newest designator, "Cyber Warfare Engineer", the method of response and the lessons learned are the real take-aways.

Though there were several "firefighters", there were three who truly subdued the flames. Not surprisingly, given the topic, those three were the three most junior people in the room and only one had ever played such a role before. The rest of us were merely providing context, facilitating the discussion and playing devil's advocate.

For those who did not connect the dots of that poorly painted picture, we conducted a working group of subject matter experts from varied locations across the country. As is the norm, the slide deck was beautiful and the recommended way ahead was thorough. After we briefed the senior officer who called the group together, I left with a few observations (though not the first time witnessed):

- Any future success in the Computer Network Operations arena is directly related to our willingness to embrace the good ideas from our LTs and below...they truly have a vision, see the potential and understand the level of investment required to be relevant.

- We have very few Officers with the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities in this important arena, which though a niche today, is sure to be our core competency tomorrow.

- We are at risk of losing the majority of those Officers if we don't change our culture.

Because those three subject matter experts ensured I left with extremely relevant data points, I wanted to attempt to return the favor. Therefore, I shared the following in hopes of creating a mentorship moment since I continue to enjoy when others make the time to do the same for me:

- We are "They"...There is much discussion about how "They" don't have a strategy, or "They" are heading down the wrong path, or "They" have no idea what is happening on the deckplates. By participating in this working group, we needed to understand that we are "They" and the more of us who think in such terms, the better off we all will be.

- Pretty Slides Do Not Equate to Implementation...The fingerprints of all working group participants are now all over the Cyber Warfare Engineer initiative and we all should be proud of the product we delivered. That said, and as a frequent working group participant, we all needed to understand that success will be measured by assessing implementation and not head nods during an outbrief.

- Share Your Unique Vantage Point...All too often we assume that if we are not hearing the discussion, it must not be happening (especially in the information age). Participating in working groups gives us a unique vantage point and access to information. It is critical that we share what we can about our experiences and provide context to those who didn't have the benefit of hearing the discussion first hand. Transparency is desirable, but without clarity it may very well do more harm than good.

- Frame the Discussion or be Shaped by the Outcome...It is much easier to frame the discussion to inform a desired outcome than it is to change the outcome after high level decisions have gained significant momentum. As mentioned in a previous post, we need not wait until the wildfire is right outside our door before we take action. We needed to understand that a working group is optimally used as a proactive tool for identifying opportunities vice a short-fused response to imminent deadlines.

Though the fire has been significantly tempered it is not yet out, but the three experts rolled into town, helped to contain it and left the remaining smoldering ashes to the locals. We would be remiss if we hadn't ensured the junior officers left knowing how valued their ideas, opinions and recommendations are to the strategic direction of our core business lines. Never before has "Leading Up" been so important. Likewise, never before could seniors learn more from seeking input from juniors (Generation Y). Regardless of our relative seniority, we need not be shy. It is our responsibility to offer unsolicited recommendations to seniors and seek counsel from juniors. Thanks again you three, you know who you are...

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