Thursday, June 30, 2011

Succession Planning

As I just about reach the midway point in my current tour of duty, I acknowledge I am having a "Mid-tour Crisis". I assess the progress we have made over the last year and my immediate response is that there is not enough time to fully develop some of the experiments we currently have underway, let alone the ones we want to implement. After an initial panic, I took the following steps:

1) Asked the Admiral for another year so we can weave some of the successful experiments into the culture before departing...He politely declined.

2) Called an impromptu Captain's Call to ask for help in dealing with my crisis...The team committed to specific experiments we would fully develop during the rest of our time together

3) Began some deliberate thought about succession planning

Last Wednesday, a Sailor told me that he was excited about all of the side-projects we have underway, but was growing a bit concerned about what might happen when I leave. Fortunately, the Executive Officer, Senior Enlisted Leader and I have been equally concerned so I was able to tell him what we were doing in the way of succession planning. This is what I had done prior to the query...

1) Consulted the list of Officers who will be considered to take Commander Command and ranked those who would best fit NIOC Pensacola

2) Called the individual at the top of the list to gauge his interest...easy sell

3) Wrote an unsolicited letter of recommendation that I will send to the Command Screen Board at the appropriate time

We are now going through a very similar process with the intent of ensuring the right Senior Chief is chosen to relieve our current Senior Enlisted Leader.

As my last tour of duty was drawing to a close, I had the opportunity to choose my relief and it made all of the difference. I had poured my heart and soul into the job and very much appreciated the opportunity to recommend the officer I felt was best equipped to relieve me. Fortunately, the Community Leader agreed with my recommendation. The result is continued progress through a shared personal philosophy and common vision, as two people collectively lead over a period of 5-6 years.

I have seen it far too many times, being lead down one path only to have the next leader point us in an opposing direction. Recently, I saw a friend spend his time in command creating a culture of openness, collaboration and inclusivity, only to have it completely undone by his relief in short order. The result was yet again stagnation, frustration, and validation that too many leaders choose to shape the team they lead to reflect their personality, instead of waiting to see what type of leader the team needs and be that leader.

I love the team with whom I serve far too much to let that happen. I may be fooling myself into believing I can influence the decision on who I will begrudgingly "hand over the keys" (I would stay forever, given the opportunity), but I would be an even bigger fool not to try. As your time in your current job draws to a close, please consider the type of individual who would thrive in your current position and the type of leader your team needs. Why not prioritize the list of names and recruit them one by one? Then, talk with someone who might be able to influence the decision and lobby on their behalf.

The way we currently place people is rather sterile. We look at pieces of paper that we choose to believe document performance and assess potential. Truth is they do, but the accuracy is suspect and often times the metric of choice is relative seniority amongst peers. Nowhere do we assess personality, personal philosophy or specific leadership attributes, nor do we ask the individuals currently serving in the position for their input. Using a sports analogy, sometimes the best athlete available is not the best fit for the team currently making their draft selection. In our case, sometimes the best person on paper is far from the best person for a given job. I want to help ensure the best Senior Chief and the best Commander for NIOC Pensacola are "drafted" in place of the Senior Chief with the best relationship with the detailer and happens to have the right PRD and the Commander who "looks good on paper". Our community is far too small for us to ignore the intangibles.

All decisions are a result of the data points provided to the decision maker. If we truly care about the outcome, we will make the time to influence the decision by providing additional meaningful data points. The screening board may laugh at the recommendation I wrote and the concept of lobbying on behalf of a peer is likely foreign to far too many. But if one is truly committed to the institution and loyal to the team, the potential for ridicule is of no consequence.

The question and concerns brought to my attention by the interested Sailor are valid. I was glad he cared enough to ask and I am pleased to be a part of a Command Triad that cares enough to have an answer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Innovative Treadmill

I have often wondered why we in the Navy are so quick to use the word "innovative" (and derivatives thereof) in our daily vocabulary. In doing so, I am convinced most don't realize how meaningless the word really is (or we made it)..."characterized by, tending to, or introducing something new." There is no assessment of the value of this new process, idea, product, etc.; just that it is "something new". We see innovations each and every day and often times they amount to nothing more than new ways of doing the same thing. This is why you will never hear me use the word (unless I am using it sarcastically) and I cringe at the site of the word in performance appraisals. I believe that the characteristic we truly need to promote is that of entrepreneurship. I have seen many definitions for this word, but it amounts to "A process through which individuals identify opportunities, allocate resources, and create value." The key difference being that of CREATING VALUE.

The command at which I currently work believes so strongly in the entrepreneurship trait that it is one of our four command values and we proudly acknowledge "fear of failure is not authorized." I believe we all are Chief Executive Officers (CEO) at some level...command, department, division, workcenter, team, collateral duty, process owner, or self. As such, we have a responsibility to celebrate our role as entrepreneur by working "on" the business as much as we work "in" the business. The book E-Myth Revisited does a great job of describing the three roles we play in our professional lives...Technician, Manager, and Entrepreneur, where technicians work "in" the business at one end of the spectrum and entrepreneurs work "on" the business at the other end. Here is a quick summary about how each person looks at time and work:

Work - Directed by the manager; follows standard operating procedures
Time - Focused in the present moment...what can be done today

Work - Achieving results through others...turns the vision into action
Time - Both long and short term considerations

Work - Developing a vision of where s/he can take the business
Time - Focused on the long term

I firmly believe that each one of us regardless of rank or position has a responsibility to assume each role. The trick is recognizing how much time we should spend assuming each one. As a commanding officer, I spend most of my time focusing on the entrepreneurial role, some of my time in a managerial role supporting the vision from higher authority and little time responding to the tasking of the day as a technician. On the other end of the spectrum, our most junior analyst spends most of the time as a technician, finds way to work with peers to create managerial opportunities, and when given the requisite strategic context is able to devote a small portion of the day to an entrepreneurial role.

I continue to see evidence of my peers, seniors and juniors embracing all three roles to varying degrees, but the reason I have been giving the concept of working "on" the business versus "in" the business so much thought is I see a mismatch. I see too many senior officers unable to shed the technician mindset that may have made them a great junior officer; I see Petty Officers, Chiefs and junior officers all focused almost entirely on a managerial role; and I see some of our greatest entrepreneurial minds being held back (by both themself and others) by a collar device. Over the course of a career, we are expected to enter as technicians, grow into managers and ultimately become entrepreneurs (though the military clearly uses different lexicon) with personal initiative being the primary means of evolving (i.e. little deliberate investment in professional development). The problem is our best technicians do not necessarily grow into our best managers, and the concept of entrepreneurship is lost on those in our most influential leadership positions.

I ask that we think twice before continuing to use the word "innovative" as a prevalent part of our daily vocabulary, as our inaction has made it meaningless. Let's get off the "innovative" treadmill that does nothing more than find new ways of delivering the status quo. Instead, let's embrace the role of entrepreneur, create some unique value and acknowledge that much of what we do today is merely keeping ourselves busy under the false pretense that we are making progress. Please do not be afraid to fail and let us find ways to reward those who demonstrate they are not risk averse, while we weed out those who are.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Opportunity, Mentorship and...

Each week we welcome new Sailors to our command, and I am impressed by each addition. Monthly, I get the opportunity to meet with the newest Information Warfare Officers to join our community. The high quality of person we continue to attract to our specific line of work within the Navy ceased to amaze me long ago. Though an infrequent event, last week I had the privilege of chairing three Seaman-to-Admiral Boards and was once again impressed by the caliber of Sailor pursuing the personal evolution from enlisted Sailor to Officer. The word evolution might imply to some that an Officer is somehow better than an enlisted Sailor, which is not the case at all. From a pure capability and potential standpoint, the differences between our officer and enlisted ranks continues to blur (at least in the Information Warfare and Cryptologic Community). As I personally witness such convergence, I got to thinking about why one person becomes an Information Warfare Officer Ensign and another a Cryptologic Technician or Intelligence Specialist Seaman. Furthermore, what makes the enlisted Sailor shift gears and decide to pursue a commission?

There was a time when I would simply answer the Ensign benefited from additional opportunity and mentorship. Opportunity from the standpoint that they had the resources to make the bachelors degree required by the military for direct accession into the officer ranks a reality. Mentorship because they had parents/mentors to guide them through the process of starting life after high school. I still believe opportunity and mentorship to be what largely influences our initial transition into adulthood, but the most important element is missing...desired employment. I say most important because the other two in isolation imply that those who choose to enlist didn't benefit from opportunity and mentorship, which in many cases is absolutely false. It also implies that given the choice everyone would choose to be an officer...another falsehood.

I became very aware of the important role desired employment plays in the decision during my Executive Officer tour. I take great pride in reaching out to talented young Sailors who I believe would make great officers. Back in 2001, I took one particular Seaman aside to tell him about the Naval Academy, why I thought he would enjoy much success there, and that he would make a great officer. After listening to what I had to say, he responded with what amounted to thanks, but no thanks. He politely told me he loved what he was doing and wanted to contribute in specific ways while enjoying certain experiences only available to enlisted Sailors. He respected the role of officers, but did not want to be one. That same (not quite as) young man is currently a Chief serving at the White House and recently approached me about migrating to our wardroom. If he is commissioned, he will have done it by choice after he experienced and contributed to his satisfaction as a rightfully proud member of the enlisted ranks; not because his XO attempted to lure him before he accomplished his rather specific professional objectives.

In my specific line of work, I have every reason to believe that many of our enlisted Sailors would make great officers. I refrain from encouraging them to make the transition because of the lessons I learned through previous "cherry-picking" efforts. I also admit that our most technically proficient Sailors would be wasted talent in our wardroom of today (another discussion at another time). Those who migrate to our wardroom should be doing so because they want to alter their employment, they want to lead larger teams, and they want to grow in ways not already afforded them. Many people are lured by the increased authorities, privileges and pay of a Naval Officer...don't be fooled! Yes, we are paid more, return more salutes than we initiate, and have more authority (generally speaking), but our employment and resulting contributions are what makes us different, no more or less important.

As I consider the Sailors who proudly choose to stay members of our enlisted ranks, I recognize they, too, are taught to enhance their administrative skills and seek out additional collateral duties if they want to promote to Chief Petty Officer and beyond; all along pulling them away from fully developing and leveraging their rating specific technical expertise. There is virtually no way for Sailors most passionate about their technical roles to be appropriately employed, promoted, and monetarily compensated over the course of a career. In the traditional "move up or move out" military model, those who are employed as technical experts are rarely promoted to Chief and beyond; those who are promoted are asked to make administrivia the priority and leave the doing to juniors; and those who see no way out of the cycle are lured by the disparate compensation offered by the civilian world.

In essence, we are quick to create and grow technical expertise, only to make it clear that upward mobility has more to do with administration disguised as leadership than it does mastery of designator/rating specific core competencies. Truth is, we need our Chief Petty Officers to be technical experts who operationally lead, and our Officers to be operational leaders who are technical experts.

At his point, I have veered off-course a bit. However, since I am here, I will conclude by sharing my sincere hope that we commit to making Chief Petty Officer the pinnacle of technical expertise and giving our technical experts every reason to want to become part of our valued "Goat Locker" (some of our best would rather not promote in favor of staying technically focused). At the same time, we must openly acknowledge the primary difference between officers and enlisted Sailors is our respective employment, not our intellect or potential. Lastly, we must admit that in many cases, upon commissioning, we are moving someone away from both their strengths and passions while we think we are doing both them and the Navy a favor. I know more than a few cases of commissioning remorse.