Wednesday, February 29, 2012


The team with whom I currently serve is made up of Sailors and civilians.  We have far more Sailors than civilians, but our civilians are equally valued and critical to our success.  Civilians bring much specialized expertise to the team and the continuity they provide is vital to our ability to grow and strengthen relationships outside of the command, as well as competency inside.  At the same time, they are able to serve as the foundation for "The NIOC Pensacola Way" so that the command's culture does not ebb and flow too much based on the personalities that enter and exit through the Navy's revolving Permanent Change of Station (PCS) door.

At the outset of my tour as Commanding Officer, I made it clear to all that 100% retention is not an objective for neither Sailors nor civilians during my tenure.  Though I am committed to giving every member of our team reason to stay, I do in fact hope they aspire for more than even we can offer.  At the same time, I told the civilian members of our team that there was no upward mobility within our command and that I would do whatever I could to help those who felt they have peaked within the organization to find employment that allowed them opportunities for more personal growth or a larger paycheck elsewhere.

20 months later what has happened?

- Some very talented civilians have voluntarily left our team for greater opportunity
- One civilian left the team because, as he put it, "the organization had outgrown (him)"
- More than a few very strong Sailors have decided not to re-enlist

I am certain that more civilians are looking for employment elsewhere and provided the rationale behind their planned transition is excitement about additional opportunity vice frustration with their current situation, I celebrate that fact and stand ready to write letters of recommendation.  At the same time, I welcome more separation/resignation/retirement requests from members of our team, uniformed or not.  Some might wonder what such a statement says about my commitment to the institution, and that is OK by me.  My answer is that I firmly believe...

- Life is too short to be doing something other than what you love
- What we do to make a living needs to be about more than a paycheck
- We all have a right, and a responsibility, to reach our potential
- A scarcity mindset that is focused on retention kills creativity and weakens the team

A few months back, our Executive Officer told civilian members of the team that none of our civilians would realize their potential as members of the NIOC Pensacola Team.  I personally loved the statement and couldn't agree more.  At the same time, I was taken aback when a few members of the team took it as an insult.  They didn't seem to understand that it was high praise and a testament to both their demonstrated abilities and unrecognized capacity.  They didn't realize that though we know their contributions are critical to ensuring we realize our collective potential, 15 years in the same job is not helping them to realize theirs.

It may sound odd, but I hope everyone on our team outgrows the organization.  In fact, I would be disappointed to come back to the command in five years and see more than a couple of familiar faces at the same desks.  The rationale behind such a statement is aligned with the three reasons I am not retiring when I reach the 20 year point this May:

1) People - I love the people with whom I serve (military and civilian) and in some cases, I want more for them than they want for themselves
2) Experiential Diversity - The opportunity to contribute in new and exciting ways every 2-3 years ensures life doesn't get monotonous
3) Personal Growth - The continual challenge of leaving each tour a better person and making each command better ensures I make the most of each day and that stagnation is not my reality

I am sometimes guilty of mirror imaging.  Wanting more for others than they in fact want for themselves may not be fair, but that is how I am wired.  Though I continue working to develop a more empathetic mindset, I won't stop helping others to want to realize their potential.   Even if it means they shed the uniform or leave the command in search of greater opportunities elsewhere.  I remain committed to do my part to give everyone reason to stay, to refrain from changing anyone's mind to leave, and to facilitate the transition for those most deserving of some additional momentum.

That's no recipe for the Golden Anchor Retention Excellence Award, but life is not about retention.  It's not about doing the same thing today as you did yesterday, and it's not about staying within your ever-shrinking comfort zone.  It's about fulfillment!  Are you fulfilled with your current employment?  If not, please consider what fulfills you and move on.  As my parents taught me long ago, settling is only cheating yourself.  I'm not willing to cheat myself and I refuse to silently watch others cheat themselves.


Monday, February 20, 2012

More Commitment

Those of us who serve in the Navy are very familiar with our three core values, HONOR, COURAGE and COMMITMENT. We personally witness, read stories about, and celebrate a long history filled with examples of heroic actions exemplifying a tradition founded on those three values. Those values are re-enforced at just about every opportunity and we are better because of it. I see examples of honor and courage just about every day I serve. What I have seen less and less of recently is overt examples of COMMITMENT and it starts with the language we choose to use.

In a previous post, I shared my opinions on indecisive language. Since then, I have made it a point to be even more aware of the language I use and that of individuals around me. At work, I have grown tired of hearing how we "could meet" this deadline, we "should meet" that deadline, and "there is no reason why we can't address" a certain issue. People who use such verbiage imply they are not COMMITTED to following through, are not operating with any meaningful sense of purpose, and are satisfied with a lackluster effort level.

It is my personal belief that our actions start with our words and a road that is paved with wishy, washy language, creates a team that has little sense of urgency and opens the door for excuses to explain their  inaction. In favor of previous examples, I offer we "WILL make" this deadline, we "are COMMITTED to making" that deadline, and we "have ALREADY BEGUN solving" a certain issue. In an attempt to justify a lack of COMMITMENT to action, I have been told that we can't COMMIT because we don't have control over a given process. To that I say poppycock! We may only control a portion of a given process, but the larger WE controls the entire action. Furthermore, leadership is less about control and all about influence. Truth is we control very little, but WE can influence just about anything we choose to (and everything is a choice). Personally, I wish we would spend more time influencing the things that matter most, vice attempting to control the things we fool ourselves into believing we can.

I ask that those of us truly COMMITTED to Navy Core Values spend a little more time demonstrating our COMMITMENT to "The Third Core Value" through our words and our actions. There is no honor, nor courage, if we aren't truly COMMITTED.

I am not THE Bruce Dickinson, but just as the only prescription for his fever was "More Cowbell", I know I am not alone in my acknowledgement that we could cure many of our ills with "More COMMITMENT." In fact, it is said, and I believe it, that our thoughts and words ultimately shape our destiny. Then again, our destiny will arrive regardless of our COMMITMENT level...just not one that delivers any sense of fulfillment.

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Collective Ownership

Collective Ownership is a rather simple concept founded on the philosophy of a shared commitment to making decisions (and following through on them) based upon the benefit for the greater good. This is not necessarily a democratic model where majority rules, but a model whereby all angles are considered, empathy is commonplace, and strategic thought is paramount. The concepts of collective ownership and cooperative leadership go hand in hand and serve to underpin the actions of many great people, and though related, I will leave the latter to another discussion. Having served almost 20 years in the Cryptologic Community, I have observed that, like most teams, not everyone is equally committed to the philosophy of collective ownership. To this day we see too many examples of "cylinders of excellence", individuals protecting perceived "rice bowls", and Shipmates viewing themselves as helpless victims instead of the problem solving value creators most of us are.

"Cylinders of Excellence" is a somewhat sarcastic term used to describe teams who operate in isolation. They would rather be self-sufficient franchises with duplicative capabilities than part of a larger team with deliberately built interdependencies fostering the growth of complementary expertise. Pointing to any specific organization or team within our larger team as an example is counterproductive to the culture we are strengthening, so we all should refrain. Instead, consider reflecting on your experiences and how the teams in which you have served may have operated as "cylinders of excellence." I go back to my time as a Cryptologic Resource Coordinator (CRC) and the collective ownership model the CRCs across the waterfront enjoyed. We continually shared ideas, offered best practices, and celebrated the successes of others as if they were our own. We saw our responsibility as advancing afloat cryptology across the waterfront over time, not merely within our respective staff during our individual tour. Speaking with current CRCs, I know that philosophy still exists within that peer group. Recent conversations with fellow Commanding Officers make it clear that more than a few are equally committed to this philosophy.

Those of us who have done our share of staff work have likely experienced frustration with others who seem to "Go Native" and lose site as to what we are attempting to accomplish as a community. As members of the Cryptologic COMMUNITY distributed across the Navy and Joint world, we have a shared responsibility to strategically lead, help others to understand our unique capabilities, and create opportunities to both contribute to and build upon our core skills, provided WE believe our actions are in the best interest of the Nation. Our job is not to protect "our baby", keep the command to which we are assigned open, or fence billets which may in fact be based on obsolete requirements. We are not politicians protecting our constituents; we are professional cryptologists who are willing to tell our seniors when they are in fact naked (demanding that our juniors do the same for us), who take pride in advocating against what may superficially appear to be in our command's best interest, and who are committed to facilitating deliberate progress vice merely admiring the problem. We are placed on a given staff because of our individual expertise and that of the community we represent, not to protect "rice bowls" or create hollow pet projects in the name of self-preservation or a (not so) great idea from above.

Being one who takes great pleasure in interacting with people across the community, I have grown somewhat frustrated with the number of us who fail to understand that each of us has the power to make a difference and personally address the issues that we see as most important. Taking permission, seizing opportunity, and deliberately partnering is how some of the most exciting initiatives become reality. I've been to too many working groups where control grade officers and senior enlisted Sailors (among others) talk about issues and dismiss them as something they cannot personally affect. That has changed quite a bit over the last two years (from what I have seen), but we could do even better. I have personally witnessed many great ideas percolate up from the deck plate and transition from idea to action to realization. That said, I have witnessed more of us acknowledge a given issue, complain about the status quo, and expect someone else to address the perceived problem. A culture of collective ownership empowers the individual, asks that we all err on the side of action, and demands that none of us constrain ourselves by our rank or job title.

There is no doubt that we are a community made up of great people who continue to do amazing things. Just imagine what a seamless culture of collective ownership could deliver to OUR Nation, OUR Navy, OUR Shipmates, and lastly OURselves. Let that be OUR legacy!