Archive for the 'retention' Tag
LT Anna Granville recently wrote what may become the junior officer blog article of the year over at Task and Purpose. Titled, “4 Reasons I Am Resigning My Commission as a Naval Officer,” it is succinct and powerful insight into why some high-performing officers decide to leave after their minimum service commitment. And it took some guts to write.
Her piece resonates with anyone who has ever been frustrated by the large, immovable object that is the Navy. A one-size-fits-all promotion process, long deployments and frustrating dealings with personnel officers, lack of diversity and lack of control are all enough to make even the most active junior officers (JOs) ask, “Why isn’t this changing?” And then, finally, “Why am I still doing this?”
While there is no blanket explanation that can cover every departing, high-performing junior officer, we do have statistics from the 2014 Navy Retention Study and a number of competing anecdotes that suggest the Navy is losing some of its best officers too soon. An improving economy, a perceived erosion of trust, and a bureaucratic bog are tilting the retention seesaw in the wrong direction.
But there is a counter-narrative: junior officers can build the service we want. We can only do this, however, by staying in long enough to see real change pushed through. Every officer who can articulate essential changes that must be made to the service, yet leaves that service in disgust, erodes a vibrant young officer corps whose challenge is to prepare to lead a service with common sense and courage. We must achieve critical mass in order to transplant our grassroots dialogue of today into tomorrow’s occupants of Tingey House.
Why should we do this? Why stay in the service when the pull to leave is so strong? Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Admiral Bill Moran has been leading the way recently in championing a number of personnel issues and fixes. More work needs to be done, but the message is clear: positive, constructive debate can lead to tangible change.
What follows is not a point-for point refutation of LT Granville’s arguments. But for those contemplating life beyond the minimum service requirement, they are four reminders of how to retain your commission without losing your sanity:
1. You can’t look to the system for validation. Should the Navy promote people who are better pilots, better division officers, better platoon leaders, faster? That would be nice. But in as large an institution, would that look more like the Goldwater-Nichols efforts to force attainment of “joint” qualifications? I doubt the service needs more of that.
It’s true that, sometimes, it will seem like there are few rewards for standing the mid-watch for the umpteenth time or pouring your heart and soul into your job as a division officer or tactical operator. There will always be some who feel like they have been left by the wayside. We all have a story about that guy or girl who got some great ranking or billet; have all rolled our eyes after the millionth time someone has told us “timing is everything;” have all looked at our personnel record on NPC and wondered incredulously, “how long until I make O-4?”
Many of the rewards of hard-work are not tangible, such as the safety of a country that continues to enjoy unadulterated freedom. But there are many ways to get rewarded for other efforts complementary to service. Pilots have it a bit easier with scoring and competition for the “Top Hook” award. But everyone has access to forums such as USNI’s Proceedings, which pays authors per publication, and other Naval Institute essay contests which award thousands of dollars for literary achievement. Still others find fulfillment in volunteer work through the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Semper Fi Fund, or Fisher House.
In the end, Joe Byerly says it best: “[While] I’m extremely passionate about the military profession, it doesn’t define me.” Those who look in the mirror and see only Ensign or Lieutenant or Commander have lost something of themselves. Don’t forget to leave your own mark on the service and live with purpose.
2. You’re pretty damn good at your job, right? Few people join the military to be “just OK” at what they do. At some point, many think, “I’m going to be the best.” Some want to be the best operators, some the best strategists, some the best leaders. If this thought has crossed your mind, and you believe that you are good at what you do, why would you leave the service and allow someone who isn’t the best to take your place? You are part of a profession; you are allowed to take pride in that.
I know a lot of junior officers will roll their eyes here, and that’s fine. A lot of them rolled their eyes before the lead up to moments like Operation Praying Mantis, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and the recent rapid re-location of the George HW Bush Carrier Strike Group in response to extremists, too. Success in those trying times was due largely to the right people in the right positions. Cynicism may have plenty of reasons to the contrary, but without good people, we are nothing.
Luckily, the Navy is full of incredible officers and operators. Is your departure likely to cause systemic failure? Probably not. But this is the same logic people use when they say, “I won’t vote because I’m just one person, and my vote doesn’t matter.” I’d hate to see what critical mass here looks like.
3. Diversity of perspective matters.* Certainly, there are those who believe that junior officers are best seen, and not heard; but those people are in the minority. And while it may sometimes feel like a tyranny of the minority, there is absolutely a place for constructive, positive, intellectual work in the Navy. Consider the Naval Institute one of the finest examples; then look to CIMSEC and across the military to The Bridge, War on the Rocks, Task and Purpose (where Granville’s piece was published), Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum, and so many other places.
James Fallows recently tried to peg the military as “anti-intellectual.” It was naval junior officers who stood up to him and said, “Not so fast.” The Naval War College and Postgraduate School remain highly sought-after institutions around the world. And the emergence of the Military Writers Guild is an encouraging sign that, as you are writing, thinking, and starting to “do,” other people are going to have your back.
4. The only way to steer the boat is to keep your hand on the tiller. Ronald Reagan once said, “When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s easy to forget you came here to drain the swamp.” Ultimately, unless you are going to get out and pursue a career in elected office or the policy realm, you cannot effect change on tough issues until you are willing to endure the pain of seeing those changes through.
Too many junior officers depart the service in frustration with specific critiques, only to get lost in a new civilian career that is equally challenging and often stultifying. There are a few who lob in mortars from the valley, but the JO(ret) contingent is largely silent here on this blog and around the naval ‘net.
Neale Donald Walsh once wrote, “Whatever you desire for yourself, give to another.” If you love your job—and if you’re good at it—then leaving the service because you’re too frustrated with its policies just means that those policies will likely endure, and the service will suffer. Your departure, while poignant, is not as impactful as your voice and your persistence.
There is no dishonor in changing careers. There is more than one way to serve the nation; we need good people on our warships and airplanes, but also in our hospitals, boardrooms, and classrooms, too. If this is where you find your passion, then that’s where your country needs you.
But the only way for fighting lieutenants to become fighting admirals and generals is to persevere, to recognize the consequences of dissonance, and to continue the fight. You don’t have to fight alone, and the longer we fight together, the better the future will be.
*Clearly, LT Granville speaks of gender diversity in her article. Statistically, while the Navy does employ fewer women than men, progress is being made that reflects and often exceeds private sector employment. More progress, though, is needed.
Hopefully, most readers here have already listened to EagleOne and my one hour interview on Midrats with Vice Admiral Bill Moran, USN, Navy Chief of Naval Personnel, and Commander Guy “Bus” Snodgrass, USN, concerning Bus’s paper, Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon.
If not, you can listen via the Midrats archive here. If you have yet to read the paper, then click the link in the above paragraph to get that too.
Well, the “quick look” is out and you can get it here. It is an executive summary, in a fashion, that outlines the respondents’ demographics and the above-the-fold responses from an unofficial survey taken between May 1st – May 31st.
A couple of things out of the box; yes, everyone knows this is not a scientific survey and only represents those who decided or were able to respond – but it is still useful. You know the old phrase, “half of life is showing up?” Well, take a large dose of one of my favorite versions, “the future belongs to those who show up,” and a dash of, “you must be present to win” and “it isn’t the people, it is the voters who decide.”
No one was forced to take it, so this is really a snapshot from the, “I’ll at least make the effort to take your survey” brigade. Does that skew the results? Who knows … and really who cares. To be part of a conversation, you have to make the effort to speak. These people decided to join the conversation, so we should listen to them.
For statistics geeks and fanatics for transparency and the messy yet vibrant creative friction found only in the market of ideas, this is the – dare I say – sexiest part;
A full report will be published in early fall which will provide an in-depth look at survey background, methodology, and analysis.
This gives everyone with a good understanding of the art to play around with the results and make their own suppositions and observations. From what we have already, there are a few things the stick out.
First, the a few things about who participated sounds about right:
1. Warrant Officers and those already retirement eligible really are not interested in surveys – their decision has been made.
2. Those who are at the most critical decision point are the most interested in the survey.
The results present what appears to be a slit personality – but one most of us will recognize. All you STEM types can roll around in the numbers and graphs, let me summarize the personality type of the plurality of those who responded.
They feel they are making a difference in their job (60%), but regardless of what they do – they don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance (64%).
Looking at what they could do if rewarded for performance, luck, or whatever the flavor of the board is – most aren’t really sure they would even want their boss’s job (61%).
Not that any of this matters anyway – they have no confidence that senior leaders will take the time to try to internalize and take action on anything they have to say anyway (62%).
In spite of it all, they want to make a career of the Navy (56%).
One of the more cynical things that is said about this line of work is that lesser men ride to the top on the backs of the well meaning and idealistic. The implication is, of course, that the well meaning and idealistic are too slow witted to know what is happening.
Well, I don’t know. Taken together, the profile we have is of people what are striving to make a difference, and want to dedicate the most productive years of their life pursuing something they find of a value larger than themselves. They know they won’t be rewarded for doing it well – are not sure they want to be – and really don’t feel that those promoted in position of authority above them care what they think anyway.
Yet … they sign up. They deploy. They serve. They leave their families. They die – in spite of it all.
For those reasons along, I do hope that the 38% were right. We have good, smart people in positions to try to address this perception/reality – maybe they can prove the 62% wrong.
Many of these issues and attitudes have always been with us and always will be. They key is the degree, extent, and strength of feeling. No human system is perfect, but you can make them less imperfect.
The people we have are not the problem if we desire to have a meritocracy and the best Navy we can. No, the problem is the structure and senior leadership they find themselves working with.
A heartfelt thanks to all of you who’ve followed the journey of the “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon” paper and for the thoughtful conversations that have followed in its wake. The upcoming survey and study on retention presents an opportunity to get at the heart of what YOU think, and help provide that relevant information to senior decision makers, our Navy family, and the American public.
I’ve been humbled to have had many positive interactions with our Navy’s leaders over the past few weeks — officer and enlisted alike, and from all communities. Please know that this effort is being watched by many, and the outcome — and your support — has the potential to foster a climate where our best, brightest, and most talented men and women choose to remain in uniform.
In many ways the continuing conversation is about two things: What it means to serve, and the importance of nurturing a sense of ownership throughout the fleet. “Service” isn’t just wearing the cloth of our nation or collecting a paycheck from the government … it’s about putting the good of the Navy before yourself. The paper has also helped reveal that many throughout the Navy, and at all levels, share a strong sense of ownership. Many have stepped forward with innovative ideas to improve processes and policies at their level of the organization, whether as a Yeoman, a Lieutenant in the F/A-18 community, or as a pre-major command surface warfare officer.
Luckily, there are many in senior leadership who openly support the potential for positive change, including Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the Chief of Naval Personnel. He has made the time for several “all hands calls” with the fleet since the release of the paper, and is truly interested in hearing from those of us at the deckplate — what inspires sailors to remain in uniform and, just as importantly, what is pushing sailors away. We’re incredibly lucky to be having this conversation with a Chief of Naval Personnel, among other senior leaders, who are willing to listen intently, think deeply, and act boldly in support of our Navy.
In the end, no matter your rank or position, it’s about asking ourselves what type of Navy do we want to dedicate some portion of our lives to … and what type of Navy do we want to leave for those that join 5, 10, 15 years into the future and beyond?
Again, my most humble and sincere thanks. The support for the paper and for the 2014 Navy Retention Study has been tremendous. If you haven’t visited the website, please consider following our progress at http://navy.dodretention.org. Keep the constructive feedback and ideas coming!
All my best,
The following is gaining high interest in the Fleet and is being shared widely. Posted here for comment.
“The Admirals back in Washington had so many pressures on them, so many diversions, they forgot their primary job is to make sure that the Fleet is ready to go with highly trained and motivated Sailors. The problem particularly manifests itself when the budget is way down.”
ADM THOMAS B. HAYWARD, 21st Chief of Naval Operations, recalling the post-Vietnam War drawdown1
The U.S. Navy has a looming officer retention problem. More than a decade of prolonged, high operational tempo and ever-increasing deployment lengths have fostered a sustained weariness at the deckplate. A rapidly improving economy and erosion of trust in senior leadership, coupled with continued uncertainty about the future, mean the U.S. Navy could be facing its most significant retention crisis since the end of the Vietnam War.
Unlike previous cycles of low retention, the one looming before us appears poised to challenge retention at all levels. Junior officer retention in 2013 was tough and is forecast to become tougher. It marked the worst year in history for the special warfare community, with record numbers of lieutenant’s declining to stay for the next pay grade. The aviation community had a department head bonus “take rate” of 36% – well below the 45% target needed to ensure community health – most recently manifesting itself by a shortfall in the number of strike-fighter and electronic warfare aviators required for the department head screen board. The surface warfare community is also seeing an uptick in lieutenants leaving at their first opportunity, driving a historically low retention rate of around 35% even lower, indicating that a significant amount of talent in the surface warfare community walks out the door immediately following their first shore tour. This trend in the junior officer ranks is particularly troubling. While officers at, or beyond, the 20-year mark have a retirement option, junior officers do not. In many cases they’ve invested six to 10 years of their life to a career field they’re now willing to leave, determined that the pastures are greener outside of naval service.
Our retention of post-command commanders is also falling. A developing trend in naval aviation is representative of a larger problem facing most communities. In fiscal year 2010, seven naval aviation commanders retired immediately following completion of their command tours, a number that nearly doubled to 13 in 2011, before jumping to 20 in 2012. Additionally, a survey of 25 prospective executive officers revealed that no fewer than 70 percent were already preparing for their next career, in the process of earning their transport pilot licenses, preparing their resumes for the civilian workforce, or shopping for graduate schools. Worse, this trend is not limited to naval aviation. Checks with other community managers show a similar disturbing trend, with increasing numbers of promising surface warfare and special warfare officers leaving at the 20-year mark. These officers are tired of the time away from home, the high operational tempo, and the perceived erosion of autonomy in commander command.
Unfortunately, the fact that a growing number of quality officers have already left the service or are planning to head for the doors seems to be going undetected by senior leadership. The Budget Control Act and subsequent sequestration, Strategic Choices and Management Review, rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, battles over the Littoral Combat Ship and Joint Strike Fighter, rise of Air-Sea Battle, civilian furloughs, and the increasing number of commanding officer firings are just a few of the significant issues (and distractors) that senior leadership has had to contend with since 2011. Despite all these, retention is poised to once again develop into the significant issue that it has historically become during past military drawdowns.
My premise is that retention problems tend to be cyclical in nature and, therefore, largely predictable based on knowable factors. Unfortunately, the ability of senior leadership to proactively address the looming exodus is made more difficult because of Congressional pressure to control spending and because of an overreliance on “post facto” metrics that, by their very nature, are only useful after several years of falling retention rates. Senior leaders within the U.S. Navy, with the cooperation of the Department of Defense and Congress, should take swift action through the use of targeted incentives and policy changes to help ensure the best, brightest, and most talented Naval Officers are retained for continued naval service and to ensure the “wholeness” of Navy Manpower.
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Admiral Thomas Hayward Oral History, Interview #7, 6/7/02, p329. ↩
- On Midrats 26 April 15 – Episode 277: Manpower, Modernization, and Motivation – an Hour with VADM Moran
- A Call to Write
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer