Archive for the 'Personnel' Tag
Last week, the Navy’s top leadership announced the swift transition from traditional rates to alphanumeric Navy Occupational Specialty (NOS) codes. In the matter of a three minutes and thirty-four second video, over two-hundred years of U.S. Navy Ratings – and traditions – were history. Gone. Finished. Dead. Never-to-be-talked-about-again.
But not so fast, everyone. Just minutes after the release of NAVADMIN 218/16, Facebook and social media seemingly deteriorated into a bomb box of antipathy, false equivalencies, and irreverent commentary. Public manifestos protesting the continued tyranny of Secretary Mabus’s tenure inundated message boards and status updates. Nuclear meme proliferation.
To be fair, the observed reaction among the force has ranged from tranquil ambivalence to outright hostile rejection. In typical hyperbolic fashion, the Navy Times pounced on the announcement and labeled it “the most radical personnel overhaul in a generation.” Not to be outdone, the San Diego Union Tribune called it a “tsunami of a cultural shift.” Duffel Blog headlined their page with a satirical news story entitled, “Ray Mabus Admits he Just Hates the Navy,” which like most articles attacking SECNAV resort to the usual talking points: he likes to give women a fair shot, he names ships after civilian heroes and leaders, and he doesn’t play very well with Marines.
The announcement dissolving Ratings is not an epochal policy change. It’s a tweak in syntax to ensure the personnel structure is securely in place for the future Navy. Bigger, more imperative changes have already been instituted over the last decade. Every specialty is open to women; gays can serve openly; maternity and paternity leave is guaranteed; and men and women can come to work without fear of sexual harassment or assault. These types of policies took generations of political will to develop and bring to the force, then were implemented and executed by all of us in a short period of time, sometimes despite initial and widspread resistance. Evidence clearly suggests that the aforementioned personnel changes have enhanced us as a fighting force.
Notwithstanding our increasingly connected Navy, it almost seems like Sailors are more self-compartmentalized than ever. Exhibit A is our rating system. Purely designed to categorize people based off professional skill sets, the Rating system mysteriously became a means of singular identity. Although each rate is exceptional (because each sailor is exceptional), perhaps the “Subject Matter Expert” exceptionalism spurred beyond its intended tactical structure and self mutated into hyper-compartmentalized hues of Rate camaraderie. Over time, some sailors identified themselves more according to their Rate as opposed to their service.
Therefore, beyond the minutia of personnel policy, a broader question has clearly emerged. How is it that our sailors identify more with their job title than the credos of a Sailor? Or, better yet, why such a languid and tepid response to something so clearly beneficial to enlisted sailors for the sake of the benign and often mischaracterized zeitgeist that comes with terms like “tradition?”
Change is hard in an organization, especially when our organization has a predisposition to divide forces into ranks and rates and rules and flow charts. So embedded are our social traditions in the military orthodoxy that even the slightest of changes seem to throw earth off its axis. And to be clear, this policy will result in tangible improvements for everybody in nearly every quantifiable category. With promotion rates in particular rates stagnant, good sailors will be get to stay in, learn new skills, and continue a rewarding career. Shore Duty billets previously reserved for specific ratings can open up to more sailors, thereby placing even more emphasis on performance at sea. Sailors who earn new skills stand to be offered incentives in the form of increased monetary compensation or other substantial benefits.
In other words, the playing field will continue to level out and provide hard-working sailors the opportunity they deserve.
The second order effects are also clear.
- The system will tap into the brilliance of our sailors, allowing for ideas and best practices studied in a different NOS to be applied in new ways and in new fields.
- If properly managed, critical NEC’s can be adequately covered despite an unforeseen personnel loss.
- In the age of autonomous airplanes, unmanned underwater submarines, and sophisticated computer networks, the revised system will naturally find new jobs for sailors displaced by technological improvements throughout the force.
As most of us know, an organization glued to tradition is an organization drifting off course and not innovating.
I confess that I have never wore an enlisted uniform, so my nondescript commentary should be rebuffed with enlisted perspectives, but I must admit, I have found it is interesting to watch people fill the void of change with the call of action to go back to a system so unprepared for the future force. Rather than quibble, we should focus our effort by demanding transparency in the Navy’s new policy so we can all adequately craft the future force.
Under Mabus’s leadership, our personnel changes have occurred with admirable swiftness and efficiency. But we should be clear about the dissolvent of the Rating system. This is not a change. It’s merely a data-driven adjustment to ensure our personnel system is aligned to meet the demand of the 21st Century. Our sailors deserve more opportunity, more flexibility, and more options, even if they choose to get out.
As we transition out of a Navy that once relied on sheer manpower with adequate supervision to a Navy that cherishes specific, individual skill sets, our force structure must change. So before we sign on to more petitions and lay waste to social media, perhaps we can let ideas breath and allow everyone to absorb a new innovation and consider its broader implications.
“As our platforms and missions become more complex, our need for talented people continues to be a challenge. We need to recruit, train and retain the right people…”
Admiral John Richardson, U.S. Navy
Chief of Naval Operations
In 2017, nearly 2,000,000 young men and women will graduate from colleges and universities throughout America. We want 200 of the very best to commission through Officer Candidate School (OCS) and serve America as a Navy Surface Warfare Officer (SWO).
To be sure, we have historically attracted and retained great people in Surface Warfare. With an eye toward our return to Sea Control and distributed, more lethal warships, we should ask ourselves a series of critical questions, “Can we do better?”… and… “Are we tapping into the full potential of America’s shining youth?” Former Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, referred to the “sea of goodwill” that has given rise to a tide of support for our military since the attacks of 9/11. Is that goodwill sustainable?
Talented young men and women matriculating from our nation’s colleges and universities have life options. Surface Warfare could be one of those options, but it is not enough to sit back and wait for talent to come to us. In the competitive market of America, we must reach out, connect with, inform and attract the most talented into our community – and our Navy – in order to position our warships to fight and win when the nation calls.
There are extraordinary young men and women throughout this nation who would thrive as Surface Warfare Officers, but literally have no idea that the amazing opportunity to serve on warships… leading at sea… undertaking impactful work for our country… is even a remote possibility in their lives.
We are positioned to turn a life opportunity into reality for our nation’s best. Here is how we are doing it.
We know who we want
Through a series of surveys and data collection efforts, we have mapped attributes and characteristics of successful young SWOs.
These include: previous proven leadership experience – of any sort, at any level – in a varsity sport, club or organization; demonstrated initiative; oral and written communication skills; positive contribution to organizational efforts as part of a “team” – assessed through previous participation in organizations, clubs and sports; work experience that illustrates a sense of discipline and accountability; time management and organizational skills that reflect an ability to follow established procedure and demonstrate attention to detail; enthusiasm and passion for the nation and the Navy that would prompt internal motivation in the face of adversity; and, a desire to work hard, remain committed to mission accomplishment with a strong desire for service with impact.
In March, we worked with Navy Recruiting Command and we generated guidance to the entire officer recruiting force in the country, reflecting these attributes and characteristics.
Leveraging our competitive advantage
Junior Officers have told us that the principal attractors to Surface Warfare are: 1) the opportunity for immediate leadership; 2) the opportunity for adventure and travel; 3) the opportunity for a flexible, option-based career; and, 4) the opportunity for postgraduate level education.
In business terms, Surface Warfare has a near-monopoly on these attractors. Can we better leverage that competitive advantage in a more meaningful and vibrant way?
Outreach and the Power of Social Media
In Fiscal Year 2016, 18 young men and women applied to be SWOs through Officer Candidate School from the states of North and South Carolina –combined. We met our “numbers” and we got great people. But there are more than 125 colleges and universities in these two states. Do graduates from these schools – and thousands like them around the country – even know that Navy Surface Warfare is a life option for them and, consequently, are we missing out on large segments of the population who could serve and propel us to even greater heights as a Navy?
Through the power of social media, we can – at a minimum – begin to raise nation-wide awareness of the opportunities in Surface Warfare. This is not about numbers. This is about reaching out and connecting with talented young men and women to ensure they are aware of the opportunities to serve in our community today, ultimately leading our Navy and serving as the sea captains of tomorrow.
Bringing it together
We know who we want, we know what attracts men and women to serve in Surface Warfare and we have the ability to connect with America at our fingertips. Can we take these pieces and integrate them in a meaningful way? Conceptually, we want to move toward “getting who we want” to serve as Surface Warfare Officers – quality men and women, with characteristics that set themselves up for success as a SWO and who are drawn to our community. Along the way, we should connect with America’s exceptional youth from backgrounds and demographics that are under-represented in today’s force.
This is possible today. So we are seizing an opportunity – and moving out quickly!
In a collaborative effort with Navy Recruiting Command, we launched our community’s first-ever targeted outreach into America using the power of social media. Through a newly formed teaming effort with LinkedIn – the largest connector on the planet – we now have the ability to “meet people where they are,” connecting directly with people all over the country using high end talent matching and recruiting functionalities imbedded in LinkedIn.
We also have the ability to provide interested candidates with access to our #1 asset – our people. Today, a cadre of more than 50 junior officers in the current force who have “walked a mile in the shoes of a SWO candidate” are aggregated in an on-line platform. Have a question about serving in the Navy? How to apply for a commission? What does a Surface Warfare Officer do? Those answers are a keystroke away on social media.
The overall concept is simple. Connect directly with the people we want to serve in our ranks, invite their attention to the opportunities of future service as a SWO and provide on-line access to the exceptional men and women we have in today’s fleet. Then, turn interested candidates over to the exceptional professionals in our Navy Recruiting Districts all over the country to support application for Officer Candidate School.
Earlier this month, we conducted our first significant outreach — a direct communication to 150 students possessing the background, attributes and characteristics we want in future SWOs. These students are enrolled in universities and colleges in North and South Carolina – among them: Duke, Wake Forest, the Universities of North and South Carolina, Clemson, Appalachian State, Elon, Davidson, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) like North Carolina A&T and Benedict College.
In a great example of the power of high velocity learning, we have already captured key lessons and applied them – enabling outreach to specific people in even larger audiences on-line.
More broadly, perhaps we open new doors and find opportunities by using a similar approach in critical areas for national security like cyber.
We are also thinking differently about how to more vibrantly leverage social media and networks of influencers to connect with young men and women seeking a commission through the U.S. Naval Academy and Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC).
From 2,000,000 young men and women, we want the best 200 to serve America as a Navy Surface Warfare Officer – executing military diplomacy, sea control and power projection.
Let’s go get ‘em!
Over at WOTR, the staff published a powerful graphic. Though simple, it tells a many layered story on how this nation has fought its wars and pursued its commitments over the course of the last 55 years. It uses as the base of comparison the commitments placed on the Army (demand), and then the budget allocation and personnel levels (supply).
What strikes me most is what we have done with the all volunteer force. In the Gulf War and the Long War, you see logical spikes in commitment and budgets, but no relative impact on personnel levels. That worked well for the short, sharp nature of the Gulf War – but not with the Long War.
Some may argue that modern weapons give you the ability to substitute money and equipment for manpower, but that isn’t the story being told here. No, you are just short-cycling your people to burnout hoping that at some point the conflict will end. Bad thing is, they are ending. Ending when we lose our Strategic patience and quit. That doesn’t seem to be working out all that well.
While the Army has received a “breather” the last few years, with 8 to 9 month deployments in the Navy being the new normal, I would be very interested in seeing a comparable graphic for the Navy with “commitment” being Sailor-days deployed at sea and ashore, or something that captures that intent.
One simple graphic done right is better than 4,000 words and 14 spreadsheets.
Has anyone seen a comparable Navy graphic? In blue and gold; natch.
On a not unrelated topic, the authors point us to The Elihu Root Study on the Total Army where they look at where they come from as a reference point on where the Army should go. Well worth your time as well.
Navy; over to you.
Infographic Credit: Andrew Hill, U.S. Army War College, and Shayan Kheradmand, Boost Labs.
The Navy seems to have an evaluation problem. Every time FITREP season rolls around, virtually everyone agrees that the system is not adequate but differs on the best way to improve it. Some of the common criticisms include: the system is outdated, it is too focused on timing and not on performance, we need more feedback, it does not accurately reflect performance, and so on, and so on. Is this an accurate portrayal? Is the current system used as it is supposed to? Can we make it better?
Before any changes can be proposed to enhance how the Navy evaluates its officer corps, let’s revisit how the system is supposed to work. How many people have read the Navy’s BUPERS Instruction 1610.10D on evaluations? Unless you were looking for something to help you sleep, you probably have not read it in its entirety. However, within the 217 pages of this instruction there are morsels of information that if implemented properly could enhance the current system.
For instance, one of the biggest critiques of the current officer evaluation system is that the feedback received is inadequate, untimely, and generally not reflective of a person’s actual job performance. If we return to the BUPERS INST (Encl 1, paragraph 5), it provides the following guidance for how to conduct a thorough counseling:
The objectives are to provide feedback to the member and to motivate and assist improvement. Performance counseling starts with a fair assessment of the member’s performance and capabilities, to which the member contributes. It identifies the members’ strengths and motivates their further improvement. It also addresses important weaknesses, but should not dwell on unimportant ones. It should avoid personality and concentrate on performance.
On paper, this sounds great. It is very cut and dry; you’ll discuss performance, address strengths/weaknesses, and be focused on the officer’s development. But more commonly, these sessions are treated more as a formality, where an officer’s timing in relation to other officers is discussed, vague generalities are exchanged, and the debriefing is attempting to cover roughly six months of work where the details of performance recalled from months ago have often faded from memory. The frequent result is an officer walking away from a session with the advice of “just keep doing what you’re doing.” Evaluations of our officers should not be confined to a twice a year sit-down with the CO. Evaluation, and more importantly feedback, must be continuous. In aviation, aircrews debrief every flight, yet somehow this same feature eludes naval officers when discussing leadership, improvement, and development as an officer in general. The guidance already exists; there is no reason why this feedback should be constrained to only counseling and FITREP debriefs.
What are we evaluating?
When examining a topic as broad as this, it is essential to step back and ask just exactly what is the point? What are we evaluating? Are we evaluating how you did at a job, or how you will do at the next one? Are we choosing who will be the next Department Head, or Commanding Officer, or Admiral? To this end, there should be two overarching goals of the Navy’s officer evaluation system:
- Promotion potential
Feedback needs to be an honest appraisal of performance. In the current paradigm, the norm is that officers write their own evaluation for their FITREP. How can your FITREP provide a candid assessment of your performance when YOU write your own FITREP? The process is intrinsically self-inflated, full of hyperbole, and over-embellished. In order to give an objective assessment of their performance, an officer’s FITREP should be written by his or her superior. At the same time, promotion potential must continue to be part of the system. It is imperative that officer evaluations and rankings not only address the past performance but also how well the individual could perform at future positions of responsibility and authority. We are, after all, training and advancing the Navy’s next generation of leaders. But rankings must reflect the job you did and not the job you are going to do. Poor or weak performance should not be overlooked in favor of advancing a career at a desirable future job. Typically, an individual’s past performance is a direct indicator of how they will perform in the future. The problem with the current system is when these sometimes competing objectives of past performance and promotion potential are out of balance with each other.
There are existing methods of evaluation in other services that should be examined for application into the Navy. One method that is gaining traction in both the military and civilian sectors is the use of 360-degree reports, which uses feedback from an individual’s peers, supervisors, and subordinates. The U.S. Army currently mandates that all of their officers complete a 360-degree assessment at least once every three years on what is called the Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback Program (MSAF). Using MSAF, Army officers first answer a short self-assessment and then select the individuals they want to solicit feedback from, including peers, superiors, and subordinates. Responding to a MSAF request is optional and any responses are anonymous. A typical assessment takes only 5-10 minutes to complete.
So how is the Army’s MSAF program doing? According to a 2013 evaluation of MSAF, “approximately 50 percent of its participants said that the process revealed an unknown aspect of themselves, 33 percent said they discovered a weakness, and 17 percent said they discovered a strength.” 360-degree reviews can provide a worthy dimension to the development of our naval officers.
In April 2013, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey outlined his plan to implement a 360-degree system to evaluate admirals and generals with the feedback from their superiors, peers, and subordinates. Since then, there has been a rigorous discussion within the Department of Defense to determine if 360-degree evaluations should be implemented throughout the services at all levels. To determine the efficacy of 360s, the RAND Corporation was enlisted to conduct an in-depth study that was published in 2015.
The RAND Study had several recommendations and conclusions. The most notable was that they advised against incorporating 360s service-wide, at least for now:
Use of 360s without careful attention to content, design, and delivery can be harmful to an organization and not worth the time and money spent on them. Thus, mandating 360 assessments force-wide, even for development purposes, is not necessarily the right answer to solving leadership problems within the services and could waste significant resources. Rather it is more advisable to allow the services to continue on their current paths, expanding the use of 360s in a way that is tailored to individual service needs and goals.
The Navy should continue, as RAND suggested, to “expand the use of 360s in a way that is tailored” to Navy-specific needs and goals. As alluded to above, opponents of 360-degree reports primarily contend that they are time consuming and expensive to maintain. With respect to these arguments, RAND looked at 15 different leadership development practices currently employed by the Army, and MSAF was shown to be the least time-consuming and the least expensive practice. Furthermore, it is absolutely integral that we as an organization view this not as an expenditure, but as an investment, an investment in our leaders, an investment in our officer corps, an investment in our Navy, and an investment in our future.
Proponents of 360-degree evaluations argue that the direct supervisor may not be in the best position to evaluate, it adds multiple perspectives, and multiple raters are more reliable than a single rater. Currently, the Navy is the only service to have a single rating official on their officer evaluations. Fundamentally, 360s provide a viewpoint that would not typically be available. There is also empirical evidence that shows that employees have mostly positive reactions to 360-degree reports. RAND documented the work of Edwards, Ewen, and Vendantam (2001) that showed “responses to surveys of more than 1,400 employees in multiple companies revealed that over 75 percent of respondents reported that the program added useful information and improved process fairness, felt that feedback was helpful, and recommended the 360 process.” The Navy should immediately move to utilize 360-degree reports as a tool for officer development. Depending on the success, it could be reexamined down the road if 360s would play a bigger role in evaluation. This focus on development provides further feedback and opportunities to strengthen our collective leadership.
Innovation and interoperability
The military world and the civilian world are very different and yet very similar. Many of the same leadership principles and practices in top Fortune 500 companies are just as applicable in the military as they are throughout the business world. General Electric was founded by Thomas Edison in 1892 and has grown to become one of the world’s largest and most successful companies with over 300,000 employees and in 2015 ranked #8 on the Fortune 500 list. GE, once famous (or infamous) for their “vitality curve” evaluation system, where employees were ranked annually and the bottom 10 percent fired, is revolutionizing how they conduct their assessments and performance reviews.
In a world that is increasingly technologically advanced and progressively interconnected, information needs to be passed real-time. GE has deduced that the same principle must be applied with feedback and how companies evaluate performance. A performance system that reflects on the previous year is, by its very nature, already outdated. Therefore, performance feedback must be conducted real time. GE’s innovative new approach, very characteristic of the young tech-driven millennial generation, employs the use of a management app called “[email protected]” or “Professional Development at GE.” In this program, each employee has near-term goals or “priorities” and managers are supposed to have frequent discussions called “touchpoints” that specifically address progress on those goals. These “touchpoints” must note what was discussed, committed to, and resolved. The emphasis isn’t so much on grading and ranking, but on constant improvement.
Employees can give or request feedback at any point through a feature called “insights,” which isn’t limited to their immediate manager, or even their division. Normally, you never get that feedback unless you manage to track someone down the next day, which people rarely do, and only from a direct manager. If you wait for an annual review, any specifics are probably long forgotten. There’s an emphasis on coaching throughout, and the tone is unrelentingly positive. The app forces users to categorize feedback in one of two forms: to continue doing something, or to consider changing something.
Could this paradigm just as easily be applied to the Navy? Absolutely! The Navy has recently incorporated the use of apps in other areas and this could certainly be examined. Even without use of an app as the delivery device, all of the same principles need to be embraced. Continuous, timely, and pertinent feedback on performance and progress on objectives is imperative. Call it coaching, call it leading, call it whatever you want, but the incremental steps towards achieving small goals is what makes organizations able to accomplish big goals.
If we are to sustain an efficacious evaluation system, it is important to utilize the tools we have first. Everyone has a different leadership style and you always have to tailor your approach to different people and situations. For this, there can be no substitute for pure, unadulterated leadership. However, it is clear that junior officers are hungry for meaningful, timely, and reflective feedback in their evaluations. If Navy leaders moved away from the norm of having officers write their own FITREPs, embraced 360-degree reports for officer development, utilized existing metrics to provide feedback as originally intended, and continue to pull techniques from successful organizations, the current evaluation system could be greatly enhanced. Ultimately, the evaluation system needs to focus on feedback for an officer’s performance and his/her promotion potential. We need a system that fosters and encourages feedback. We need a system that weighs performance more than timing and personality. We need an innovative approach to this system.
In our up-or-out system, not everyone can or should have a full active duty career option. By design, you need a large cohort of the young that will neck-down over time in to a small wedge at the top. Performance, boards, and life decisions of service members have always helped the culling as people progressed over time.
That many people leave early, even very promising people, is a requirement of our system. This simple fact should not be seen by itself as bad. With the many variables as are in retention, especially with abrupt budget derived demand shocks, adjustments will need to be made. However, we have enough historical aggregate data on retention vs. economic variables that in admittedly clunky ways, we can adjust the sweeten/sour knob to get our end numbers more often than not.
We have run in to a little problem though. A difference that was manageable with a once small sub-groups of personnel, as that sub-group has grown by design as of late, has become a problem. A problem that is creating a more inefficient personnel system. One that is running in to a wall on the path to an externally derived end-state benchmark.
That problem is life. As reported in NavyTimes by Meghann Myers and David Larter;
For the first women to earn the coveted dolphin pin, it’s decision time about whether to stay in the Navy. And so far, only three of the original 24 have signed up.
“I would probably expect that most of the women are going to get out,” Lt. Jennifer Carroll told Navy Times. “I don’t know exactly what everyone’s personal reasons are for it, but I think a lot of it has to do with co-location.”
Carroll said she is considering leaving the Navy instead of becoming a department head, principally because it’s unlikely she’ll be able to find orders in the same area as her husband, an E-2 Hawkeye pilot.
Everyone here is aware of the top-down desire for a high % of female senior officers, sooner more than later, but is that achievable without excessive abuse to the larger system? Is such a targeted number of female senior leaders so high because it meets someone’s sociopolitical metrics? Sure, you can do that … but you will have to assess a lot more women coming in the pipeline. To make that number work, geometrically more, but the retention percentage difference won’t change. You will not be able to change biology and psychology. You will always be chasing the dragon as the ratios will always be skewed.
“Regardless of community or gender, committing to a department head tour requires dedication and sacrifice by our junior officers and their families,” SUBFOR spokesman Cmdr. Tommy Crosby said in an email. “Submarine force leadership remains committed to mentoring our junior officers, male and female, as they face this challenging decision.”
Factoring in those unplanned losses leaves the retention rate at 16 percent for the first submarine officers, Crosby said. … Crosby noted that retention for nuclear-trained women in surface warfare stands at 14 percent …
But within those communities is a great disparity. While 41 percent of male SWOs stick around, about 22 percent of their female colleagues do.
The problem is that we have a very powerful political movement that does not understand the military, but does know how to make a living off the heavily male skew in the military. A skew that, in many ways, exists for the same reason one exists in the NFL.
There are more varied physical requirements in our Navy than the NFL, thank goodness, so there are more opportunities for the average female to serve – but even that hits a wall unless you start to artificially pump the system.
Though women make up over 50% of the population, even if you removed all physical and cultural barriers to a desire to serve, you could never expand female numbers higher than they already are in a volunteer military, nor would you.
The reason? No matter how many people you try to brainwash in the socio-political reeducation “Lean In Circles,” most women want, if they have found a good enough mate, to have as full of a life as they can – as they define it. Biology gives a woman a very small window to do that.
For many women, two of the most significant parts of pursuit is to have a successful marriage and to raise the next generation.
For an officer that receives her commission at age 22, she comes off her first sea duty at age 25 to 28+/-. Let’s say they are average for their college graduate peer group and get married at 27. In line with most of their cohort, the average age of their first child is 30. Age 30, yes, you know that age. That is also the age that female fertility starts a steeper downward curve – dropping off very fast at 35.
What if they want to have 2 kids? 3 or even 4? Look at what is required in your 30s for a career officer. Grab a calendar. Grab a clock. Benchmark your life. Do the math.
As outlined in the referenced article, I am OK with this retention rate. As a son, husband, and a father; I respect that for women, life choices are more difficult and nuanced than for men – and in their 20s and 30s less flexible. Biology does not have a reset button or reward late bloomers.
The lower retention makes sense given the realities of life. In the end, we get a few years of service from outstanding JOs who just happens to be female. Smart, driven professionals who served their nation for a few years active duty, and then leave to raise the next generation of leaders, citizens, and even blogg’rs.
Maybe some will transfer to USNR, some not. Either way, we should support their decision and celebrate their service. We are a free nation, and this is the lifestyle choice of a free people. Let them leave with a smile and leave them with a smile … that will support the recruitment of the next cohort of servicemembers.
For those dual service couples who stay and try to make it work with the female staying on active duty? Well, here is some advice from my personal experience. The only 2-child female career active duty officers who have successfully made it work (success defined as an intact marriage and children not being raised by a 3rd country national), was when the husband shifted to USNR and became a full time house-husband. Good men, good officers all – but that kind of man is hard to find, and you have to find them. Men like that come as-is with their own sets of life goals; you can’t force-break one in a “Lean In Circle.”
Of course, some smart people know this math and social construct, but ignore it. Why? For some, it is complicated. They have zero top-cover to tell the truth. They are just trying to keep their head down until the PCS cycle makes it someone else’s immediate problem.
For others, it is simple; they need the issue. That is what justifies their job. It is what brings their paycheck. Create a crisis that cannot be solved? If you can make that a business, well hey – good work if you can get it.
What is our Navy to do? Speak the truth. Look for ways that produce more operational good than bad. Fight the need to make metrics for the Potomac Flotilla happy talk when they hurt the Fleet. More importantly, stop making our female Shipmates feel guilty or that they have done something wrong by wanting what is the right of every woman – to choose the lifestyle that they find fulfilling.
Half a decade or so of service as an officer in the world’s greatest Navy followed by raising a gaggle of great kids? Beats two divorces, weekend visitation, and a dusty 20-yr shadow box any day.
We’ve got a great week shaping up, with both new and old authors alike–add your voice as a contributor! Please send your articles or ideas in by Wednesday, or contact the week’s editor if you would like more time.
Beginning on Women’s Equality Day (26 August), the Naval Institute Blog will be running a “Women in Writing Week,” highlighting the writing of female commissioned officers and enlisted personnel in the sea services.
Women comprise more than half of the US population and 18% of naval officers between O-1 and O-4, yet they make up fewer than 1% of writers at the Naval Institute Blog.
We invite ALL females–active, reserve, retired, civilian–to write for the Naval Institute Blog on any topic of their choice. We also invite all writers of any gender to write about their favorite female writers in the military, and those role models who have paved the way for others to follow.
Blogging is not a gender-specific sport. We invite all men and all women to participate, to share in their equal voice and contribute to our great naval debate.
As an active duty military mother, I jumped for joy when I read the Navy’s new maternity leave policy giving women up to 18 weeks of paid leave after having a baby. I believe that this is a huge step in the right direction for the Navy in its quest for becoming a more competitive employer, and to retain top talent. But I don’t believe it will attract more women to stay because women aren’t leaving the military due to short maternity leave. It’s the pre-ordained military schedule that can make Navy life and motherhood so hard to balance.
My husband and I both graduated from the Naval Academy and both currently serve in the fleet. After several years working alongside many talented and ambitious female sailors who also hope to become mothers, I believe it’s crucial for the military to find new and creative ways to retain the women it has trained and developed.
As it stands today, mixing Navy life with motherhood is daunting. Take for example, the career path of a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) (read: ship driver).
In Navy life, sailors go through multi-year periods where they deploy frequently and are away for six-month to year-long blocks at a time. Then, there are other periods when you are stationed stateside during a “shore tour.” These schedules are set in stone by the military, and make women and men go through complex calculations to decide if and when the timing will be right to have a baby.
The first shore tour is a really a female sailor’s first opportunity to start a family. This gives her three years to get pregnant, take her maternity leave, and enjoy quality time with her family. As someone currently in this position, I can say it’s pretty great! But, not all couples are ready or able to have a baby early in this window, and as your naval career progresses, it’s harder and harder to decide when to make time for baby.
The breaking point for me was when I began to realize what lies ahead for our family if things don’t change. The Navy requires you to fill out a Family Care Plan upon having a child, which assigns someone to look after your child when you and your spouse both have to go out to sea at the same time. It’s this factor, not the Navy’s maternity leave policy that forced the question “is my desire to serve the country worth spending these large chunks of time away from my daughter?”
For me, the cost outweighed the benefit. I still plan to work full time when I leave the military, but while my Mom may help out with my daughter on some work trips, she won’t be raising my child for six months while my husband and I are at sea. And, as I shop for a job in the public sector, it isn’t the maternity policy at Google that’s attracting me, or the free lunches, but instead, the feasibility of raising a family throughout a career. I’m looking for a future employer that can accommodate the reality that women have children, and that Millennials, in our increasingly digital age, want greater flexibility over where and when they do their jobs.
It’s a hard problem that the Navy faces, because the mission always has to come first, and sea and shore time should be equally shared across the force. I still think there are significant ways that the Navy can improve female retention:
1. Create a More Balanced Deployment Cycle. The submarine force has been able to maintain a six-month deployment timeline, whereas ships such as Aircraft Carriers and Ballistic Missile Defense Ships have lengthened their average time at sea to over nine months. This problem has reverberated deeper than female retention and is a major fleet problem. Reducing the amount of sea time will allow Navy families to increase their resilience.
2. Make the Career Path Tailorable. The way the Surface Warfare career path is right now, sea and shore time is grouped into three-four year blocks. Allowing more flexibility within this construct would allow individuals to create a career that works for them.
3. Expand the Navy’s Career Intermission Pilot Program (CIPP). Naval personnel can currently apply to take up to three years off in order to pursue civilian opportunities or start a family. Through this program you retain full health benefits as well as a monthly stipend and in return owe the Navy two months for every one month you take off. This program fits some situations and I believe it’s a step in the right direction, but the Navy should explore other options as well, such as the ability to transfer in and out of the reserves (maybe allowing personnel to take a longer hiatus), or the option to leave without pay and return without an added obligation.
4. Continue to Improve as a Family-Friendly Culture. Increased maternity leave and TRICARE adding coverage of breast pumps are positive steps in creating a more family-friendly culture within the Navy, but there’s more to be done. Personally, I had to voice my right to have a pumping space multiple times before I was finally presented the solution of an equipment storage closet; which I gladly accepted over the women’s restroom. In healthcare, many fertility treatment programs are only available to TRICARE beneficiaries and not the sponsor, which can be a problem if women wait until completing their sea time before starting a family.
5. Explore More Flexible Work Options. While stationed on a ship or submarine or dealing with classified material, sailors clearly need to be on a military installation, but there are many positions where a physical presence isn’t required. Increased opportunities for telework and flexible scheduling would allow families to create a routine that allows them to be successful in both their work and personal lives.
To stop the flow of talented women out of the Navy, we must stay focused on why these women are leaving. Only then will the military be able to retain the intelligent, motivated, and experienced women that are helping it to thrive.
People and money.
One follows the other, and the later always defines the magnitude of the former.
BA, NMP, BSC; the whole alphabet soup emanating out of Millington is fed by one thing more than any other; money. Money is your primary indicator of priorities, main effort, and commander’s intent in manpower.
Manpower is a complicated mix of habit, tradition, agenda, bureaucratic inertia, wants, needs, and wishes. When not controlled with a disciplined hand, bureaucratic organizations can accumulate billets like a spaniel in a field of beggar weeds; with or without audits or manpower efficiency reviews.
Stress is always a good way to squeeze efficiency our of an organization and to force it to tell you what are its priorities – what it really values.
In an email Tuesday, COMNAVAIR, VADM Dunaway, USN, put our his D&G on the latest stress coming their way in the manpower arena – yep, the mother’s milk; money.
Looking ahead, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) budget reductions and the shift to modernization and sustainment will require us to smartly manage our workforce levels and skills mix.
Ahhh, that is the key; define “smartly.”
As new and critical tasking emerges, we must be prepared to move our workforce toward these efforts without adding additional people. In addition to agile staffing, we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.
Start of the core compentancy – the mission of our organization. That is where you start your prioritization. At almost the halfway point of his email, Dunaway points to one,
In the beginning of FY15, we assigned hiring goals to the competencies and commands. We have exceeded our targets due in part to aggressive hiring early in the year. Our Fleet Readiness Centers ramped up hiring to help reduce the F/A-18 maintenance backlog and will return to normal staffing levels within the next 2 years.
From there, rack and stack – and lead. If you really want your organization to,
… we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.
… start with you personal staff, your N1, and the first gaggle of SES and GS-15+ you can get your hands around. Take those BA/NMP and Full Time Equivalents and do your own personal baseline review. Get those billets recoded towards your core competency – I am sure VADM Moran will help from his end. If you don’t make someone in the nomenklatura squeal, then you didn’t do it right. Once that is done, work through your other N-Codes.
At the same time, don’t make those shops do more with less. Cut back on the background noise and the self-licking ice cream cones.
The easiest thing you can control are the manhours invested in non-core related competency conference attendence, awards processing, collateral duties, ad-hoc committees (I get those emails too from NAVAIR, but I’ll be nice and not quote them here), Political Kowtow of the Month observances – all those things that take untold hours of your employees’ time but do nothing even close to helping,
… reduce … maintenance backlog …
Most of these activities are just bureaucratic habits or the bad aftertaste from one of your predessor’s pet projects or sacrifices to Vaal.
If you want bold action by those in your organization, you don’t tell them to do it – you do it yourself first. By your example, they will lead. Give them benchmarks, hold them accountable.
The only way to secure our future is to improve our capacity to adapt, collaborate and focus on the most important work.
If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.
You are the leader. You have outlined a problem, demand solutions. As such, there is no “If.” If this is serious, then, “If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.”, is not – I may offer – a serious call to action. It is passive and without heft, depth, or meaning.
“Bring me your questions or ideas, as we are making significant changes to our manpower document to optimize our workforce levels and skills mix.”
That might give you what you need.
Now, what will be interesting is in JUN16, what changes or draft changes will there be to NAVAIR’s manpower document?
Good stuff; good start. Good luck.
There are three broad avenues of discussion in the last year about how to help build tomorrow’s Fleet; strategy, force structure, personnel reform.
The strategy part burned bright for awhile, but in time, when there wasn’t anything to fuel a larger discussion, it soon dissolved in to the place most are more comfortable discussing, programmatics and fleet structure. The semi-annual carrier battle and the curious, “Build the fleet we can and then we will write a strategy to justify it.” … or other similar variations on the theme.
Force structure discussions have developed the vibe of a Sunday morning AA-relapse group discussion – looking at all the things that we want but can’t afford to own, things we’ve paid for and own that don’t seem to work right and can’t afford to fix, those things we own and are a little shopworn, and our shrinking fortunes to recover from the benders of the past imperfect.
Hard to believe, but as we approach mid-year, some of the more exciting discussions are coming from the personnel side of the house.
From retirement plans on one end, to providing opportunities to take a multi-year sabbaticals on the other – there are a lot of ideas and initiatives going on in the personnel world to not just try to modernize our system, but to ensure we are attracting, keeping, and providing the most opportunities to those in the Navy – and at the same time try to balance the needs of the collective Navy with individual personal and professional goals.
Some of these ideas will cost money – real or opportunity cost, some will perhaps save money (mostly in the infamous “out years”) – but they all require a fundamental rethink of how we look at career progression for officer and enlisted.
That is a good thing. All organizations must constantly look at what they do in order to keep what works, refine what is close to working, and letting go to the net-negative.
In an era where sequester-level funding – and probably less in the medium term – is the new normal, those ideas that cost more in the short term will probably not have much support. Cost neutral will be given consideration, and any short term cost saving initiatives will move to the front.
In a perfect world, we would look at all three – but we don’t live in that world. Let’s assume that we won’t be spending more to get some additional marginal good. Let’s also assume that anything that saves money will get a good look at. So, in that mind, what are some cost-neutral items we can look at to squeeze a better Navy out of our existing system? How about some ideas that may not be new ideas, but are ideas that are top-of-mind to those who are most affected. What if those same people are in the cohort we are most interested in keeping? There; interest.
One of the easiest ways to gain efficiencies is to look at what barriers or inefficiencies are strictly policy and habit related. Those are the easiest to fix once you acknowledge that you need to. What are they? Why are they still here? What harm would be gained by changing them … or … what is the upside if we do?
ANSWERING THE QUESTION YOU WANTED, NOT THE ONE YOU WERE GIVEN
Earlier this year while attending USNI-AFCEA’s West15, the whole idea of the simple changes with potential gains to both Navy and servicemenber came to mind as a result of a totally unrelated question.
One of the better features of West15 was that the organizers managed to bring in a few fleet units and their Sailors from the riverine and rotary wing communities.
After a few top-shelf speeches and seminars, and once my beltwaybandit goodiebag was full, I grabbed a fellow traveler and decided to check out the static displays.
Remember, you had an exhibit floor full of contractors, consultants, vendors and uniformed personnel who dance with them – so the mind is very focused on “kit.”
I like open ended questions – especially to those who are on the pointy end of things. I walked over to the JOs and POs around their helos and warboats on a perfect San Diego “winter” day, and after the usual small talk, I asked one simple question, “What piece of kit do you not have that you wish you had to complete your mission?”
No one answered that question, except to say, “No, everything we have is fine, but … “
Ah, the magic “but.” That is the connector to what is really on a person’s mind, and what I heard next was nothing new, but it was real, and it was actionable – and it all had to do with personnel policy.
The first answer was simple, “Why am I told by the detailers that there is no way that I can compete to have a career in the small ship Navy? I don’t care about having the perfect career path to be best set up for command of a Destroyer. I like this part of the Navy. Why not me if I want to stay and return, if they have to force others to come here to do the same job anyway?”
That is a very good question, why not?
In the Midrats interview at the end of the month with the CNP, VADM Moran – I brought up that encounter. The answer was the same for that JO that is was for me when I was a JO; it is what is best for the needs of the Navy. Yes, perhaps – but as VADM Moran stated, riverine is one of those places that is hard to get people to go to, but once they get there, many don’t want to get out.
OK, so if a young professional is willing to go down that path – fully knowing that their career path will have a much lower probability of command – why not let them?
Is it better to try to force someone to fit a Millington Diktat, and as a result, embitter them enough that they punch out at first chance, or to allow that officer to compete for a job he loves later on in his career so he actually stays in. Even if there is a 0% selection rate for CDR command, that may be OK for that officer. He may not care. In any event, if he punches out because he cannot stand the prospect of being a gnome in the big-ship Navy – he isn’t going to have command anyway.
If we are looking to break the adhesions in the prescribed career path by having sabbaticals and other changes, why not broaden our aperture a bit more? Are we really saying no to that officer for his own good, or are we saying no to that officer because he makes things too complicated for the detailing shop in Millington? Who is the supported and who is the supporting institution?
The second answer I received was equally old school and on the surface, easily fixed. “No, everything is fine, but … I wish there was some way that we could actually have Sailors show up at the command already finishing the schools they need to work with our equipment. It gains me nothing to have a First Class with all the quals PCS, only to be replaced with another First Class who can’t do anything and is lost to the command for months as he goes to school.”
A decades old problem that still is not fixed. We have to spend money to move people. We have to spend money to send people to schools. Ships have to go to seas, ships have to be full of Sailors. Are our systems so rigid, our procedures so ossified that we cannot in the second decade of the 21st Century match up the requirements of a specific billet with the training required for replacement personnel? Again, supported or supporting? Which organization is which?
Is it so bad that a warfighter is not so worried about what weapons he will be asked to go to war with, but if someone on shore duty could help a brother out by putting the horse in front of the cart?
Just those two examples above, do they require additional funds to accomplish? No. They do require a change of mindset, one for career management, and the other priorities.
Why not? If we are going to make big, new changes … why not the old little?
We’ve seen this movie before; well, some of us have. Those who saw the post-Cold War, post-Desert Storm “peace dividend” era will recognize where we are. Different acronyms and different policies – the but goal is the same. People need to leave. It starts ugly, creates a new normal, then settles out. There are no great ways to reduce manpower in a bad economy – but there are less bad ones.
Are we doing this right – and are we leading from the front to make sure leaders enjoy the same hardships as their Sailors? For those we keep on – are we choosing the right leaders for the right reasons?
I would like to send along a snapshot of what our front-line leaders are having to work with as they tell outstanding Sailors that, even in this economy, soon they will have to make it work without the Navy.
When was the last time you saw a grown man cry in uniform over a non-legal admin issue? It ain’t pretty – but behind the PPT; this is what is happening at one major sea command.
Results from the Enlisted Retention Board (ERB) for E4/5: we had 20 of 50 candidates selected for separation.
ERB for E6/7/8: we had 9 of 48 candidates selected for separation. No E7/E8s were separated; all E6.
One was a 16-year first class who cried like a baby when he was told. Wife, two kids, no NJP, no misconduct, solid good Sailor. This comes on the heels of the 46 E4-E5 folks ship-wide we notified two weeks ago.
Some of these Sailors had PRD extensions to make the homeport change and move or moved their families to the new duty station. Not only have our Sailors stood up to meet absurdly inconvenient USN challenges (when would IBM move you, not help you sell your house (now upside down), and expect your wife to do the move alone while you were gone for 6 months), but they did so with the good faith that they had a reciprocal commitment from USN.
Well, they thought they did. They had faith that because they did all they were asked to do – the Navy would stand up to the promises it made verbally and by culture. They have found instead that truth can and will change.
ERB and her automaton sister Perform to Serve (PTS). How are these impacting the relationship between Sailors and their leadership – and the connection between officers and enlisted?
Remember, with PTS no humans are involved in this decision. A computer looks at certain parts of their personnel record and calculates their value to the Navy with an algorithm. Yep, we are letting the computers do all the leading for us. We detach ourselves from the very personal part of leadership; you have to work both the “good & fun” as well has the “difficult but needed” parts of it.
That can quickly develop in to a habit. It is a short walk from “just let a computer tell others the bad news so I don’t take the hit,” to telling the XO that we shouldn’t let anyone on overnight liberty in our next port because no one wants to have to explain to their Sailors why they denies their chit. It’s too hard; push the bad news decision to someone else so I can hand out NAMs. And no – I didn’t just make that story up. It was sent in an email last week from one of my regulars. Yes; longer deployments with less liberty. That makes a great bumper sticker.
Isn’t leadership at its core a personal relationship? People will follow the orders of a superior – but they are led by individuals they honor and trust. The whole PTS/ERB process puts the concept of leadership on its head by the impersonal nature of it all. These Sailors are being fired, and they are being fired without cause…you can’t tell them why, just “you’re fired.” The people who know them best aren’t making the call – they are just reporting it.
The decisions are made from afar – yet the leadership challenge comes up close. How do you motivate a Sailor, who deployed 4 months early, who is gone from home for 11 months, who thinks that they are about to be fired and then will be expected to remain at sea for the next 3 months until deployment is over? “You’re fired…but you have to stay at sea for the next 3 months and work hard and you can’t do any planning for your career change because your internet doesn’t work and you can’t talk to your wife and kids except on 4 ATT sailorphones. Oh, and we’re dumping you in the worst economy since the 1970s. Carry-on.”
That is what is happening in the Fleet right now. Not all that different than what we saw with the early 90s Involuntary Release from Active Duty (IRAD), but these are enlisted personnel, not officers.
Going beyond the people affected – back it out a bit. We’re already “optimally” manned, right? So when these Sailors leave their commands, the command will get a replacement. After all, while we’ve cut 3,000 Sailors, so far we haven’t changed the manning documents. Who do you think is going to show up as the replacement? Do you think that when you lose your 1st Class – who has all the quals, experience, and technical knowledge they’ve gained in 14 years of service – you’re getting the same thing from BUPERS to replace them? No. You’re lucky if you get a 3rd Class with the right NEC’s.
So, ships and squadrons that already don’t have enough people, now have fewer experienced Sailors as well. It’s not a question of how many Airmen or Seamen you push into the command to make the numbers look right. Training and experience matter. The other problem is that you are now cutting back on your mid-grade leadership. You end up with ships and squadrons full of Khaki and 3rd class and below. People who are supposed to be looking at the big picture and worker bees, but nobody in between to connect the two. Is that setting an organization up for success or failure?
A slightly unsettling component of this is that it takes a lot of people out of contention for retirement benefits as they are 4-6 years from retirement, but that isn’t one of the goals … is it?
Does the senior leadership have a full understanding of how their decisions are impacting both leadership and Sailors on the deckplates? Do our actions show any empathy with our Sailors and their families? The talking points that were distributed to front line leadership about how to “fire” a Sailor were ridiculously simplistic and next to useless.
Is this really the best way to do this? From the view of the deckplates – are officer and enlisted reductions being done the same way? Well, again – let’s look at what was done at the officer level. Fair or not – it is what the enlisted see.
As a point of discussion, look at the Selective Early Retirement (SER) board for URL CAPT and CDR. Who did we “fire,” 124 officers? With this economy, even being retirement eligible, people are staying. So, numbers need to go – did they go far enough? Doesn’t look like it.
As a result, many LCDR and below are having their screen groups pushed back by years because there are so many CDRs and CAPTs hanging on. I know of a LCDR who was told his first look at O5 was pushed back 2 years, another pushed a year. Odds are that Shipmate will see another slide. Why aren’t we thinning the herd of 12-16-yr officers as we are 12-16-yr enlisted?
Here is the pernicious difference between what happened to the officers vs. the enlisted – the officers who do get “fired” all have their 20 years in – they get a check. ERB folks are often ¾ of the way to the pension that now they will never see … unless they can work some reserve time and tread water for a couple decades plus.
For now though, the officers will hit the USAJobs website with a nice paycheck coming in while they tread water. ERB and PTS? Just a chunk of money to chew on until it runs out. BTW – your daughter needs braces and your son turns 16 next year and don’t plan on moving to a job with your family in tow – you’re $20,000 underwater in your home.
Have we (Navy leadership via BuPers) through our actions and processes institutionally broken faith with our personnel? Is this how a Top 50 Employer acts?
Yes, reductions need to be made – but are we doing it right? Can we clearly look in the face at our deployable forces and those with the most sea duty and say, “We have cut as much of the supporting infrastructure as possible. We have cleared out all the oxygen thieves and professional shore duty billet sponges; we have to go after you.”
Do we really have a lean shore infrastructure? (staff and shore BA/NMP, call you office). Have we scrubbed our manning documents correctly? Have we, like the Army and USMC, done a thorough review of our personnel to see who has and has not deployed in the last few years and made people offers they can’t refuse? Are we rewarding the right things? Do our actions reflect our words? Does a CDR in DC, or an E4 at Pax River, have the same (or better) chance of promoting over someone on a back-to-back sea tour? Well, let’s take another snapshot.
We have been a Navy at war for over a decade. In that time, one of the greater challenges we have had is the Individual Augmentation (IA/GSA) program (AKA NARMY). What have we told people over and over – well, that it will be both rewarding and rewarded. Has it?
Do we reward the warrior – or are we still stuck in a peace-time/Cold War mentality where we don’t so much reward tactical and operational performance and effort so much as number of hoops and checked boxes? Do we focus a lot on school time – or actually leading Sailors at sea and forward deployed? Are we promoting combat leaders to run an organization that exists to fight its nation’s wars – or are we promoting the fonctionnaire and perpetual student?
Again – let’s look at what we are doing with officers. What happened at the last Aviation Major Command Screen Board? Perhaps we will find our answers there as – coming from SG-90 +/-, these officers have spent more than half their career at war. Right?
What does this data point tell the warfighter about what our Navy values during wartime?
- Overseas duty? A wash.
- IA/GSA? Doesn’t look like a winner.
- Avoid hard duty overseas or a year+ in the dirt with an IA/GSA, or find a way to warm a seat in a classroom or chop PPT slides in a 3-digit J-coded job on a superfluous Staff?
Where do you become a better leader – at sea and deployed – or ashore working on your handicap?
Difficult times require difficult decisions. Are we making those difficult decisions for the right reasons? Do our actions match our words?
As things contract, you have to make sure that your keep the value added, and let the less value added go. That is the only way to, at the end, make sure you have an organization that is in best shape to address the challenges it faces.
What do our actions and manpower shaping tell you about what a smaller Navy will be like? As people have the habit of selecting in their own image – what will we become more and more like as the present conflicts fade? Will this serves us well when, and it is when not if, the next war comes?
UPDATE Zacchaeus over at Small Wars Journal does a very good job contextualizing the tradeoffs embedded in the above post. Read about “The Lance Corporal Equivalents” here.