Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Meetings



Usefulness as taught by an Admiral.

I normally hated Admirals visiting my submarine. It was the same routine: we'd all turn-to and clean the living day-lights out of the boat, only to have the Admiral walk onboard for five minutes and leave. All that cleaning for nothing...what a waste of time!

It was even worse when an Admiral rode the boat. Then it was a whole dog-and-pony show for a week! The worst part was that as a JO, you had to eat meals with them. None of them seemed to realize that the first sitting had to quit so the next guys could come and eat (and heaven forbid if you interrupt the first meal after it's rolled over 45 minutes). So, typically, JOs starved and resigned themselves to eating midrats while the Admiral and his aide joked and smoked with the CO and XO.

There was one guy that was different: Admiral Cecil Haney. He rode my boat while he was Commander of SUBGRUTWO. Everything he did was totally different from every previous Admiral:

- He emailed the CO and told him to specifically NOT do anything different: no cleaning, no tuxedos for the mess specialists, and no change to the ships schedule. We still cleaned the snot out of the boat anyway...our COB and CO kinda sucked like that.
- He stuck with the meal schedule. Like, he actually LEFT the wardroom after a 30 minute meal. We (meaning the JOs) were a little stunned, but quite happy about the normalcy of our schedule.
- He actually talked to the JOs in the wardroom. Most Admirals had the normal boring conversations about how great the Navy is, blah, blah, blah. Admiral Haney actually talked to use about how he sometimes hated being on a submarine as a JO (the first Admiral to ever tell me openly that JO life wasn't fun).

Halfway through his ride, I was sitting on watch as the Engineering Officer of the Watch, and the maneuvering door opened, and Admiral Haney asked permission to enter (once again, proving that he wasn't a dick. EVERYONE except the CO, XO, ENG and Admiral Donald ask to enter maneuvering, but too many commodores, visiting flags, and ORSE monitors decide that they can do what they want). He came in and asked me if he could tour the engine room with me, so I called up my Engineering Watch Supervisor, had him take the seat, and off we went to tour the engineroom. None of this was scheduled at all, by the way. I did my normal rounds, checking logs and equipment and doing a zone inspection in Condensate Bay. Admiral Haney crawled under the starboard condenser with me, and while we were looking for discrepancies I asked him why he stayed in the Navy (by this point in my career, I was mentally checking out).

His answer surprised me. He said he waited until shore duty to make sure he was staying in for the right reasons, and ended up deciding he loved the Navy, and that so long as he liked it he would stay around. It wasn't a fake story either (I had heard plenty of rah-rah Navy stories by now). He just simply talked from the heart about the challenges he faced, and how he overcame them. Funny enough, he never once mentioned his race to me, something that I didn't notice at the time.

To a LTjg with less than three years in the Navy, this was amazing. First real Admiral I had ever met.

He also recommended I read a book: Death By Meeting. I bought it after we returned to shore, and I highly recommend it (this whole post was inspired by recently reading Donald Rumsfeld's article about how he viewed meetings). It's a short book, but has helped me view meetings in a positive light and work hard to make them effective.

I saw Admiral Haney again at VADM Melvin Williams retirement, although I didn't get a chance to chat at all (I was busy shuttling my two admirals around). I see he is now running PACFLT, and is probably a potential candidate for four stars should he decide to stick around. I've never gotten the chance to work for him, but if he's even half as good as how he was on my boat...I'd take that opportunity in a heart beat.

As for meetings...he got me on the right track to keeping them focused. As I've moved up in the world, lessons from Death By Meeting continue to resonate and help me keep meetings manageable and useful.

2 comments:

  1. Great post! It sounds like Admiral Haney did a great job at staying grounded, a skill that I'm sure is hard to maintain considering their near constant surroundings after making flag.

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  2. Let's talk about "synch meetings" and "update briefs." They are called different things, but are functionally the same. I remember last (every) Wendnesday we wasted almost 100 man-hours in a brief, in which at any given time two people in the room had any interest in what was being presented. Personally, I go these to make sure my Sailor who briefs for five minutes doesn't say something stupid, and get little value from the remainder. Unfortunately, my recommendations to do away with these ridiculous things fall on deaf ears.

    Here's where my organization fails to take note of Donald Rumsfield's advice:
    We don't "make sure you have something to communicate or need to learn in a GROUP setting."
    We don't "avoid making meetings so large that it feels you should have rented an amphitheater."
    We don't "start and end meetings on time"
    We don't "encourage others to give their views"
    So what are we presenting? How about "PowerPoint presentations that convey obvious information or slides with grammatical errors"

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