Monday, July 8, 2013

Blue folders > tactical proficiency

How is it that we can spend more time routing paperwork in blue folders than studying tactical manuals and improving our ability to go to war?

As my command's training department head, I'm supposed to spend most of my day managing a department that finds unique ways to train our >1500 sailors at our command. And yet, if I totaled up my time, most of it would fall into one of the below categories:

- Tracking down lost paperwork
- Routing paperwork by hand in a blue folder
- Fixing stupid errors in EVALs and FITREPs
- Attempting to fix someone's electronic record

Administration should only take 15% of my week, yet it seems to consume ever more time, which means I spend less time innovating and delving deep into problems and more time simply making the paperwork go away from my desk.

Previously, when I deployed to my detachment site, I found that sailors were saving mission details in their email, which made it a huge headache to turnover in a quick manner. People would say they needed two weeks to turnover, and in the end you really had no idea if they had truly transferred all information to the next detachment. I finally put an end to it: I made everyone post mission data on an Intelink wiki. While it consumed a lot of my time in the end (I didn't get the best support from everyone, so I simply sat each person down one by one and trained them), in the end we completely changed the way we did business, and made it immensely easier to conduct turnover and keep our missions current.

What I found is that sailors don't embrace change, new ways of doing business, transformation, or whatever other buzzword you'd like to insert here, because they figure there the following cycle will happen:

- New boss comes in, needs a FITREP bullet, and says "We're going to do something new!"
- Sailors give lip service to make boss happy
- Boss builds little prototype, couple of people use it, and boss gets FITREP bullet
- Boss leaves, Sailors go back to familiar way of business, and new boss enters

and the cycle repeats, and suddenly we find that despite all the changes in computer technology, we are still using a program to write FITREPs that is from 1998.

How do you stop this? Robert Holzer likes to talk about it, but I don't think he really offers us any concrete methods to make it happen. I've been guilty of pushing good ideas that only seem to work when I'm around, and instantly fall apart when I walk away. My old division is still using the Intelink wiki, and I think it's because I did a few things differently:

1. The boss is the biggest champion. I test drove Intelink for a week before making anyone else use it. This ensured I knew what I was getting into, but also that I truly believed in what I was doing. It made it easier for me to enforce using it when it wasn't exactly embraced enthusiastically.

2. The boss has to use it exclusively. You can't allow the old way of doing business to continue, because it will be used as a crux by others, and everyone will eventually go back to it if given the opportunity.

When I came back and took over our division, I required all weekly status reports (WSR) to be posted on our wiki. My NATOPS manager asked me to email the WSRs to him my first week, since he didn't have an account. I did, but told him to get an account created that week. The next week, he asked for an email with the WSRs, which I sent...along with a counseling chit. He got the hint, created an account, and was able to do his job more efficiently after that.

3. I codified my gains in an instruction. Navy instructions are a powerful force of institutional memory. They force ways of operating on individuals without requiring direct supervision. Think about it: you do a PRT every year because of an instruction, yet you don't even know who signs it! In my case, I wrote our Division SORM to reflect how we used the Intelink wikis for productivity, and they are still being used today, with great success.

Before you go implementing change, think about the follow through. I had attempted to implement change many times before with little success because I didn't think about how to follow through and make it permanent. As leaders, we need to move the Navy forward, but the only way to do that is to implement good change and stick with it once implemented...otherwise we are simply spinning our wheels and making our sailors suffer.

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