And now, a discussion on productivity.


In my time in the P-3 community, I’ve never heard the word “productivity” uttered at work.  We don’t talk about it because we don’t think about it.  It’s irrelevant, unimportant.

Let me ask you a question and think not only of your response, but also of what your P-3 peers would say.  If there are two people of comparable rank and timing in a squadron, and both turn in the same quality and quantity of work, who is viewed as more valuable?  They are the same, of course.  But what if one of them completes the work by lunchtime and the other is still toiling away when the Ops-O is getting ready to leave?  Who gets the better FITREP ranking?

This isn’t a ground-breaking concept by any stretch of the imagination.  No doubt, many in the community have noticed the unhealthy consideration given to time at work as opposed to results of work.  This idea came up in an earlier post about the absurd hours requirements for qual flights.  In that situation, there’s no benefit for completing qual tasks in a shorter amount of time.  What I want to discuss here relates to P-3 ground jobs.

It doesn’t take an expert to see that our community does not value productivity.  In fact, I would say that productivity is usually punished.  If you don’t think that’s really the case, then you have to at least admit that the perception of that punishment exists.  In this situation, the perception is just as bad as reality.

Let’s say I work in NATOPS for my squadron.  I’m working alongside at least one direct peer and likely competitor for FITREP ranking.  What incentive do I have to be productive?  The perception is that the guy who is in the office when the Department Head arrives in the morning and is still there when he or she leaves at night will, by default, be viewed as a hard (and therefore a good) worker.  How many times have you heard someone praise someone else by saying he “works his ass off”?  What if he works his ass off because he’s stupid and has to work extra-hard to make up for it?

The “Harvard Business Review” blog site recently posted some articles by Robert Pozen, a professor and productivity expert.  When I read some of his posts I was struck by two things.  One – a lot of it seemed like common sense.  Two – we (the P-3 community) go against virtually everything he recommends.  But hey, what does he know?  He may be an alleged “expert,” but we’ve been doing things this way for over 40 years.

But let’s suppose for a minute that there might be something we can learn from Pozen.  One of main principles is that “it’s not the time you spend but the results you produce.”  Again, this does not go against common logic.  So, why do we have that concept backwards in P-3 squadrons?  Here are some issues:

 1.  We don’t know how to measure results. 

In a perfect world, a Department Head, XO, or Skipper would easily be able to compare the results of everyone’s work.  Person A produced a better product than person B, etc.  Person A wins.  If person A and person B produced the same product, but person B did it in half the time, then person B would be rewarded as more efficient and productive (and would likely be tasked with more work to fill up that extra time).  Too bad we don’t live in a perfect world.  Instead, Person A works in NATOPS and person B in maintenance.  The people making the decisions on who to reward have to try and compare productivity and results in two completely different areas.  FNET’s inspection went really well, but so did the AMI.  Who did their job better?  (Here’s where the Department Heads duke it out.)  “Well, my guy worked his ass off,” one DH insists.  “He even came in on weekends.”  There it is … we have a winner!

 2.  We’re stuck with the old shift-work concept.

Shift work is really effective for factories, coal mines, and lots of other workplaces.  How else would the Starbucks baristas know when to show up?  So, shift work is fine, but it’s not really conducive to intellectual creativity.  Do you think employees at Google are told that they’ll be expected to check in with their boss at 0730 and out with him no earlier than 1630 everyday?  That’s absurd!  They can hoverboard in or out of the office throughout the day whenever they want!  The environment fosters creative freedom, and that creative freedom brings innovation and improvement.  Google even encourages their engineers to take 20% of their work time to focus on projects of personal interest.  Can you imagine telling your boss in your P-3 squadron that you’ll be taking one day a week to work on your own projects and ideas?  Is it possible that someone could use that time and freedom to reinvent outdated tactics or figure out a better way to plan a flight schedule?  It doesn’t matter.  It will never happen.  It will never happen because…

 3.  We are a “lowest common denominator” community.

The 20% time idea is silly to us because the assumption will automatically be that the free time will just be wasted at the beach, or the bar, or in bed sleeping in.  It’s much more important that we’re in the squadron “spaces” – visible, and setting a good example.  Someone once told me of how they floated the idea of working from home.  The logic seemed sound.  He was doing computer work.  He was forced to fight for an NMCI machine at work while he had an actual functioning computer collecting dust at home.  But alas, it was a stupid idea because you aren’t really working unless you’re observed working.  Of course, he was also reminded that there were other squadron mates of lower ranks who HAD to be there from 0730 to 1630, so he couldn’t very well have them see him leaving early!  Again – lowest common denominator community.  This isn’t a “big boy” or “big girl” club.  This is a glorified kindergarten class (and I’m sorry, but Arnold is not walking through that door with a pet ferret).  Yes.  A Kindergarten Cop reference.  I’m wicked hungover and that’s the best I could do.

The machine has been running this way for a long time and the company culture is ingrained in all the gears and cogs.  We don’t want productivity; we just want the illusion of it (via somebody sitting in a chair at a computer).  Then we will have a perception that the guy who sits in the chair at the computer the longest is doing the most for the command, even if it’s not the case.  Then we’re faced with the choice between working at our best and most efficient but not being rewarded for it, and playing the game the way it’s always been played, because we ashamedly understand that’s the only way to be appreciated and rewarded.  So we work on our spreadsheets and our trackers and the other tasks that we can complete in half the time as the person who tasked us, hoping that he’ll say of us, “Well, he is working his ass off.”

 

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  1. #1 by Anonymous on 17September2011 - 8:21 pm

    You forgot that with being able to do your work in 1/2 the time gives you the “reward” of more work and responsibility, not the 1/2 day at the beach like you hoped. There really is NO incentive to being more efficient if you are forced to “hang out” for the sake of showing face …. basically just makes you work slower and spread it out. Oh and don’t forget to run up and down the halls carrying at least 3 blue folders (make sure some paper is sticking out so everyone knows they’re not empty too!)!

  2. #2 by Anonymous on 23October2011 - 2:50 am

    And also make sure the folders are in one hand and in the other you are angrily clicking a black government issue pen. Combined with pissed off look on your face, you are “working your ass off.”

  3. #3 by Lobotomized O-4 on 29February2012 - 7:08 am

    I have been lucky enough to spend the vast majority of my career in units that were not run the way you describe, including two VP squadrons. But I know they’re out there. Bottom line, the CO’s that got their job by ‘out-working’ the other guy as you describe value the same traits in their subordinates, where the ones who got there by legitimately being better than everyone else tend to value results vice appearances. There’s both out there, and I think in the next couple years you’ll see a shift toward the latter type (I think the better ones) vice the former.

    That said, having sat through some highly contentious JO ranking boards by DHs and a couple CO level talks on the same, I can say a couple things about this (again, this is highly squadron dependent; my experience does not translate outside of the small sample I saw):

    -Performance trumps everything. I never saw a DH talk about whether a JO was in the squadron on weekends or stayed late when justifying increasing his ranking. If they did I would have laughed at them and said, “That’s all you got?” and looked at his guy to see whether he should be as high as he is. At least in my squadron, your rep as a JO was, in order of importance:

    -ACTC qual achieved (I don’t think we ever ranked a non-IP/ITC over an IP/ITC or a non-MC over an MC)
    -Crew performance for crew holders; extra bonus points if we let them run a det on their own and they did well
    -Ground job attained (Pilot/NFO NATOPS, Pilot/NFO Trng, and QAO pretty much rounded out the top every time because we only put trusted agents in those jobs to begin with)
    -Boards / check rides / upgrader events (speed is good, but consistent quality is most important; it’s hard to change the rep you establish in the syllabus for the better later, but easy to change it for the worse)
    -Ground job performance

    Even then ground job performance only really got noted in exceptionally good or bad cases. The Readiness O who knew the T&R matrix better than the Wing Training O. The guy who gooned up the urinalysis program paperwork and got fired as urinalysis O. That kind of thing. Which is not to say that solid performance was not seen or appreciated, but it usually fit a consistent pattern and didn’t need to be discussed much. Guys who did well in the plane early on generally at least tried to give a crap about their ground job as well. Those JOs advanced in ACTC level and were given ground jobs of greater complexity faster than the others. Poor aircraft performance often went hand in hand with poor ground job performance, and you can’t really give a guy a harder job if he’s not doing the one he has now up to spec. So, by looking at ACTC level and history of ground jobs, you can get a pretty good idea where someone’s at without even getting into minutia. There were only a couple outliers like one pilot who, no matter how hard he tried, just was not going to make IP because he simply didn’t have the stick and rudder stuff, but was great at everything else we gave him to do, and he got some extra love. Other than a couple people like that, most JOs show a consistent pattern as they move through the squadron, and I’ve never seen anyone make any major strides at rankings that matter through crap like sitting at their desk longer.

    There is something that’s related but not the same thing as what you’re talking about, though, and that’s simply giving a shit. It’s not a checklist or even something you can try to do; you either do or you don’t, and it comes through clearly. It’s clearly obvious over time who really cares about and has pride in their job and who is trying to put enough checks in enough blocks to feel justified in skying out every day. It’s an intangible and it’s very subjective, but it’s increasingly important as you move up through the ranks. Because this is a life, not a job, whether you like it or not. If you try to treat it like Starbucks or Google, you’re going to be miserable because it’s not really close to either. If you have not only the ability to do your job competently but give enough of a crap to go about your business in a way that helps the team and doesn’t just punch the time card, it’s very apparent. That, to me, is the intangible that can break people out from time to time when contrasted with someone who may be talented but obviously views his duties as something he has to get through every day or even as beneath him. I will listen to peoples’ point of view on stuff all day long and I love the diversity of thought in the Navy, but one type I have very little patience for is the one that views the whole enterprise as some kind of a joke on the rest of us that only he, the Enlightened One, gets through his unassailable intellectual superiority and wit. The funny thing about guys like that is they’re usually marginally talented at best; the guys who are in fact head and shoulders above their peers talent and brains wise are usually even keeled about it, or at least smart enough to know when to keep their mouth shut about what.

    Most of the time, for all the fretting, JO’s rank themselves. The only way JO’s can make it hard for leadership to rank them is for them all to be awesome, and that doesn’t happen too often. Every ranking session I sat in on, we spent at least half the time debating who got the last EP and who would have to leave with an MP, and maybe we spent some time on who should be #1 and who should be #2 (hint: sometimes the #1 guy goes to VP-30, other times the guy who wants to and is good enough to go to VP-30 is ranked #1). And that’s about it.

    It’s far from a flawless system, but nothing a whole bunch of imperfect people do together is. I personally thing we do a pretty good job of evaluating people. The orders process…that’s a different story.

    But one thing about Google and other supposed bastions of creativity: we have those in the Navy, you know. You have to remember you’re still at the start of your career; new dudes get treated the same everywhere, even Google. If you want it and can earn it, there’s TPS, the Weapon School, NSAWC, NWDC, and a bunch of places I don’t know about where you will have plenty of opportunity to both test all the great ideas you have and change the words on the pages that govern our lives. But you don’t start there on day one; I don’t know any place where you do. It’s a great feeling to make a difference. It’s less fun when you finally get your passion project tested, approved and published and you hear a bunch of JOs talking about how whoever wrote (your work) is obviously an idiot who never was near an airplane before and they, the newly qualified PPC/TC, know so much more, and could have done it so much better if only the mindless P-3 machine wasn’t keeping them down. Ah, well, it goes around, and sometimes it comes around…

    • #4 by Slip McGurk on 1November2015 - 10:23 pm

      “sometimes the #1 guy goes to VP-30, other times the guy who wants to and is good enough to go to VP-30 is ranked #1”

      Why can’t the #2 guy get ranked #2, as they should be, and still go to VP-30 if they wanted to? Or the #3 guy?

      The message in getting from this is that of you want VP-30, your DH’s are willing to fudge multiple people’s fitness reports to boost your standings. 30 is happy because all they get are #1 guys, and Big Navy never catches on that their actual #1 guys have all left for bigger and better things.

      The System is broken, you can either shrug and look into the camera like a bad sitcom, or you can change the game and play it by your rules. The latter will definitely bring some heat from up top, but at least then they can’t plead ignorance of the problem anymore.

  4. #5 by Mark on 22April2013 - 2:13 am

    I disagree lobotomized. How well you flew. How well you performed on missions. How well you did on tactical training events. Nada……zero. It was all based on politics and nothing else. I even had a DH tell me Airmanship was only one block on the Fitrep. VP wasted the taxpayers money in playing games and not keeping their nose to the task – winning an ASW War.

    • #6 by Lobotomized O-4 on 3May2013 - 2:15 am

      Not sure how you can disagree. I said what I saw, which is different from what other people have seen. If you had a different experience, that doesn’t invalidate mine any more than mine invalidates someone else’s. I’m not selling anything and I have no purpose other than to contribute to the discussion here. That said, since my DH tour, I’ve had the opportunity to observe a lot of current VP squadrons in action, and I’ve come to believe my JO and DH experiences, though true, were probably more the exception than the rule. Despite being the “most competitive” community in Naval Aviation in a strict numbers sense, we struggle to consistently put people who are up to the task or even, too often, decent human beings in our front offices. They in turn make miniature copies of themselves by selecting who they push to the fore among their DHs. I’ve seen two squadrons in the past couple years that I know were great places to work (for someone like me anyway) turned to shit quickly through bad CO’s taking over from great CO’s. I don’t know why it seems like the best COs’ legacy can be dumped in a couple weeks by a shitty CO coming in after him, but it takes years for a squadron to shake off the stink of a bad CO. Why does the bad stick, but the good gets washed away like the summer breeze? I don’t know, I just know I’m lucky to have been in the squadrons I have.

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