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This blog was started with a single post e-mailed to one officer in each squadron. It took off and amassed more than 20,000 views while it was active. Frustrated with always hearing, “this is how it’s always been,” this was an experiment to see if a ground-swell of support combined with open communication straight to the top of our leadership could effect change. For that reason, the headlines and some of the articles were intentionally demagogic and intentionally “click-baity.” It was supposed to be 50/50 bitching/solution. In retrospect, it was probably more like 50% bitching, 25% highlighting subversive problems, and 25% solution.
There were also several people that directly contributed to the content, and many that indirectly contributed. Additionally, there were several good debates and discussion in the comments. Thanks everyone for their time, passion, and contributions.
The blog has been inactive for a couple of years, but the most recent comments indicate that the content is still somewhat relevant – that still, 6 years later, nothing much has changed. It was born out of a desire to be impactful, and there’s going to be one final push to achieve that impact. Over the course of a week, there will be 6 new articles published that are about what I learned outside the Navy and how the VP community could benefit from those lessons. They are:
- Strategy: Why we need to be bad in order to be great
- Incentives are Important: Why our DUI prevention incentives don’t work but our mishap prevention incentives do
- Operations Management: The answer to “doing more with less”
- Talent Management: Allowing people to do what they enjoy and are good at leads to better outcomes for everyone
- A Strategy for Change: What are VP Navy’s unique strengths and how to leverage them
- Conclusion – The military is not a business: Why treating it like one can lead to failure
- Final Thoughts
Each recommendation can be implemented entirely within VP Navy – we don’t have to change the entire Navy to change ourselves. Hope you enjoy the reads.
Posted in Uncategorized on 2September2013
It’s been well over a year since I’ve posted. I’ve been kicking about some ideas in my head about what I should do with this blog, since I still get hits every day. This is most likely thanks to the navy employing anti-Google URLs for all their websites, so when people search for VP-30 they get my blog.
Over the last 2 years, I have heard many of our community leaders extolling the excitement of the coming years. How change is coming, and that change looks, and is, good, and was built upon the results of what we did on station. So I wanted to look at the changes that have happened in the last two years, and analyze whether those speeches meant anything. One change that happened is that there are evidently polls that we can embed in these blogs. If you will, please vote in the above poll.
1. The readiness system: It changed, but people still hate it. The readiness system changes align very neatly with some of the changes I proposed in an earlier post. Since I’ve been constantly accused of not having a lack of hubris, I’ll play into that perception and take credit for it.
The biggest problem still remains with what we have to do to claim quals (hereby referred to as tasks). The “checks in the block” for each task simply isn’t robust enough to say concretely that a crew or an individual is or is not capable of meeting the demands of the skills. We’re stuck in this mindset of having to measure every tiny detail of what a crew does and put a metric, limit, or score associated with it. Must attack in 5 minutes – 20 points! Must analyze CPA within 3 minutes! Must call a sitrep every time the SS2 is confused!
That way of analyzing performance is all about collecting a lot of precise data. That could work – however our data is inherently imprecise! Even worse, our means to collect that data is based on the message traffic system, or an excel spreadsheet that gets passed around and saved in a folder labeled S:\Trackers2009 – hardly an efficient process.
So while the readiness system made some strides forward, the biggest hurdle yet remains. And I don’t think anybody is working on this or even considering changing it because it’s so entrenched in the way we do business. If we’re to stick with this data-driven evaluation system, the system should get its inputs directly from the sensors and the computer on board. Furthermore, our sensors must be more precise and the data gained to be verifiable. Otherwise, create a more holistic approach to evaluation – there’s validation in unbiased concensus.
2. The budget – we’ve experienced so much turmoil with the budget. Squadrons might be coming home early! Squadrons are having their deployments cancelled! No more flying! All of these rumors didn’t come true in light of looming budget cuts. Our leaders’ leaders have gone on about how damaging the sequester is going to be. How costly it will be to try to regain the skills we’ll lose from the budget cuts.
My question is, “Is nobody even considering just making us more efficient?” If we’re so concerned with losing our skills due to reduced funding, why not reduce expenses in other ways? I think the two biggest costs we have are manpower and costs associated with flight hours. So here are some cost saving tips that wouldn’t reduce our skills:
Admin: in today’s world of connectivity – why do they have to deploy? They just eat up per diem and other costs that simply aren’t necessary. The biggest reason to keep things the same is that it’s “sea duty.” So the entire detailing process would have to be reworked to make it into a shore duty. But then how could they possible compete for that #1 EP against a deployer? This highlights how our advancement system sets up these invisible barriers towards organizational progress.
Measuring operational performance based on executing what we’re budgeted for ensures that we are NEVER going to be more efficient in how we spend our money for operational flight hours. The OPSO is given a certain amount of flight hours to cover each quarter. That amount is based on what we’re budgeted for. That budget is loosely based on how many hours it takes to keep everyone proficient. Our leaders fight to keep those hours from getting slashed.
Meanwhile, our PPCs have found an easier way to be more efficient – simply lie about when you took off and landed. This cheating of flight hours is rampant – with 20 minutes on either end extremely commonplace. On a 5 hour DFW, my guess is that the average PPC flies 4 hours and 20 minutes. That is a 13% reduction in flight hours. In an organization that values integrity above almost anything else, it’s shocking how acceptable this form of cheating is. My belief is that many PPCs inherently understand how arbitrary and stupid the way we MUST fly our hours is. Thinking that bending the rules is ok as long as nobody gets hurt, they do it. And they do it all the time.
Draw your own conclusions here – I don’t think that bending the rules by lying about takeoff and land times is wrong. I think it’s a natural result of dealing with arbitrary and outdated rules. With the high percentage of republicans and libertarians in our ranks, it’s surprising how many don’t extol the virtues of the free market when it comes to P-3s flight hours.
Since it’s fashionable to be budget conscious, why not perform an experiment with one or two squadrons wherein they fly what they need? We have that flexibility. Not every squadron has to do the same thing! Further, rumor has it that some squadrons may get the axe – that’s a perfect platform to try something different.
3. 100MB inboxes!!!! Holy shit our email space doubled! I was wondering why I hadn’t gotten an alert that I was over my limit in a while. This must have been a Herculean effort and a monumental cost – unbelievable that they achieved this with all the strain on the budget. 50 extra Megabytes is 0.05 Gigabytes. Multiplied by the 350,000 or so active duty personnel and you get 17,500 extra gigabytes of storage space, which is 17.5 Terabytes. You can buy 1 TB hard drives on amazon for $84.65 each, which means that extra storage costs roughly $1500. Multiply that by 2 to make it a server, then multiply by another 2 for the government rate and you get $6,000 + extra operating costs for that storage. Thanks NMCI!
4. The Super-JO program, or Squadron WTI program came…. And quickly went away. For those unfamiliar, the Super-JO program is where a Weapons and Tactics instructor (WTI) goes back to a squadron after their shore tour in lieu of a disassociated sea tour. WTIs come from the Wing (ARP Instructors), VP-30 (Weapons School… mostly), CTFs, or NSAWC/NMAWC (very specialized billets). The idea is that you take quality instructors, make them even better with another 2-3 years in platform, and reinvest that experience and talent back into the squadrons.
So the Super JO program was around for 9 months or so. To my knowledge, there was zero discussion with the Super JOs selected for the program about whether or not they were making gains in squadron performance. So why the cancellation of the program? It seems like a smart idea – have very experienced instructors that have the desire to give back to their community reinvest their experience and knowledge.
Was it competing priorities for bodies? One Super JO per squadron is 12 bodies. Are there not 12 people that can be poached from somewhere? Was it for career progression? “We have to send people to boat because they don’t understand what’s good for them!” Last I checked, there were only 24 CO/XO billets, and around 500 JO billets. Clearly, not everyone is going to make Skipper. Was it because they couldn’t convince anyone to go back to a squadron?
I don’t know why it was cancelled. But I know why it was started. It was started because the MPRWS continually noted the exact same deficiencies year after year after year. No amount of newsletters or tactical discussions or changes to the ARP program helped. What could you possibly do but inject MPRWS expertise directly into the squadrons? Bypass the layers upon layers gained from the “Instruct the Instructor” model (think about your squadron’s CNS/ATM program).
This program’s cancellation is completely and utterly deflating. If what we do onstation matters so much, why do our leaders’ actions not prioritize it? What can someone possible reason other than “My performance just doesn’t matter that much.”
Posted in Uncategorized on 10October2011
The passing of Steve Jobs has brought about a popular reverence of the man. People say he was the modern day Edison, revolutionizing our lives through technology. He was indeed brilliantly creative, and combined his business savvy with a rare understanding of what makes people enjoy using technology. But did anyone think of him in this light before he died? Probably not, outside the tech industry.
Anyways, through all the hype about his life that has arisen since his death, his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford stands out. In it he talks about his life, and about facing death. It is a rare event in which a businessman speaks of philosophy, and the speech is powerful in a posthumous light. Here’s the link:
Its a good speech, but what I took away from it started around 9:10, where he talks about facing death. Here are the quotes that I thought best reflected my thoughts about life in the Navy:
- “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
- “Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with results of other people’s thinking.”
- “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
- “…and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition…”
Nearly every career advice we get offers ways and avenues to replicate what the previous generation of Naval officers did. When we know something doesn’t work, we forgo innovation and attempt to mend what was there, perpetuating a broken system. Dissenters of the way we do business are ostracized for being lazy.
This mantra isn’t for everyone. The majority (I think) of people are more than content to show up to a job with excellent job security where they’re told what to do. That life is not for me. I cannot commit my life contributing to an organization unwilling or unable to change for the better. So the question is, “Will I take the chance on myself?” Thanks Steve Jobs. I’m getting out of the Navy.
Posted in Uncategorized on 21September2011
Well its that time of the year again. The time when OPSO’s get all pissypants about this thing called the OPTAR budget. You are in one of two situations – you either fly as little as possible to accomplish the objective, or you fly as much as you can to accomplish getting hours. This is all to satisfy a magical number of flight hours for the fiscal year.
Doesn’t anyone see how idiotic this is? We can’t finish the year 1 hour short? What the fuck’s going to happen? More importantly, who gives a fuck? This is symptomatic of a culture of consumption. I’m not talking about the American consumer culture, but merely trying to point out that in the face of HONA, we fly the planes to get hours, and don’t strive to make what limited flight hours we have left count.
I thought we were supposed to extend the lives of the planes because the P-8 won’t be getting here in a timely fashion? “But the OPTAR Budget!!! We have to fly a set number of hours!!!!” Yelling it doesn’t make it right.
For some added levity, I’ve attached a picture of this choaderrific patch.
Posted in Uncategorized on 13September2011
Straight from Wikipedia: Risk is the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome). The notion implies that a choice having an influence on the outcome exists (or existed). Potential losses themselves may also be called “risks”.
Now before you get all pissy about me using Wikipedia as a reference, know that I merely wanted to define what I was talking about, and the Wikipedia definition was quite suitable.
Further definitions – Let’s examine a scenario in which I give you one of two choices:
- I give you $50.
- I flip a coin. Heads – I give you $100. Tails – you get nothing.
Statistically speaking, both choices are equal when viewed over an infinite number of trials. A risk neutral person would be agreeable to either scenario. A risk averse person would choose the 1st option, even if it was for less than $50. A risk inclined person would choose the 2nd option, even if the 1st was for more than $50. This is just a simple explanation of terms I plan on using. This simply exemplifies the character types defined from a scenario with a known probability and quantity of outcome.
Most people are risk inclined, up until what is risked is of such great value to the person that they become risk averse. The lottery is a perfect example of this. It offers terrible odds, and even the payout isn’t comparable. One version of the Lottery offers a chance of winning the jackpot at 1 in 175 million with each ticket costing $1. The actual payout for the jackpot averages less than 175 million. Therefore, anyone playing the Lottery, whether they understand the statistics or not, is risk inclined. Consider what would happen if the lottery tickets cost $1000 and the jackpot had the same odds but paid out 175 billion. Most everyone that previously purchased $1 lottery tickets would stop buying them because $1000 is of great value to them. Somewhere between $1 and $1000 per ticket people changed from risk inclined to risk averse. If we have a risk averse culture (which I believe to be true), we can infer that the majority of decisions we make or the outcomes that may come are of great value to us.
Whenever we make decisions, we intrinsically go through an evaluation process:
- What is the decision to be made?
- What things affect the outcome?
- What is the probability that those things will happen?
- What are the potential outcomes?
There are many things that shape the decisions made in the VP Navy. Most are able to be quantified in some fashion, like the probability that the airplane will experience a catastrophic wing failure. But some of the biggest forces that shape our decision making are very difficult to quantify, like “What will the Skipper think if I do “X” and then “Y” happens?” Unfortunately, the many uncertainties we face often either paralyze us into inaction or make us act only to avoid negative outcomes, rather than acting to cause positive outcomes.
Let’s consider a detachment to San Diego: The Commodore has expressed interest in hearing about how his squadron supported a Carrier exercise. The Skipper understands full well that no matter how well the crews perform onstation, anything that reaches the Commodore will be perceived as nothing more than grandstanding embellishments, because no one ever reports doing poorly. Therefore, the Skipper concludes, perhaps unknowingly, that the only way to look good, is to not look bad. Remember that he’s competing against only 3 others for continual advancement.
So the Skipper has to decide how to not look bad. What things affect that outcome? The easiest performance metrics to quantify are mission completion rates, hours flown, and whether the onstation times were met. Its not surprising then, given that they are easy to measure, that we judge our performance almost solely based on them. This, by the way, contributes to an ever decreasing lack of emphasis on tactical performance. Another thing that affects whether or not the Skipper doesn’t look bad is liberty incidents, and must be avoided at all cost. No matter how good the onstation performance is, a liberty incident negates any positive outcome.
We know that the odds of taking off on time and completing a mission is somewhere between 50 and 95%. That’s just an experienced guess, but I think everyone’s guess would be somewhere between those two numbers. But given that there are only 5-10 flights, its not unfeasible for the Skipper (or det OIC) to eye a number closer to 100%. What are the odds that there will be a liberty incident? Well, experience teaches us that its certainly higher on detachment than at home, but probably on the order of 5% or so.
A risk averse person would, believing the outcome to be very important, take measures to improve the outcome, regardless of the probability of the outcome being negative. This behavior leads to backup preflights, ops readies, and midnight curfews. This of course lowers morale, and generally makes people pissed off (If you’ve done a backup preflight at 2:00 a.m. you know what I’m talking about). Is this necessarily a bad thing? Some would argue that its but one small sacrifice to defend freedom. I would argue that measures like those are the actions of leaders that are paralyzed with fear about looking bad, and are unnecessary. There are more examples of risk averse behavior (like this anonymous blog). This behavior serves to undermine our real performance, lower morale, and in general make us feel like a bunch of douches.
So what exactly has driven our community into this cowardly abyss? For your convenience, I’ve created a list (feel free to comment on more and I’ll edit them in and credit your fake name):
- Promotion system
- Evaluation system
- Information availability
- Media exposure
- Too few openings at high levels
- Little opportunity for success outside the “golden path”
To be concluded…
Posted in Uncategorized on 6September2011
Have you ever wondered how we end up with such mediocre leaders and aviators as Department Heads and Commanding Officers? I bet you have. Most of us have. We think back to various Department Heads and XO/COs we’ve worked for and can pick out a few great ones, a few awful ones, and a whole lot who could best be described as “adequate.” There are a lot of factors that lead to this giant sea of mediocrity, but the most significant is the importance of “sustained superior performance” in our FITREP and career progression system.
First of all, it’s important to note that the ratio of highly-capable, capable, and incapable (if you’ll bear with me as we use those terms for three tiers of officers) is consistent with the “bell curve” we all remember from our grade school days. Many large groups fall out that way – a few high performers on the top, a few weak ones on the bottom, and the rest getting by in the middle. In theory, that concept is applied to a P-3 officer career path. In the first tour, an officer is measured against a large pool of peers. The expectation is that the weakest will be weeded out with poor FITREPS and “career-ender” shore tours. The best will go to VP-30 – the proven path first shore tour (another topic that I discussed in a previous post). The middle group will be spread out amongst other training commands and shore billets. I’m not suggesting that this is the best way to do things, or that this is how all Commanding Officers think with regards to FITREP rankings, but the perception certainly exists that this is how things function. The idea, then, is that the best people will be in the best position for success when the time comes for DH screening. Only the best people become Department Heads, and only the best of those become Commanding Officers, or so the system suggests. Too bad it doesn’t work.
The biggest issue is the ranking system. Think about how many times you’ve heard about “sustained superior performance.” I’ve lost count of the number of Command or DH screen board recap briefs I’ve seen. It’s always the same shit. The percentages may move a little bit, but the concepts are the same. A high EP out of the first tour gives you really good odds for DH. A VP-30 tour makes it a veritable lock. A Carrier tour after that gives you the best odds at command. Throw in some jokes about the “bureau” and the hilarious stories from the “tank” (like the time where the guy had a regression in his record and a few seconds after the record went up on the screens there were 20 laser pointer dots on the area of issue, or like that time when the one guy forgot to vote yes for a really strong record where the recorder said “this guy was a 30 guy and boat guy so let’s all “hit 100” so we can go to lunch”, and everyone waited for the last guy to “hit 100” until finally someone yelled “who didn’t vote?” and then you saw the final vote quickly go up and everyone laughed and laughed and WOULD YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GET ON WITH IT! …..)
Sorry about that. I get carried away with those “bureau jokes” that exactly two people in the audience can relate to, but that are made at each and every one of those briefs. Again, I apologize.
So, getting back to the rankings, we are talking about how so many mediocre people can make it so far in a community that places so much emphasis on “sustained superior performance.” Let’s start with the Junior Officers. Let’s say you are up for your final competitive FITREP as a Lieutenant. You will be ranked against a pool of all the other LTs in the squadron. You would think that the best LT in the squadron will be ranked #1. But what if the best LT is not up for his final competitive FITREP? Straight seniority does not necessarily mean someone contributes more, or is more valuable. So timing is clearly a key component, and one that the people being ranked do not control. If you happened to check in to the command with a weak group of people, you can leave with a high FITREP number by just being decent in your job. There may be five other LTs who are much better than you, but if they still have another FITREP before checkout, you’ll be ranked above them (as long as you are at least in that “capable” middle group we talked about – if you are in the incapable bottom group, this may not apply). The command doesn’t want to screw you by ranking someone who is much more junior above you. You may not be terrible, but you’re also not great. But from now on, on paper, you look great. Was your performance really “superior?” Of course not.
What if you are being ranked against some other LTs on their final FITREP cycle, but they want to go to a non-standard shore tour? Again, you might be a decent, but not great, performer being measured against much better performers, but you can come out on top if the others plan on leaving the Navy, want to do a unique shore tour in D.C., want an NROTC job, etc. Some Skippers may say that future jobs aren’t factored in on rankings, but I’ve been in the Department Head meetings and on the email discussions where this comes up. The rationale is to avoid “wasting” a good FITREP number on someone who won’t be competing for DH or Command. Because of this, at the Department Head board, there will always be a lot of #1s and #2s who really should have been #3s, #4s, and #5s (or even lower). On paper they performed well, but in reality they were beneficiaries of good timing or good luck.
This idea applies at the DH level just as much as it does amongst the JOs. Again, I saw this numerous times on a DH tour. Two LCDRs are ranked against one another, one who completed a CVN tour and another who performed very well at a VPU disassociated sea tour, and the ranking is all but set in stone even before either has had a chance to demonstrate their “superior performance.” The rumor that the folks at Millington try not to pair up two “strong” records (and, thus, have them compete for a single #1 ranking) has been out there so long it is all but gospel now. Well, where does the sustained superior performance come in then? As long as you’ve been in the right jobs (which you may have been in because the better people didn’t want to go) and have high FITREP rankings (which you may have because the better people were choosing to leave the Navy or go off the proper career path, or because there were no better people in the small group that was leaving the command in your time frame) you won’t have to really be “superior” – the deck will be stacked in your favor.
So, the result of all of this is that a lot of average people are made to look above average. And once you’re christened with that label, if you stick to the career plan, it’s a tough one to shake. I’m wondering about the downside to ranking people strictly on their performance in their job for the period of evaluation. What if past and future jobs are not considered? What if rankings are across all peers, and not just the few who are checking out at the same time? Wouldn’t we get a truer sense of “sustained superior performance?” Why should it matter that the best guy is getting out of the Navy? How is that “screwing” the ones who are staying in? If they wanted to be ranked ahead of the guy getting out, then they should have done a better job than him. If we keep doing things this way, we will continue to have what we have now, which is a lot of mediocre people in high places.
Is the promotion system the only thing keeping us from excellence in the higher ranks? Not at all. It’s but one part of a couple of interacting forces. I think the promotion system has cultivated risk-averse behavior in every thing we do – from daily FOD walkdowns to liberty policies to mission performance. The only way to prove that you are a sustained superior performer is to get a #1 ranking. Ask yourself how do many get that ranking?
I’m working on a risk aversion article that is pretty extensive. Hopefully it sums why our pussies are so big. In the meantime, here’s some more credible reading on mediocrity in business. I found many parallels to what we do.
Posted in Uncategorized on 19August2011
I was re-reading the productivity post and something hit me as a wasteful spending of labor – FOD walkdown. Specifically, why do the officers feel obligated or are required to attend?
Exactly what does the navy value in its officers? How do those values compare to successful civilian business managers? I did a cursory search for “best manager traits” and several common descriptors emerged. Creative, intuitive, knowledgeable, credible, versatile, committed, leadership, team player, efficient… You get the idea.
I’m kinda pissed that those qualities aren’t outwardly desired by the Navy, as evidenced by our performance evaluation system (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/files/fp_uploaded_documents/Falk-Rogers%20PAE%2003-11%20vF.pdf – its a good read). In regards to productivity, however, nothing pisses me off more than FOD walkdown.
Why are officer’s encouraged (or in some cases, required) to attend FOD walkdown? Why would you willingly task your managers (the ones that are supposed to have all those qualities listed above) with 30 minutes of mind numbing walking and picking up debris? Here are a couple of common arguments:
- When the officer’s are doing FOD walkdown, it inspires the junior enlisted because they see us doing what they do.
- If junior enlisted see that you can take the time out of your day to pick up FOD, they’ll know that its important.
I think those are the most commonly accepted arguments. But I would counter that our presence there is largely transparent. When the skipper’s out there picking up FOD, no one is thinking “oh man the skipper’s out here, it must be important to pick up FOD.” I believe that people say, “oh look the skipper’s here so that I can’t complain about FOD walkdown because someone will just say, ‘hey the skipper does it too.‘”
So anyways, I think the reason we really have to be at FOD walkdown is that if we’re demanding a large group of people do something menial, it’s much easier on our consciences if we do it also. Junior enlisted also clean the shitters but we don’t see officer’s stepping in to help scrub. Call me a prick but those are the ropes for the junior enlisted. That’s their unfortunate station in life based upon the decisions they made and the opportunities they’ve been afforded.
Yes – everyone can spare 30 minutes during their day for FOD walkdown. But that 30 minutes can be better spent elsewhere. We’re supposed to be leaders right? We should spend that 30 minutes engaging our sailors. Making them laugh. Inspiring them the right way – not picking up rocks alongside them. They know it sucks. You know it sucks. FOD walkdown sucks.
So recently this blog’s been getting a lot of hits. I don’t quite know what sparked the renewed interest, but its getting around. I’m hoping that this will popularize some necessary changes and that those changes will come to fruition through sheer volume of people “on the same page.”
Before we reach VP Nirvana, however, I’d really appreciate any feedback – preferable both constructive and humorous, but any conversation generated would be good. I think.