Posts Tagged navy

Talent Management: Allowing people to do what they enjoy and are good at leads to better outcomes for everyone

Different people excel at different things. There are some tasks that some people will never ever be good at, regardless of how much training they have or effort they put in to it. Consider someone who has a really difficult time with attention to detail – they’re probably not the best person to release message traffic nor will they be a very good admin officer. Some people are terrible at relating to others and make terrible leaders, yet we force them to assume leadership roles. Hate doing paperwork? NATOPS probably isn’t a good fit, even though it’s generally reserved for the best aviators.

There’s two things at play here:

1)      The Navy’s career advancement program requires a breadth of roles for all people, focusing and rewarding more for different experiences rather than high performance in one area of focus.

2)      There’s zero effort to identify people’s true strengths, zero effort to explicitly state what strengths people need for different roles, and zero discussion with people before being placed in a role.

This isn’t a good system. Some people will excel in many different roles, or just get lucky and get the roles that they’d naturally have been good at. Many people, however, will find themselves in a position they’re not very capable at. They will respond in two ways: work hard to overcome their deficiencies and be marginally successful in the role, or do terrible in the role and their career never really recovers. This happens all over the place and at different times – I recall a JO Comsec Officer who had difficulty understanding process and paying attention to details. He was fired and that was that. One year into this person’s career, it was over – he could never recover from failing at a job he would never have been successful at anyways. That’s an example of what’s bad for our people.

We see this also at the O-4 level, where the career funnel almost mandates you take your turn as the MO or Ops O. What percentage of O-4s do you think were really good at those roles? It’s less than half. This is an example of what’s bad for the Navy. Another example are those roles to PMA-XXX where somebody would influence long-term strategy, tactics, and procurement. There’s virtually no screening for ability before those roles and they have the potential to be hugely impactful for the entire community – bad for the Navy.

Leaders that have been successful through this system will argue that it’s a testing platform to figure out who’s the most adaptable, and it’s also is a great learning opportunity when you fail. That’s true. But if the penalty for failure is a derailed career, I’d argue that failure isn’t celebrated as a learning opportunity but is something to avoid at all cost.

There’s a much better way to do this. When people get roles they’re going to be good at and like doing, it’s really good for the Navy. It’s also really good for the person, because they’ll get high performance marks. It’s also really good for management because they don’t have to have as much oversight. Everyone wins.

A VP skipper can implement this within the squadron. The only thing he/she would have to change is the evaluation system. You’d have to eliminate the “X JOB” = #1 ranking philosophy and you’d have to ensure the person behind you that will eventually write the final fitreps is onboard with this philosophy too. And each XO could be very transparent about the skills needed for people to be successful at follow-on orders and try to place people accordingly.

There’s tons of people that agree the career progression in the Navy needs to be revamped. There was an 80+ page paper written by some ex-Army officers at Harvard. No company in the world manages their talent the way we do. I remember speaking to a VP O-6 about this. I was really disappointed that he generally agreed with me but he said, “I don’t think there’s a better way to do it.” Knowing what I know now, he was blind to his own bias. He considered himself very successful, and automatically attributes it to the system of career progression. But consider how many skippers are getting fired and how broken our senior ranks seems to be.

There’s one really easy way to make this better – make PERS more transparent. Have job postings. Have some writeups about what the job entails and what kind of skills you’d need in that role. This isn’t that difficult to do.

Highly skilled people leave the VP Navy because of this broken system.

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A Retrospective on the P3Reform Project

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:

  1. Strategy: Why we need to be bad in order to be great
  2. Incentives are Important: Why our DUI prevention incentives don’t work but our mishap prevention incentives do
  3. Operations Management: The answer to “doing more with less”
  4. Talent Management: Allowing people to do what they enjoy and are good at leads to better outcomes for everyone
  5. A Strategy for Change: What are VP Navy’s unique strengths and how to leverage them
  6. Conclusion – The military is not a business: Why treating it like one can lead to failure
  7. 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.


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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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And now… A conversation about orders.

Scene: We find ourselves in a typical hangar. It is a day like any other. The part of “Me” will be played by Michael Cera. The part of “P-3 Career Guy” will be played by John C. Reilly.


Me: I’ve been trying to decide what to do for a disassociated sea tour.

P-3 Career Guy: Go to the boat.

Me: Ha. Yeah, I know that’s what everyone says.

P-3 Career Guy: Go to the boat.

Me: Yeah, I know it’s the “safe” career move. Some of the carrier jobs sound pretty cool, I guess. The thing is, so do some of the other jobs out there.

P-3 Career Guy: Ignore them. Go to the boat.

Me: Yeah, well, I’ve been trying to get an idea of what is out there. VPU, FSU, Dallas. Then there is Bahrain or Japan.

P-3 Career Guy: Shooter. Boat. Go.

Me: Ha ha…well, a lot of people say they like the Shooter job.

P-3 Career Guy: Go be a Shooter. That’s the job to get. Don’t be a TAO. Too hard to break out. You break out as the ANAV too, but Shooter is more fun. I mean, it still sucks a lot, but there are times when it is fun.

Me: Well, the thing is, I’ve talked to a lot of guys from VPU, FSU, and Dallas. They all seem to love it. They say how rewarding it is; how valuable their work is. They all seem happy.

P-3 Career Guy: They’re faking. They’re really sad on the inside. They just wish they were on the boat.

Me: What is it with this constant push to go to the boat? What’s wrong with the other choices?

P-3 Career Guy: Bad career moves! VPU, FSU, Dallas – all career killers

Me: Yeah, I’ve heard all that before – the historical trends for selection and all that – but it doesn’t make any sense.

P-3 Career Guy: It’s all about the board. You gotta be thinking about those Department Head and Command boards. You know who is on there? It’s mostly non-P-3 guys. They’re carrier aviators. They don’t know what hell VPU is. Same goes for FSU. Especially true for BUPERS Det Dallas. They know what a Shooter is though! Always been that way, so you can look at the stats and see that your best bet is to go to the boat.

Me: And nobody thinks that’s stupid?

P-3 Career Guy: No! It’s just the way it is. Look at the numbers! Who was selected last time around? People who went to the boat. So YOU need to go to the boat if you want to be selected. God, I LOVE talking about the boat!

Me: Settle down man. Why are you getting so excited? I’ve talked to other guys about this and they’ve told me the same basic things, but at least they were reasonable about it. You’re not being reasonable. You’re kinda being a –

P-3 Career Guy: Go!

Me: What? Why would you –

P-3 Career Guy: To!

Me: Why are you –

P-3 Career Guy: The!

Me: Seriously, stop interrupti-

P-3 Career Guy: BOOOOAAAAATTT!!!! (lifts ass cheek, farts)

Me: I don’t even know why I’m wasting my ti-

P-3 Career Guy: (lifts ass cheek, farts again. It’s a 15 second squeaker that starts off loud and trails off) That ones called the rusty cat shot!!!

Me: (sighs) Incredible. You can’t see any other way than the way it’s always been done. You can’t see how asinine that whole system is – you’re too imbedded in the system. But does the system generate the best people for DH and Command? Is there something about doing a carrier tour that makes you more equipped to be a DH or a Skipper than if you had done one of the other paths? It doesn’t seem that way – I mean, they could train a monkey to be a shooter.

P-3 Career Guy: That’s not the point. The point is, the people on the board know what the carrier jobs are and don’t know about the other jobs. ie, ergo, ipso-facto, vis-a-vis, je ne sais quoi – go to the boat. HA! I just showed you up with my smart-talk!

Me: …….I’m just going to ignore the “smart-talk” comment and pretend it never happened. It’s pointless to think that you could see a problem with this whole system……..So what you are saying is, we insist that people stay away from VPU, FSU, and Dallas, not because they are not important or valuable jobs, but because the people on screen boards don’t know what they are?

P-3 Career Guy: Well, they have been trying to educate the board members about those jobs.

Me: What does that mean? A five minute explanation right before the board starts?

P-3 Career Guy: Probably.

Me: Well that should do it. So instead of really trying to give people some choice we half-ass a fix, then pressure everyone to stay on the right path. Of course, the people making the decisions all came up in that flawed system, so who can expect any rational ideas? I hate to complain about this with no real solution to the problem, but I know that this is not the way to keep the best people. Is there a way to change the selection process so that people have more freedom to try for the jobs that are right for them?

P-3 Career Guy: Who cares? Just go to the boat and don’t worry about it! It’s great leadership experience and you get to see how “Big Navy” works.

Me: That’s great, but don’t those other jobs provide some great experience too? It’s still valuable – it’s just different. And, isn’t there something to be said for some diversity of knowledge in the Department Head and Command ranks? Why do we want a homogeneous blob of mediocrity instead of diverse sets of professional experiences and expertise?

P-3 Career Guy: There’s diversity amongst boat guys. One guy may have been on the Eisenhower and another on the TR. Boom! There’s your variety!

Me: Are you trying to be an asshole?

P-3 Career Guy: No, but you’re trying to be a boat-dodger. Ha ha! Boat dodger!

Me: For God’s sake, I’m just trying to find the job that I would be good at, that I would enjoy, and that would allow me to actually contribute to something worthwhile. That may be the boat, but it also may be one of the other jobs. I don’t want to be forced to work within this broken system, where important and meaningful jobs are looked down upon because people didn’t know what they were, and that’s just how it’s always been. No wonder we lose so many smart, capable people. Who wants to be restricted like that? That’s why we end up with some incompetent Department Heads…. No offense.

P-3 Career Guy: No, no. None taken. Hey, you should just suck it up and go to the boat. I heard VPU orders for you guys might be going away anyways. They want to staff it with people who didn’t screen for DH.

Me: I heard that rumor too, but there’s no way. Somebody with some sense had to have stepped in to stop that one. First of all, why would you want to put the bottom-feeders in the squadrons that are contributing every day to the wars we are fighting? Second, there aren’t enough boat spots for everyone! That’s really a key point here that gets overlooked. There aren’t enough boat spots! What’s so hard about this? People are fighting for boat spots! We can’t ALL go to the boat!

P-3 Career Guy: Boat dodger!

Me: I can’t take it. I’m going to punch you in the face right now.

P-3 Career Guy: Ok. You can do it on your way to the boat. Boom!

Me: I’m serious, I’m going to punch you in the face. I may kick you in the balls too. Not sure. I’m still deciding.

P-3 Career Guy: You can decide on that after you decide which boat to go to. Burn!

Me: Seriously, I’m going to lose it. You have to stop.

P-3 Career Guy: You have to stop … at the boat for a disassociated sea tour. Double Boom! Smoked you!

Me: To hell with it ….. I’m getting out of the Navy.

P-3 Career Guy: ………. Good. That’s one less person taking up a boat slot.

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