This is the last in a series of four blog entries on the topic of why messaging matters. During the first edition I introduced the importance of personal refection and the value it has in establishing the overall character of an organization. In the second I elaborated on how essential personal reflection can be in developing a message that is memorable. In that entry I also discussed the usefulness of creative repetition. In the third blog, I attempted to reinforce how a deliberate and targeted reflection process can exponentially increase the effectiveness and efficiency of an organization. And in this last edition I will offer a few more thoughts, again using a personal example, to help focus the efforts of your team in a manner that results in the greatest possible positive ripple effect. When there is so much to do, how do you focus on the few things that you really want to do well?
When you talk to any group of eager junior Soldiers or young lieutenants it is obvious that high quality training is always top on their mind. And they deserve it. We owe our units challenging training experiences. In fact, we are obligated to provide the best resourced and most realistic training possible. Sensing sessions, however, always seem to bring about administrative issues that often become distracting—at least as far as high quality training is concerned. After all, how can you properly focus on your mission if you don’t have blasting cap crimpers to prep demo for the breach, or your Bradley keeps throwing track, or training schedules develop a reputation for lacking predictability, or your leadership takes a pre-combat inspection short cut in order to complete that deserving NCO’s evaluation before the promotion board suspense? Although the “yo-yo effect” is an idiom most commonly equated with diets and weight loss/gain cycles, the term “yo-yo effect” can also be applied to formations, road marches and unit priorities if not executed properly. As I was preparing for battalion command I realized a need existed to determine and clearly communicate how I wanted to prioritize the multitude of competing requirements. That exercise resulted in the following list of “standing priorities” as a means to eliminate the potential for a “yo-yo effect”:
1) Leader development
2) At risk and non-available Soldiers
3) Awards/Evaluations on time
4) Command Supply Discipline Program (CSDP)
5) Maintenance Management
6) Training Management
Establishing my list of “standing priorities” was actually a fairly easy task in comparison to what came next. In an environment where mandatory training requirements exceed the amount of available training days, leaders must not only determine the level of risk they can assume but they must also find some way to verbalize, to their subordinates, what is most important within each topic of a standing priorities list.
After putting pencil to paper I began to see a potential pattern, or as an Engineer officer, a potential pattern that included “lowest common denominators.” If I was a business student I would probably have used a phrase like “maximum return on investment.” However, after a very brief engagement with Major General Stephen R. Lanza, Commanding General, 7th Infantry Division (now Lieutenant General Lanza, Commanding General, I Corps) about messaging, I ditched the reference to “lowest common denominator” when communicating my standing priorities and replaced it with “biggest bang for the buck.” Although both phrases had reference to obtaining the greatest possible positive ripple effect with the least amount of possible effort, the latter phrase was probably better suited for the audience at large.
What follows is a simplified version of my standing priorities published officially as complete and comprehensive programs within my unit’s annual and quarterly training guidance documents. The underlined text below represents the non-negotiable areas, when executed correctly, which have great potential to generate the “biggest bang for the buck.” They reflect areas where, if executed appropriately, were likely to have potential for more “goodness” that would naturally follow.
1) Leader development: This program will utilize a multi-layered approach, mixing formal and informal methods. It will be repetitive in nature and will incorporate lessons in both competence and character. It will have a heavy focus on standing priorities but will also acknowledge the need to address technical/tactical competencies.
2) At risk and non-available Soldiers: Leaders at all levels must truly, truly know their subordinates. This can be accomplished through quality “oak tree engagement.” Counseling must incorporate/record both short and long terms goals (both personal and professional). Each squad leader will use a Leader Book to assist them with managing engagement (counseling, “the next action”, and goals) for high risk and non-deployable Soldiers. If the Leader Book is maintained accurately, forward progress of “the next action” will naturally follow.
3) Awards/Evaluations on time: Every member of this battalion deserves to depart the unit with their award presented and their evaluation complete. Squad leaders will maintain a Leader Book to assist them with managing suspenses for awards and evaluations. Every company operations will establish a method to track/manage suspenses for submitting awards and evaluations. Tracking/managing (and meeting) suspenses are the responsibility of company commanders. If Leader Books are maintained accurately, on-time submissions will naturally follow.
4) Command Supply Discipline Program (CSDP): A quality CSDP is necessary to teach responsibility/accountability, ensure readiness of the unit, as well as to ensure we remain good stewards of the equipment the U.S. tax payer has provided to us. Each sub-hand receipt holder will have/use a Hand Receipt Book to ensure they maintain accountability of their assigned equipment. Signing equipment down to user level builds pride, responsibility, and accountability. If each sub-hand receipt holder maintains an accurate Hand Receipt Book, other parts of a quality CSDP (Supply Room records, reduced FLIPLs, etc.) will naturally follow.
5) Maintenance Management: The most important part of the maintenance program lies at the platoon level. I expect every platoon leader to physically put their hands on deadline faults in order to be able to personally explain the status of each hard and safety deadline. By having engaged platoon leadership, other portions (technical manuals on-hand, accurate motor pool documentation, parts received/installed, job orders, exchange pricing, etc.) of a quality maintenance management program will naturally follow.
6) Training Management: The key to the success of quality training is more than just knowing the Eight Step Training Model. The key to success is properly overlaying the Eight Step Training Model onto a calendar to plan/execute scheduled events. If companies understand and properly apply the Eight Step Training Model to a calendar, other parts (Company training meetings, quality Sergeant’s Time Training, predictability/lock-in, quality/detailed training schedules, proper use of Defense Training Management System, Battalion resource meetings, etc.) of a quality training management program will naturally follow.
I am not pretending to believe that my version of the standing priorities list, or my offerings of the points where the largest possible ripple effects can be achieved within each topic of the list, is something that can’t be argued or challenged. The point of the “biggest bang for the buck” may be different depending upon the level it is being employed. For example, for maintenance management at the company level, ensuring every vehicle has a Technical Manual and operators actively use them when conducting Pre-Mission Checks and Services (PMCS) may be the point where the “biggest bang for the buck” is achieved. We could also introduce the idea that the concept of “biggest bang for the buck” will not be very effective unless leaders are spot checking and enforcing it as a model.
This brings us to the end of this blog series regarding philosophy, messaging, and why it requires a lot of thought, effort, and reflection to be truly effective. Remember, there is a direct correlation between whether or not an organization adopts a particular character and the method by which its leader presents his/her philosophy. Remember, your ideas don’t have to be revolutionary but your delivery must be genuine. And furthermore, the emotional journey that leaders must go through in order to develop a genuine and effective method to message is not always easy. It also requires a lot of creativity in order to find varying ways, on multiple touch points, to reinforce desired values. As we know, the take away from this series is that messaging matters. Finding time for solitude and idea sharing is critical to the process. Messaging requires thought, energy, and reflection to be exponentially effective. Messaging—to establish a particular culture—requires the team to operate with a common framework, common values, and a common language. Inspire others to unlock their leadership potential. Messaging requires leadership.