Thursday, May 25, 2006

Words from the Past Pointing to the Future: A Visit from the Next Commandant

Please note, this post was originally posted 22 March 2006 at 12:15PM. I removed it at the request of a senior officer since evidently much of what Admiral Allen talked about is still close hold. He'd evidently been thinking, but not talking publically to folks. I figure with Admiral Allen now in charge, and his vision posted, I can post this with a clear conscience.

I'm at a program conference for my civilian job; we're at the National Conference Center. Yesterday Admiral drove out in the afternoon (he drove himself; that's the sort of guy he is) and spoke to us for a couple of hours. We're less than 36 of us, so it was a nice, small, intimate crowd.

He spoke to us about the future. If you've ever heard him talk, you know the sort of energy and intelligence he brings. Huge.

The following are some random notes about what he said about the Coast Guard and the way ahead.

((Don't be content with only a teaser of this post;
read more of this musing.))

Early on he noted the Coast Guard is currently in a unique position. As an organization, the American people and the politicians inside the Beltway consider us to be tested and trusted. Before Katrina, Admiral Allen believed we were about to lose $500 million in short-term future funding because Congress had doubts about us and our Deepwater initiative. Thankfully, we “are nothing without our mission.” You might remember we had a pretty good run with Katrina and Rita. Our mission, and our culture of independent action. Now, we are both tested and trusted. Compare that to the perception of some other agencies.

Admiral Allen noted that our current reorganization is the first time in his memory – and perhaps ever – that we have reorganized and had significant organizational changes based not on external influences and budget constraints. Our creation of sectors was based on our perceptions we needed to improve mission performance and this organizational change would help.

Admiral Allen has a long memory (he's been commissioned for 35 years). He noted the first significant organizational change he faced was the Gilbert 1 study which resulted in the creation of the MLC communities. The reason: the service had to find 500 billets to reprogram to the new 110 patrol boats (the Navy was paying for the construction, but there was nothing in the budget for billets or sustained ownership cost).

Admiral Allen noted we often don't have the courage to believe ourselves. Project Longview, a strategic planning initiative in 1998, came to the conclusion the merge of O and M was necessary. But, we didn't have the courage to believe ourselves.

Admiral Allen's watchwords and focus is a derivation and enhancement of the current Commandant's; this is not a change of destination or tracks. This is an adjustment to the current trackline. The focus: mission, platforms (& tools), people, and organization.

In terms of missions, don't expect big changes. The slices will be security, safety, and something else. The something else will be about mobility in the maritime environment, preparedness, response, and recovery.

In terms of organization, expect to see some changes revolving about aligning and linking our various force structures. Admiral Allen sees four major types of force structures. We have forces/platforms which operate from fixed-bases; they have a readiness-based posture and generally provide B-0 assets (think air stations, small boat stations, sectors). We have mobile assets which are deployed for specific missions (such as major cutters). And, we have cross-over forces which mesh mobile asset structures with fixed base structures (think patrol boats and long-range fixed-wing aircraft). The Admiral wants all of these force structures to be aligned and linked and then made more effective; perhaps we'll see some sort of expeditionary force structure? Questions he posed: What is a logistics department and do we need one for sectors co-located with an ISC. What is the Deepwater logistics system? Do we need two areas? Do we need two MLCs? Do we need an overarching CG Forces Command.

(Peter's aside: I imagine the following. VADM Papp is moved from the Chief of Staff position to what is now G-X and will be numbered CG-5 which will be the operational commander for all CG forces, perhaps called CG Forces Command. This will be the link between the legacy M and O functions. The Chief of Staff billet will become a one or two star billet and refocused to being the chief of staff for HQ and the HQ building. The outside the HQ stuff that is currently handled by the Chief of Staff will be shifted to the Vice Commandant's billet. Areas will go away, the responsibilities shifting up to CG Forces Command or down to districts. The (t) functions at the MLC's will be shifted to C2Cen which becomes C3Cen. The remainder of the two MLC's will merge to provide a single maintenance & logistics force.)

Admiral Allen also suggested we will need to revisit the strategic positioning of the Coast Guard within and in relationship to the rest of the government, including DOD, DHS, and other federal, state, and local agencies. One of his goals is to the 10% of the government that tells the other 90% what to do... and have them pay for it...

In terms of people, the Admiral suggested we need to believe in our people and treat them appropriately. We are shifting to a knowledge organization; personal growth and continuing education are paramount and we must support both. (I'd note here that ever time in the last four years that tuition assistance has come under the gun and people have suggested cutting back some part of the TA program – such as not providing reimbursements for graduate classes. Every time, and I mean every time, Admiral Allen has held the line and found the money. His actions speak very loudly; he really does believe in on-going education.) “It's time,” he says, “for the Coast Guard to start treating ourselves as good as we are and we think we are. We deserve to be life-long learners; we need to make the tools available to make life-long learning more accessible.”

Here's another bit he discussed which fits in the people slice. “It doesn't matter what an organization says with regard to promotions, assignments, benefits. It matters what an organization does.” I wonder if recent announced personnel changes are an indication of what's important.

One of the recent assignments was the selection of the next Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard... unlike the Charlie Foxtrot in the last selection debacle. This go round, there was a predetermined process which included package review by a board, recommendation of three master chiefs to interview. Eleven master chiefs completed packages for selection of the E-10. Admiral Allen read all the packages and saw some common themes. All eleven master chiefs noted that alcohol is a problem; alcohol use gets our young people in trouble; alcohol plays a component in nearly all sexual assaults.

(Sidebar: Have you been following the Academy's current sexual assault case? Alcohol, clearly, played a role.)

Other common themes include d all but two candidates saying the E-10 must take a greater role in managing the Gold Badge network, the Force MCPO's, and the CPO Messes throughout the Coast Guard. Another theme was the communication from the MCPO-CG to the field & the establishment of two-way electronic communication – such as a bulletin board (or a blog, I'd say) – in order to increase knowledge & understanding. A site impact of this might be more visits to the official site vs. visits by Coasties to unofficial sites which sometimes just become, er, b*tch sites.

It became clear the Admiral understands and believes-in the Performance Excellence Criteria as our framework for organizational leadership and management. He said that he'd like to see a service-wide assessment against the Criteria. And so use that as part of his turn-over to the next Commandant.

“We must,” said Admiral Allen, “have a frank and open discussion about performance, about what is important, about where we're going.” He is a believer that our outputs should be of a high quality; we must seek excellence in performance throughout the Coast Guard.

One of the ways to get a handle on various aspects of performance is to look at the data in various systems within the Coast Guard. His mantra -- transparency of information breeds self-correcting behavior -- is one Coasties must hear. When he makes visits to units, he previews and carries with him printouts from the RMS/CGBI (Readiness Management System/Coast Guard Business Information). When he walks onboard, he knows how much time underway they have; he knows who's recently been to school or earned a qualification; he knows how the unit is doing on competencies; he knows how the unit is doing on mission success. He also reviews the Unit Profile Factors, so he has a snapshot overview of the unit.

Why is this important for Coasties? Because know that people are looking at the data which is input to various enterprise-wide data systems such as MSLE, AOPS, TMT, Direct Access, etc. The data in had better be right. (I'm reminded of some staff work I did several years ago involving looking at sea states for cases run in various AOR's. I found the data said that Station Portsmouth – located on the Elizabeth River with an oparea that is totally confined to Hampton Roads, the James River, and the Elizabeth River – ran a number of cased in greater than 6-foot seas. Eagads, I hope not. Greater than 6-foot seas means my house is under water. There's no way Portsmouth has run cased in 6-foot seas. The data is bad. Why? Because the BM2 inputing the data didn't know the data was important. Indeed, Transparency of data breeds self-correcting behavior. What is the self-correcting behavior? Inputting the data correctly.)

We are shifting, the Admiral suggests, to a knowledge-based organization; knowledge helps improve our performance. And, my role as a performance consultant in the organization is to be the fusing point among the Performance Excellence Criteria, enterprise-wide measurement systems, and organizational leadership & management.

Now, why is all this important for the average Coastie? Well, as we transition to knowledge-based organization, each of us needs to increase our knowledge. We need to know what's going on. We need to know where we fit in the bigger picture; we need to understand how what we do impacts the organization's goals and performance. Senior leaders are going to be expecting more. Admiral Allen is expecting more of his direct reports, and I imagine they will expect more of theirs, and so on. Don't be surprised when Admiral Allen is visiting your station and asks a BM2 something about the bigger picture, or the use of information/data to make decisions, or something else which until know we've thought was “above” the BM2's “need to know.”

Admiral Allen doesn't want a thousand points of light. He wants a thousand points of light focused together to have the power of a laser.

And, Admiral Allen wants to have us create the tools where people can get smarter on all this. The “My Readiness” tab is one example of that; I can see my data; when my dental readiness turns yellow, I know it's time for me to see the dentist. The availability of that data drives my behavior.

Another part of this getting smarter on this, is a desire the Admiral expressed on having certain educational gates for promotions, similar to the DOD services. An O-5 in the DOD has most likely attended a staff college, be it the War College, or the Naval War College, or the National Defense University, or whatever. We need to create a system that allows our folks to get smarter about strategy, decision making, and operations. While he'd like to see a “Homeland Security College,” perhaps spearheaded by the Coast Guard, given the funding constraints, that is never going to happen. However, DHS owns a number of school houses that could come together to provide the necessary education.

I'm excited. Be ready for Admiral Allen to step out quickly; be ready to follow. And, stand by for heavy rolls.

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