Friday, November 18, 2011

Program Reviewer Philosophy

I posted my Command Philosophy a while back. I wrote the first draft of that philosophy almost ten years ago, when I was in Prospective Commanding Officer / Executive Officer (PCO/PXO) School before heading to be XO of WASHINGTON (the school requires both PCOs and PXOs to write one). It got dusted off and updated when I went to MAUI, and again before KISKA. But really those were just refinements, changes to reflect the different operating areas. It gives me some sense of peace that the underlying ideas didn't change...like maybe I really *do* have a coherent philosophy, or set of core sensibilities that help guide me through all types of situations.

Now I'm going into a job for which I feel very ill-prepared, a little overwhelmed and a lot nervous. It's been since I first reported to BOUTWELL that I was facing a new set of responsibilities so far outside of my comfort zone. I feel the need to consider a set of principles, maybe rules of engagement for being a Program Reviewer. Since I'm familiar with the Command Philosophy concept, I'm going to call it my Program Reviewer Philosophy. As I first started thinking about this idea, it felt awkward, like I should have some experience in the job before having the hubris to assume that I knew what I was doing. Then I remembered that, as I wrote my initial Command Philosophy, I didn't know what I was doing then either...I had never been an XO, I just had a general sense of what I was getting myself into, and I wrote it kinda blindly. It worked out okay then.

A Command Philosophy is typically published to the entire crew, posted in main pass, and discussed with officers, chiefs and Department Heads. I've even had supervisors ask me for a copy so they know more about where I'm coming from with leadership decisions. But as of right now, I'm not really sure how broadly I'll share this once I get to the office. From my understanding, there are three general groups of people I'll be working with: my supervisors, my peers and my Program peeps (is that too impertinent?). I guess it depends on my reasons for developing it in the first place. I see this as something that I'll hang prominently on the bulkhead in my cubicle, so that as I sit in front of my computer screen, my eyes will not fail to miss it, and I am constantly reminded of why this is important to me, what my priorities should be and how I should conduct myself even when the pressure is on high. A self-accountability tool, if you will.

My Philosophy

…is that the Coast Guard as an institution is important to me. I joined the Coast Guard to perform great and worthy, heroic and patriotic duties, for the sea stories I get to tell my family and friends, and to do things that not many other people get to do. Those experiences, the people I've worked beside, and the opportunities yet to present themselves make the Coast Guard an organization that I want to fight for.
…is that a job worth doing is worth doing to the best of my ability. At the end of my tour, I intend to look back and be able to honestly tell myself that I faced every task and challenge to the best of my ability. This is the only way the sacrifices I have made will have been worthwhile.

My Guiding Principles
  • One Team, One Fight: We are all on the same side, even when individual programs are facing budget cuts and high priorities conflict. A deep and abiding respect for all my shipmates will remind me to look beyond any moments of contention and focus on the larger goal of taking care of the Coast Guard. 
  • Innovative Solutions and Systems Thinking: We function in an increasingly complex and networked world. "That's the way we've always done it" begs for a closer look. A passion for understanding expanded scopes of influence and underlying dynamic processes will allow for development of better, more creative options that offer effective long-term solutions instead of unconsidered tinkerings. 
  • Checking the Unengaged Side of the Ship: Just as the XO stands on the unengaged bridge-wing to check for any unanticipated hazards, a constant awareness of the bigger picture into which my small portion fits is necessary to ensure the overall positive contribution of what I am doing. Thorough analysis, based on sound data and process-based logic, is a critical risk mitigation strategy that will enable solid recommendations to percolate through the noise.
Critical Skills
  • Communication: I must be able to respect my shipmates enough to LISTEN to them and take the time to understand what they are saying to me, rather than hearing what I think they should be telling me. I must also be able to clearly and concisely present my own well-articulated arguments to reduce confusion and not waste anybody's time. Success depends on my ability to take in and disseminate information.
  • Acceptance of Risk: Times are changing too fast and too dramatically to allow process calcification to paralyze our ability to respond. New ways of doing things will not always work and sometimes my suggestions will fail, but I must have the courage to confidently promote innovation in pursuit of improvement. 
  • Acceptance of Consequences: When my ideas and actions do not stand up to the high standard of effective implementation, I must have enough personal resilience to withstand the fall-out. I protect myself against any cataclysmic negativity by relying on my Guiding Principles.
Questions to Ask...Every Time
  • Am I focusing my listening on the intended message? Am I saying what I mean to say, as concisely and clearly as possible?
  • What impact does this option or decision have on:
    • Crews in the field? Support staff manning the Help Desk?
    • Organizational ability to execute the mission?
    • Long-term asset health and resource availability?
  • Where is my ego in this?

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