Thursday, October 30, 2014

Initiative

DILIGENCE's Commanding Officer, CDR Jeff Randall has used basically the same command philosophy on all three of the ships he has commanded. With permission, it follows here:

While I have the privilege of serving as your Commanding Officer, I will ask you to live by the following three themes. These themes are the foundation for all we do and will ensure that we execute all missions to the best of our abilities. These themes are:

Take the Initiative - Recognize and take action to do what needs to be done. Learn and know your role and perform assigned duties to the best of your ability to the betterment of yourself, your shipmates and DILIGENCE.

Operate as a Team - Be a team player. Rely upon and respect your shipmates. Working as a team ensures that we can accomplish our missions effectively, efficiently and safely. Everyone and everything we do contributes to mission execution.

Execute the Mission - The success of DILIGENCE is measured by the public, our supervisors and our peers by how well we execute our assigned missions. By taking initiative and operating as a team, we position ourselves to put forward our best effort. The public and the Coast Guard expect this of us on a daily basis.

These central leadership themes will guide my leadership decisions while I have the opportunity and privilege to serve as your Commanding Officer. I challenge and expect you to live by these themes during your service aboard DILIGENCE.

Semper Paratus,
Jeffrey K. Randall
Commander, U. S. Coast Guard
Commanding Officer


Nothing earth-shatteringly radical about it, but well spoken, simple, to the point and comprehensive. And most important, it works for CDR Randall.

We've been having some discussions onboard about taking the initiative -- what that looks like, how to instill initiative in junior members, how it fits into the bigger picture both for the ship and for members individually.

I can look back and identify when I was first introduced to the idea of initiative. It was at Larriland Farm, my first real job, starting at 14. I first worked in the market, stocking shelves and answering customer questions. One of my boss, Lynn's pet peeves was having people standing around shooting the breeze, starring off into space, or otherwise not engaged in something productive. She used to do (and probably still does) the math that if 12 people stood around the market yakking to each other for only 5 minutes, she had effectively lost an hour's worth of productive work. So she constantly was on us to make continual rounds of the market shelves to see what needed to be stocked and replenished, what work could be done ahead (cleaning and bagging spinach was my *least* favorite, seconded only by cutting fudge or inventorying the 50+ types of jams and jellies), and if all else failed, going to the lower level of the big red barn and reorganizing the chaos down there. If I stayed busy and productive, I didn't get tasked with something less pleasant.

Fast-forward almost 30 years, and those early lessons are still with me. Except now, finding useful things to keep busy with is not as easy as checking to see if I need to pack up more pecks of peaches. And I'm the boss, trying to encourage good habits in junior members that will carry them forward in the decades ahead.

One thing that I think is critical to getting effective proactiveness from people is a common understanding of the bigger picture. Why are we doing what we're doing? Why is it important to get people qualified quickly, or to have charts correctly prepared in advance, or have PMS done on schedule, or get the running rust scrubbed off the hull, or update checklists based on the current operations, or deconflict projects between departments so the cooks aren't trying to make chow at the same time the engineers need to take down potable water for something?

I have to get people to look beyond the immediacy of just being told what to do, and have them understand the **why** of having it done so they can start to anticipate the next step. That's on me. But sometimes (many times) I don't have time to explain everywhich why, I just need stuff to get *done!* and it's even better when it's done without me having to say it needs to get done.

The CO and I have been saying "trust your instinct" regularly, particularly to the junior officers. If something makes you go, "hmmm," or the little hairs stand up on the back of your neck, maybe you should look at it a little more in depth. Because most of the time, there's something worth investigating further. And if nothing else, you might learn something.

Which leads to the follow on advice of "Ask questions." Incessantly. Even if they're stupid or basic questions. Asking questions means that I know you're interested and engaged, thinking ahead and wanting to know more. It shows you care enough to learn additional details and expand your horizons. I have told a couple of the JOs about my experience at CG-821 where I never knew when some tidbit of information I picked up from some random place would come in handy and be useful to a discussion I was having with the program.

Asking questions has helped me to expand my imagination, see the potential in a situation instead of just accepting things the way they are. Find out how something is supposed to work, instead of just accepting the current expediency and work around. I still have some work to do on expanding my imagination, though.

But asking questions is hard when you don't know what you don't know. How do you get the right answer when you don't even know what question to ask? I feel like I have a handle on about 90% of what I need to do, but I still get completely blindsided by about the remaining 10% -- stuff that just comes totally out of the blue that I've never even heard of before...even after 15 years of doing this. (My goal is to get that down to about 2%; it won't ever be zero because that's just the way the bureaucracy works. Policies change, new requirements are made, and the word takes a while to filter down.) But for people new to the organization, the sheer amount of knowledge you're expected to have, and quickly, can be overwhelming. So the asking question advice has to be accompanied by patience from the questionee for seemingly stupid and basic questions. Otherwise how do people learn?

I also see lots of effort expended sometimes with very little effect gained; people spinning their wheels as hard and fast as they possibly can, but getting absolutely nowhere. During a discussion a few mornings ago with the CO, he distilled the following points for me to offer individuals struggling with the effort v. effect dilemma:
1. Have a clearly defined goal. If the effort you are expending does not support that overarching goal, you need to ask yourself why you are expending that effort in the first place.
2. Make sure the defined process transcends your personality. Processes should be self-sustaining and not dependent upon the force of an individual to make sure they are followed. Codify functional processes and revisit existing processes to find more efficiencies.
3. Set and communicate specific expectations. This is tied very closely to having a well-defined and well communicated process. If the expectations are clear and well-known, they are much easier to follow and achieve.
4. Equally important is to hold people to standards of accountability. If you've communicated an expectation, hold people to it. It can be appropriate to make allowances for exigent circumstances and modify deadlines, but do *not* let people off the hook just because they ran across dome difficulties getting a task done. It's the taskee's responsibility to communicate the difficulty, and the tasker's responsibility to help remove the barrier.

But at the end of all this yammering on getting stuff done, if someone's givashitter is broke, it's gonna be hard to coerce any level of initiative from them. And that is a difficult truth for me to accept. I think it's a difficult thing for many cuttermen to accept. You don't sign up for this job if you don't care; it's simply too hard a life. The possibilities for failure are numerous, and the sacrifices are only sparingly outweighed by the opportunities to see and do amazing things.

People chose their own course. I can only make sure the shoal water is clearly marked in blue ink on the chart, teach them how to read the buoy tails to make the current work for them, and give them the checklist for engineering light offs. I can't drive their boat for them. I may however tow them, dragging along kicking and whining...for a short time. At least until they figure out the controls for themselves.

1 comment:

Just a Girl said...

I thought about this a little more...the four steps make it sound so easy. But it's not. The whole process takes a lot of thinking, insight into how processes work, understanding of the external pressures, and more thinking. It's not a five minute thing before going out in front of a group of people to tell them what they need to do. It takes effort.