Sunday, December 21, 2014

Random Bits, December 2014

I haven't had any major, timely ideas for posts that easily write themselves. What  I have had is a bunch of little random thoughts that with significant time for reflection and excessive wordiness might turn into something worthwhile. In an ideal world, I would emulate Seth Godin, and post these little thoughts as they come up, and not require them to be three-page, fully explored treatises (treatae?) before posting them. Here are a few for now:

Time: CDR Randall is really good about giving timely and regular feedback. Our daily conversations usually have a performance dimension woven in about once a week to 10 days. He gives suggestions about how I could approach a challenge in a different way, or provides another way of thinking about an issue, or simply tells me I'm doing a fine job. He did have an observation for me last week, which definitely stuck with me, and has given me something to work on. He commented that, while I turn things around quickly, sometimes I move them through too fast and miss stuff. It's not usually big stuff, but there's enough volume that tells me I need to pay more attention. 

I'll never forget my first exposure to an XO's primary responsibility as gatekeeper for quality work. I was XO on WASHINGTON, and (now) CDR Steve Adler was my CO. We were going through MLC compliance checklists, and I had tasked out development of some required bills. MLC had templates on their website, so all our Department Head had to do was tailor the template to our ship and local situation. Unfortunately, there were lots of tailoring s/he missed, but as I looked through it, I figured well, s/he's senior enough to know what s/he's doing, so I'll just send it up as is. 


Cap'n was *not* happy. It was one of the (thankfully) few times I have been counselled on my own poor performance in the Coast Guard. Steve made it a relatively positive experience (i.e., he didn't yell), but I could tell how deeply disappointed and frustrated he was that he even had to talk about this very fundamental tenet to his XO. 

From that little counseling session, I try to make sure whatever passes through my hands (or inbox) does not have spelling, formatting, grammar mistakes, or outdated organizational information including reference manuals, organizational structure, or policies, and applies some level of common sense and is consistent throughout. Whew. I didn't realize until I wrote it all out how much I actually do when I review something. 

I said I try. Because when I have a stacks of folders that seem to breed in my inbox, sometimes I feel like I just have to *get through* them so that I can get to the next big or several small items on my to-do list. Because almost *everything* goes through the XO. Page 7s (even the routine ones for qualifications (and non-qualifications)), A school requests, purchase requests, memos, waivers, draft instructions and Cutter Organizational Manual (COM) updates, message traffic, every.single personnel evaluation, and on and on. 

I know it sounds like I'm complaining. I'm really not. I swear. I'm simply acknowledging that a lot of information passes across my desk and providing quality review TAKES TIME. And time is a precious commodity. It is finite. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make more of it, so I have to make what I do have count. Especially since I don't want to spend my entire day stuck in front of my computer. There are lots of other equally important things for me to do, like walk around and talk and *listen* to people and *look* at the ship and all her spaces and *think* about how to make things better. And eat...let's not forget to eat :)

In writing all this out, the conclusion I'm being drawn to is that I need to be more mindful of my time. Like most people, I get easily distracted by my technology. So I need to turn off the little pop-up box that flashes when a new email comes in. I need to not jump away from what I'm doing every time my cell phone buzzes in my pocket with a new email. I really should leave my personal cell in my purse so I'm not chat-texting with friends throughout the day (though that does have it's own benefits of reminding me that I'm not *just* an XO -- I'm a Real Person, with Real Friends). 

But even though it would probably increase my productivity, I simply cannot bring myself to shut my stateroom door, even after the workday, so I don't get interrupted every 5 minutes by someone needing something from me. Because if whoever it is cannot find me, or feels awkward in knocking on my door, I have effectively slowed their progress...and one of my (other) XO tenets is to give people the tools/resources they need to do their job, and then get out of their way. Making myself inaccessible directly undermines that progress.

So there's a balance to acknowledge between productive and effective. 


People not onboard: We've had a lot of people on leave these last few weeks. I am grateful that our inport is long enough for people to finally get some down time and delighted they are taking the opportunity to spend time with their families and loved ones. Even though it means they're not on the ship. Because the ship is different when individuals are gone. It's not just that there is more room on the messdeck for people to sit at tables during all-hands musters or training or lunch, or that someone is not available for a question, or a task may have to wait a few days until someone gets back.

It's more that everyone contributes their individuality to the overall personality of the ship, so when someone isn't there, the boat is a little different...even when it's someone who is mostly an introvert is gone. I think that may be one of the things I quietly like a lot about being underway -- our ship has all her peeps and is so much more...I don't know...*whole* because of it. Right now, I feel some gaps. They're good gaps, mostly (see the second sentence in the paragraph above), but they're gaps all the same.


Risk acceptance: CDR Randall recently shared a truth about that I think I knew, but hadn't yet vocalized: What *we* teach our JOs and junior enlisted *now* about risk and risk acceptance will be the Coast Guard's future level of risk tolerance. As much as I've railed about how I think the Coast Guard culture is moving towards being more and more risk averse, this thought puts the responsibility of where we go back squarely in my lap. 

Our JOs think it's perfectly normal to transit the Cape Fear River after dark. We've only had one transit since I've been onboard that has been completed in full day light. Our crew thinks it's perfectly normal to conduct unrestricted BECCEs (basic engineering casualty control exercises where we could potentially lose ship's power) while we have a boarding team out on a boarding. Our crew thinks it's perfectly normal to have members of the public onboard everyday for tours since we moor up in downtown Wilmington and are imminently more accessible to the general public than any other Coast Guard unit I know...even if it means that when the downtown bars shut down at 2 am, their duty nights might get a little more exciting than they really want. All of these DILI norms are slightly more risk tolerant than other units I've been on. In fairness, we took different risks at other units, but those were generally on a case-by-case basis...not something that was incorporated into our normal operating procedures.

Of all the lessons I've learned so far onboard DILIGENCE, I think the thoughtful pursuit of the acceptance of risk is one of the most important, deeply resonant and organizationally important things I could ever internalize. CDR Randall does not accept risk willy-nilly. He acknowledges it, trains his crew to recognize and overcome it and then sails on through it. 

A tangent thought about risk: mediocrity is antithetical to the safe acceptance of risk. We have to be *Good* at what we do to safely accept the level of risk we do. Which takes time to train and pay attention to details and get all the maintenance done and train some more.Time...did I mention time?