Wednesday, August 26, 2015

JO Pro Dev, aka Junior Officer Professional Development

On a previous ship I was on, our CO had JO Pro Dev on Sunday afternoons at 1400 for an hour. It was mandatory. If you had watch, you had to find a standby. Attendance was taken, and participation was *ahem* strongly encouraged. There was no getting out of it.

One patrol, the CO assigned one chapter of the book It's Your Ship, by Michael Abrashoff to discuss each week among the group. I have nothing against the book -- it's a good leadership primer. But at the time (I admit, I haven't gone back to read it again), I felt that the concepts he promoted, while novel in the US Navy, were part of the Coast Guard's fundamental culture. The sessions, in my opinion, were a colossal waste of time, which I had precious enough of, as I tried to get qualified, complete my departmental work, define my own leadership style, and generally survive being underway. I swore to myself that if I ever found myself responsible for a unit's JO pro dev, I would make it Useful. Relevant. Practical.

Fast forward mumble mumble mumble number of years, and I find that I am responsible for DILIGENCE's JO pro dev, and both CAPT Randall and CDR Carter (our new CO who took command in early July) have been extremely supportive in letting me run with the program.

I am a traditionalist at heart, so I stuck with having the sessions on Sunday afternoons, after Divine Services. JOs are required to attend -- the Boatswain's Mates and Engineers have been generous with standing by for them on the bridge and in the engine room so they can be there. But I hope that's where the similarities end.

My goal for the sessions is to at least expose the JOs to the language of the Coast Guard bureaucracy about topics they're expected to know, but no one ever really takes the time to explain. I remember being XO on WASHINGTON as a second tour JO, and being uncomfortably clueless about all the finance mumbo-jumbo, officer corps verbiage, or enlisted personnel minutiae. It wasn't until my tour at Headquarters that I really started to understand the Coast Guard's financial system including AFCs and different "pots of money." Or opportunities of selection, zone sizes or in-zone, above-zone or below-zone. Or Servicewide Exam (SWE) raw scores, advancement rates, or non-rated personnel shortages. A lot of the details come with experience, but my theory is that early and often exposure to the language will go a long way to helping these young leaders adapt and thrive in an environment with so many convoluted and seemingly impenetrable policies.

Our most recent session was officer career management -- just in time for e-resumes to be submitted for Assignment Year 2016 (AY16). I broke the topic into three basic questions to be asked by each of the JOs for themselves: What do I want to do? How do I fit it all in? How do I get what I want?

For "what do I want to do?" we talked about the Officer Specialty Management System (OSMS) and Officer Specialty Codes, primary and secondary specialties, and the anomalies to the rule that you should have dual specialties. "How do I fit it all in?" included a discussion of expected time in each paygrade, about how many tours to which that equates, grad school and Senior Service School. And "How do I get what I want?" was all about OERs -- the importance thereof, primarily. The full discussion of OER input is our next topic, scheduled to be useful to the brand new ENSs that are writing OER input for the very first time for an OER due 30 September.

Other topics I have planned are:
-- The aforementioned OER input; the read ahead an OER input email I sent with detailed requirements for what the input should include (5-part folder complete with qual letters, training certificates, BZs; number of bullets, how the bullets should be structured, what they should/shouldn't include; which form to use).
-- Effective writing; the read ahead is Chapter 10 of the Correspondence Manual, a surprisingly well-written treatise on military writing.
-- Reading the "message board;" the read ahead is a CG-7 memo titled "Operational Messaging Requirements." (Do we still call it a message board even though the routing clipboard is decades gone?)
-- CG Intel "Infrastructure;" CDR Carter's secondary specialty is Intel, which is a great resource I will capitalize on as much as possible.
-- Mishaps and Risk Analysis; read aheads are a selection of mishap messages and final action memos. I'm a little leery that this will be beating a dead horse, but I think it's an important enough topic that I'm going to do it anyway.
-- Strategic document discussion: read ahead is one of the "Key Documents" on the right column of -- we'll decide later if we want to pick one or have the JOs pick one. But this will start their brains thinking in Big Coast Guard terms, and clue them in of where we fit within the larger, national picture.

Previous topics include:
-- Coast Guard appropriations structure: it was **painfully** boring, but at least now the JOs have been exposed to the idea that there are more "pots of money" out there than just the funds from which the ship spends.
-- Enlisted workforce management: from boot camp to retirement, we discussed advancement requirements including the SWE, sea and award points, and preliminary and revised cuts, different "off-roads" to commissioning, and how the enlisted marks (evaluation) system fits in to the whole picture.
-- Effective counseling: I asked the Chief's Mess to lead this one, to help the JOs think about how to make performance counseling as useful as possible.
-- Headquarters structure: we talked about the numbering system, that has morphed back into a numbering and lettering system, the difference between DCO and DCMS, "above the line" staffs, and the importance of making sure that having the right people in the room for a policy discussion is important -- because if you forget a key player, you've essentially wasted everyone else's time in the room.
-- Leadership philosophy development: this isn't the CG Academy anymore, boys and girls. It's time to put into practice those leadership concepts that were drilled into them for four years (or four months at OCS). And there's a big difference between talking about leadership in a classroom setting, and seeing it put into effect with real people.

The second year JOs are getting a few repeats, like effective writing, OER writing and officer career management. But a) these topics are important enough to bear repeating and b) they have the benefit of nearly a year's worth of exposure to these concepts and can help ask the right questions to get the first year ENSs thinking about the topics more deeply.

I'll have to circle back to the JOs in about five to seven years to find out if these sessions actually lived up to my goals. I hope they find them useful now, even if they aren't always completely scintillating topics. I mean, what else do we have to do on a Sunday afternoon underway?

jk -- I totally know the answer to that!