Small Wars Journal


An Agent for Change in the Navy

Fri, 02/08/2013 - 7:24pm

SWJ contributor Robert Kozloski writes at the USNI blog about Admiral Zumwalt and his role as a change agent. A few excerpts are pasted below, but please go to the original post to see it all. See also his post on Zumwalt and the Mod Squad at the "Navy Center for Innovation Weblog." Try to navigate a little bit around their innovative weblog.

"To address the ongoing “people” issues, Zumwalt formed several retention study groups consisting of junior officers and/or enlisted Sailors from various communities to address issues affecting Sailors and their families in the fleet. These groups reported directly to the CNO (and frequently the SECNAV). From his previous experience on the OPNAV staff, Zumwalt understood that ideas from these groups would get diluted if they went through the normal staffing process."


A 1993 Be bold, be quick, and be specific in setting an agenda for change

Disruptive Thinking: The US Military Differs From Business

Sat, 01/12/2013 - 12:14pm

Earlier this week, US Air Force Captain Jeff Gilmore castigated the US military's social media strategy in a  Small Wars Journal op-ed contrasting the practices of Coca-Cola and the US Air Force's Air Mobility Command.  

No one doubts that social media is an important tool, and there's certainly much we can learn from the private sector.  However, goverment agencies are vastly different enterprises than corporations; they will undoubtedly have seperate social media strategies.    

Coca-Cola has a highly successful marketing strategy; it was rated as the Best Global Brand for the 13th consecutive year by Interbrand.  It is also the world's most recognizable brand name, with over 1.7 billion servings Coca-Cola beverages consumed every single day.  Coca-Cola products are sold in all but two countries in the world.  Aside from a brief period in the 1980s, its flagship product and its logo have remained virtually unchanged for over 100 years.  This helps create immense brand loyalty--witness the outrage over Coca-Cola's brief experiment with "New Coke".

Most importantly, Coca-Cola's $2.9 billion annual advertising project has one simple objective: to convince consumers to purchase Coke products.   Coca-Cola's marketing strategy has a simple measure of effectiveness--increased sales of Coke products.  Advertising and social media engagements are directly linked to Coca-Cola's success.

By contrast, the US military's communication strategy is more complex than that of a corporation.  In any democratic society, the military's communications goals must be subservient to those of the government--both Federal (Executive Branch and Legislative Branch) as well as State (in the case of the National Guard).  Not to mention, the US military must synchronize its messages with those of its international (e.g., NATO, ISAF), interagency (State Department), and inter-service partners.  This is no small feat.

The Department of Defense, an organization of over 3.2 million, is not a monolithic organization.  The uniformed services often disagree a variety of issues, including doctrine, manning, and procurement.  And each of the services themselves has various factions and organizations with their own agendas and objectives (e.g., the old rivalry between the US Air Force's Strategic and Tactical Air Commands).  Efforts to communicate must ensure that the services do not poke jabs at one another.    

To add to the complexity, the military's social media environment houses an ever-expanding cohort of military bloggers: some within the military, some recently separated, and even some who have never served.  Different agencies within the US military have varying views of "milbloggers", with the vast majority of senior military officials encourage blogging, though a small minority still espouse the absurd view that bloggers are an insurgent's best friend.  

The private sector and the military differ in even more important ways.  The nature of the US military--dealing with life-and-death matters--will require far more "damage control" than Coca-Cola.  The military is also bound to be far more truthful and honest in its media dealings than a private corporation.  We take it for granted that corporations like Coca-Cola will claim that its product will teach the world to sing, and that it can even make "Mean Joe" Green smile.  The US military, accountable to the American public, can not make similar claims in its engagement strategy.  (Well, with the notable exceptions of US Air Force transports which transform into robots, and US Marines smiting giant Balroqs)

Yet, despite the challenges, the US military actually fares relatively well in the realm of social media engagement.  For starters, it's unfair for Captain Gilmore to compare Air Mobility Command (AMC) with Coca-Cola itself.  First, because AMC simply will never have the international recognition that Coca-Cola has.  (It is claimed that "Coca-Cola" is the world's second-most recognizable word, after "okay")  Secondly, because Coca-Cola can not achieve its primary objective (sales) without advertising, whereas AMC can.

A more fair comparison might be made between the US Air Force itself and Coca-Cola.  Using scores from Klout, the standard for measuring online influence, the US Air Force fares relatively well, with a score of 82, compared to Coca-Cola's 91.  (Klout is a social media measuring tool which, much like Coca-Cola, uses a formula which few seem to understand)

One problem is that social media influence varies greatly throughout the US Armed Forces.  It's disappointing that Captain Gilmore's experience with AMC was poor.  It's worth noting, however, that other agencies leverage social media very well.  For instance, Admiral James Stavridis alone has over 10,000 Facebook likes--well more than AMC's 1,800.  And while Captain Gilmore decries the poor showing from AMC's social media accounts during the Haitian earthquake of 2010, it's worth noting that other organizations, such as the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division and the USNS Comfort had vigorous social media campaigns.  

It's important to make social media engagement a team effort--unit public affairs shops should feel free to solicit articles, pictures, and video from anyone within their command.

Finally, it's worth noting that social media engagement can have its limitations, not the least of which is a "selection bias".  Of the 51 million Facebook users who "like" Coca-Cola, how many of them were already dedicated consumers?  Do we know that Coca-Cola's social media strategy is persuading the undecided to purchase Coca-Cola?

As I will explore in a future article, social media has amazing potential.  And oddly enough, it's the US military which has moved to the forefront of this phenomenon.  For anyone in an organization without an effective strategy, I recommend working within your chain of command to "improve your foxhole".  

Disruptive Thinkers: The Gritty Truth of Junior Leader Innovation

Tue, 06/19/2012 - 6:27am

Editor's Note:  You can also see BJ Armstrong's presentation at the Naval Warfare Development Command's Junior Leader Symposium here.

In May a discussion was started here at Small Wars Journal about junior leaders and the role that they can play in the innovative solutions needed for our success in the 21st century.  The opening salvo was written by LT Ben Kohlmann with his article “The Military Needs More Disruptive Thinkers,” and it was followed by SWJ Editor Pete Munson’s response “Disruptive Thinkers: Defining the Problem.”  I wrote about the subject at the USNI Blog with my article “Time to Think…and to Listen” and many more have followed here at Small Wars Journal.

On 6 June, I was invited to speak at Navy Warfare Development Command’s “Junior Leaders Innovation Symposium” in Norfolk, Virginia.  In a day-long event myself, Ben Kohlmann, and LT Rob McFall (a Surface Warfare Officer, author, and member of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Editorial Board) were given a chance to speak along with Flag Officers and academics.  NWDC put on a great event and a lot of good material was presented.  You can visit the website and find the slides that went with the presentations, as well as a lot of reading material like Ben Kohlmann’s article on Disruptive Thinkers from here at Small Wars Journal and Rob McFall’s call for tactical innovation at USNI Blog.

The following links are a series of blog posts based on the remarks that I delivered to a standing room only crowd of 230+ Junior Officers and Junior Enlisted which gathered at NWDC’s headquarters, and the 200+ that joined us online via DCO.  These are based on my prepared remarks, so if NWDC posts the video online you’ll surely find differences (I worked from notes rather than reading directly from the page) as well as some mistakes.  In the first post, “A Junior Officer and a Discovery” I relate the history of Lieutenant William Sowden Sims’ discovery of a new gunnery technique which revolutionized naval warfare, and how he developed the new tactics, techniques, and procedures needed to implement it.  The next post, “The Gritty Truth of Junior Leader Innovation,” we look at what Sims did after developing his idea in order to get the Navy to adopt it.  In the final post, “Expertise, Voice, Grit, and Listening…A Look at the Possible.” we look at what Admiral Sims learned about innovation to apply later in his career, and what we can observe from the history.

 A Junior Officer and a Discovery

The Gritty Truth of Junior Leader Innovation

Expertise, Voice, Grit, and Listening…A Look at the Possible

If you haven’t already, also consider checking out the podcast of Midrats Episode 127, where Pete Munson discusses “Disruption, Disfunction, and Leadership” for an hour.

Don't Promote Mediocrity

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 9:54pm

Brigardier Mark Arnold, an Army reservist and CEO of a multinational manufacturing firm, argues for reforms to the military's personnel system in an essay at Armed Forces Journal.  There are some familiar refrains here.

Today’s best junior officers, those with high talent and a strong calling to service, should become the admirals and generals who testify before Congress and serve as Joint Chiefs in 20 years. Retaining them is vital; losing them hurts our long-term ability to creatively transform the military as security challenges change. The U.S. military must replace its industrial-age personnel processes and insular culture with contemporary personnel and talent management systems that reward innovation. ...


A short list of overdue changes to the military personnel system includes efforts to:

• Promote top performers only when they are selected for higher responsibilities.

• Eliminate year-group and “time in grade” promotions.

• Find and release the worst performers at all levels.

• Establish a job posting system.

• Give senior leaders responsibility for assessing, hiring and developing talent.

• Allow top talent to choose non-command assignments.

• Establish succession-planning processes.

• Create assignment flexibility between active and reserve components.

• Learn from exit interviews.

Read the rest here.

Unified Quest Army Future Game

Wed, 05/16/2012 - 9:54am

We are in the midst of a uniquely challenging time in our Army’s history, although frankly it seems like we can always say that.

We still have a significant number of troops in combat in Afghanistan and continued involvement in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and other places around the world and ensuring their success is our main effort. North Korea and Iran remain challenges we cannot ignore. We are on the front edge of a drawdown in an era of fiscal austerity. Lastly, our national strategy is shifting to focus on the Asia-Pacific region and broadening to a construct of “prevent, shape and win.” 

At the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, we consider these challenges and our national strategy, and determine how we might best shape the future force. One way to accomplish this is through our “Unified Quest” series of seminars, workshops and symposia.

Results from the UQ series will inform our revision of the strategic concepts found in the Army Capstone Concept and the Army Operating Concept.  Results will also help us implement Unified Land Operations Doctrine (ADP 3.0), particularly in consideration of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF).  

The capstone event of this year’s Unified Quest is the “Army Future Game.”  This war game will examine the role of the Army as a decisive, adaptive force across a range of military operations.  During the war game, held June 3-8 at Carlisle Barracks, two working groups will address operational scenarios set in 2020 in the PACOM and CENTCOM theaters.  Free-play “Red Teams” will employ anti-access and area denial operations within an overarching hybrid strategy to enable a rigorous examination of key proposed concepts. Additionally, a strategic working group composed of more than 60 senior leaders and subject matter experts will examine key strategy and policy issues relevant to shaping the Army of 2020 and informing the Quadrennial Defense Review.

In the Army Future Game we are going to wrestle with some critical challenges. For example, we’ve steadily improved our integration and interoperability of special operations and conventional forces over the last decade of combat.  A key issue is how this integration should evolve to best defeat future threats.  Additionally, we’d like to develop thoughts on how we accomplish this at home station, at our national combat training centers, and in regional engagement activities.

We’ll also consider how we overcome the hybrid strategy of adversaries that combine the capabilities of conventional, terrorist, criminal, proxy, and irregular organizations and forces. To do this, our scenarios will cause our “Blue Forces” to closely examine how innovations across DOTMLPF might help defeat hybrid strategies.

Overall, we’ll examine about a dozen of these kinds of issues.  This analysis will provide us strategic and operational insight and potential implications for Joint and Army concepts.  Ultimately, we’ll develop recommendations to posture both the institutional and operational Army to successfully execute their roles during the 2018-2030 timeframe. 

This event will help leaders shape our Army as the operational environment changes, and as we transition our national strategy.  We’ll see the next step of this process in July, when the Chief of Staff of the Army leads a senior-leader seminar to review the insights and recommendations of the Army Future Game.  At that point, I’ll bring you up to date with what we think we have learned.  In the meantime, if you have thoughts on integrating special operations and conventional forces, or how we might defeat hybrid strategies, then please join in the conversation.  The more voices in the discourse, the better chance we’ll have of getting this right.