Organizations are Like Hair

When I was young and wild, I had beautiful hair.  To be honest, I’ve never cared for hair since I was in the 9th grade I’ve been cutting it as short as possible, and I’ve been doing it long enough now that I have no idea what color my hair is anymore. So, although I do not fit the bill, the metaphor I’m about to make, still works.  That metaphor is that organizations are like hair.

I know people that cut their hair every two weeks.  They never change the style, they never experiment.  They know what works and they are the guys that say things like, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, “you don’t mess with the classics.”  They keep tight control over their hair and never let it get out of sorts.  This example shows what most leaders and managers want in their organizations.  They fight to stay standardized and look to control as much of their processes as possible.  There are many organizations that this works for, but this kind of leadership does not leave room for innovation and progress.  You can’t adjust processes and functions when you are doing the same things.

Additionally, you can’t change your hairstyle in any meaningful way without going through that weird medium length sloppy-hair stage.  You know, the stage where some will only lay flat and others will only stick straight up.  This is the stage where you test your commitment to the new style.  How much do you want it? If you are weak, or if you aren’t sure of what you want, you will quit and go back to what you know.  This stage in the organization is where most leaders lose their nerve and think the new efforts have failed.  On many occasions, this early exit is a tragic mistake which causes future efforts to die before they even happen.  Leaders must accept there is going to be growing pains with progress.

Eventually, you will have to cut your hair.  That doesn’t mean you have to go back to your old style, but you do need to get it back under control and set things right again.  Organizationally, this means you have to pull the crazy experimenting back a bit and look at providing more stable processes.  There will always be a need to experiment and take some risk, but after letting your people get wild and outside of the box, you will need to bring all that back in and get the balance back to the organization.  Too much wild-wild-west type of stuff in the organization can be exhausting so you will want to keep some of the momentum going for progress, without so much risk and experimenting.

So, let your hair grow and give your people some room to try new stuff!

 

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Do Tradition and Heritage Hold You Back?

Standardization ruins organizations.  Once we get to the point that we are trying to make everyone do the same thing, without thought, we are doomed.  Most organizations and the people within them get into a rhythm.  They have the same annual events, traditions, and these events are rarely discussed with any serious intent.  The members of the organization are expected to uphold these traditions, and the leaders often expect everyone to participate.  But do these traditions do anything positive for the organization?

It depends.  Most of our traditions are no longer providing value to our processes but are more about culture.  But even traditions that contribute to culture can be problematic.  The military’s Change of Command Ceremony is one such example.  When the ceremony was created, it was done so out of necessity.  Most personnel in a military unit did not know who the commander of the unit was, and it caused much confusion on the battlefield.  This ceremony was designed to show everyone who the new commander was to alleviate that problem, and it worked.  Fast-forward to today, and we continue the tradition, but there is rarely an occasion where members will not know who the unit’s commander is, but we still spend weeks preparing for these ceremonies every two years.  The commander’s and their families enjoy them, and it is a great honor for them to earn a command, but almost everyone else is there because they are required.  The officer/enlisted structure is also antiquated and has lost its usefulness.  On the positive side, the military’s uniforms, many of the customs to include saluting, standing for senior members, reveille, retreat, taps, and countless others add to the discipline and positive culture of the units.

And what about the senior members of the organization?  Could they be holding back innovation?  Much like standardization, continuity is a term we must be careful with.  There is a point that continuity stops helping and starts holding the unit back from progress.  Something that was tried in the nineties may very well work now.  Not because we are better, but because technology may have made things easier than they were in the past.  We need to ensure our senior members value change and progress over standardization and continuity.

We must be cautious of sacrificing any future progress for short-term gains.  It might be tempting, but the short-term gains that too much standardization and continuity provide are addictive and will become the culture your organization begins to form around.  Soon enough, your organization will become irrelevant because short-term gains cannot compete with long-term progress.  Of course, this is not easy, and nobody has the perfect answer, but we must be brave enough to have the conversation.  It may feel bad to say the DoD no longer needs a separate officer and enlisted core, especially from the officer’s perspective, but it’s a conversation we must have, or we risk becoming too caught up in tradition.

 

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Eliminate ATOC

For my typical readers, this article will depart from my usual leadership centered topics and will instead focus on a functional role.  My professional community (Port Dawgs) are a wild bunch that will no doubt eviscerate me if this article is dumb, so I must approach this topic like I do everything else…just spit it out and see what happens.  My best-case scenario is it provides a viewpoint that creates conversations and that conversation turns into action.  Worst-case scenario is they will call me an idiot (which is not the worst thing I’ve been called). Either way, let’s get rid of ATOC.

The internet is a game-changer.  Or at least is was a game-changer in 1990 but somehow, I don’t believe we have fully taken advantage of this monumental opportunity.  It is long overdue for us to do so.  ATOC is something the internet could have replaced with some shifting in tasks and a little flexibility.  Not the ATOC flight (cape forecasting, load planning, etc.), the section.  The first charge of ATOC is to be the command and control (C2) of the Aerial Port.  It has been ages since this was the case in reality.  We have established SOEs that the sections adhere to and for the majority of the time they are autonomous.  They need very little C2 from ATOC.

Let’s start with the inbound and outbound controllers.  Keep in mind these are general functions found at most large ports.  All squadrons would need to adjust it a bit to make it work.  Each section in the port has a dispatcher if they work on the flightline.  And everyone has access to GATES.  Because of this, all sections usually skip ATOC and get aircraft info on their own.  This has been happening for a long time and now we have GATES that will usually feed us this info.  Easily we can eliminate these functions.

Senior Controller.  The senior controller position used to be quite valuable, especially in the absence of the Duty Officer (DO).  They run the control center and ensure all the controllers are doing what they are supposed to do.  But if we eliminate the other controller positions the senior controller position is pointless.

Duty Officer.  The duty officer position is important.  We do need a position with actual authority to make decisions and advocate on behalf of the Aerial Port.  Provide two or more depending on local needs to ensure they are not overwhelmed with the additional work.  Put them in a mobile workstation inside a truck with a radio, smartphone, tablet, and laptop so they are always connected to the unit’s needs.  We also need a 24/7 point of contact for the 618 AOC or APCC to contact for emergent requirements such as MICAP, HRs, etc.  Additionally, we would transfer the Ramp controller’s responsibilities to the DO.  They would take the paperwork to the crew, brief them, and ensure the uploads are going well.  They would also be responsible to coordinate with Command Post and Maintenance.  Times will need to be input by the section dispatchers and ATOC will no longer need to deal with the Form 77.  Data Records will be responsible for checking the 77 (if we even need a 77).  This will put the pressure on the dispatchers to ensure they have quality dispatchers.  On a side note, why don’t we have a formal dispatcher’s course?  I’ll look into that…

Local management will determine where to align the DO and the few other sections in the ATOC flight operationally and administratively.

Clearly, there are many items I haven’t addressed but this isn’t intended to be an all-encompassing solution.  It is intended to start the conversation.  It’s time to put a working group together so we can talk about how to actually utilize the leaps in technology we are seeing instead of simply converting paper documents to electronic documents and leaving our processes the same.

 

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