BLUF – Teams that consistently value the time of one another and making their teammates feel valued will enhance work performance without directly targeting work performance.
The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute’s Organizational Climate Survey, aka DEOCS, is a tool that commanders can use to obtain anonymous information from their squadron that covers a broad spectrum of information. About half the survey are questions that can be answered on a multiple choice scale, while the others are questions that can be answered via open text boxes. Keeping it 100 (read: to be honest), when I read the results of the survey I skip the first section and immediately go to the second half. Eventually I will go back and read the first section, but I also know the rest of squadron leadership (I share the report with the Chief, First Sergeant, Flight Commanders, and Flight Superintendents) will give me some highlights we need to discuss. I tend to read the open section multiple times, to make sure I 1) follow my instinct on what comments are something I and leadership can take action on, 2) filter out comments I think are one-offs, and 3) try to find the common threads throughout various inputs. Here are the two threads I found in my latest DEOCS (which is from a communications squadron, FYI), which I believe can be applied to any squadron in the current environment.
Airmen value their Time – Unit PT is usually a subject people have some form of opinion on, just like the Cowboys or Patriots: love it or hate it. I’m not interested in making everyone happy through our PT program, but it is an interesting subject to garner feedback from. Our program is simple: mandatory formation to meet meet once a week wearing our morale shirt + dark bottoms of your choice, work out for 30-45 minutes, quick huddle to share announcements, then spend the rest of the hour improving your weakness areas. That’s it. We have Airmen who feel their “Excellent” PT score should be rewarded by being exempted them from the formation, of which I disagree. First, achieving “Excellent” is not that hard (I can probably score a 90 with my leg still healing from a strained quad injury), and attaching the word “reward” to the score is a stretch. Second, by implementing an exemption to formation, the direct opposite will happen: those going to PT are now punished for not achieving an Excellent. Third, I told everyone up front that physical fitness is a personal responsibility and that our formation is used as a once a week team huddle to spend time with each other since we normally work in separate buildings (a consolidated comm facility is a dream that will probably never happen). Other subjects that touched on time included the idea to implement a compressed work schedule (of which I’m still open to a solution if it can be applied fairly across the entire squadron, to include military and civilian, without lowering our capabilities to our mission partners) and some work centers feeling trapped twiddling their thumbs until 1630. The summary of this thread is that Airmen want to have more control over their time. Control is a strong word to use, because we still operate as a military unit that has performance requirements. Work of various types still needs to be accomplished, and I will continue to challenge supervisors to find the right type of work that needs to be done and cut their teams loose if they have figured out how to accomplish the workload in a efficient manner. Airmen want blanket commander policies to give them more time off, as opposed to my version of challenging supervisors to ensure time is always used effectively in a case by case manner (read: be a LEADER and make a decision). All of us have a responsibility to manage time wisely, and some decisions will be made by me and some will be made by you.
Airmen want to feel valued – Leadership presence has been a common thread through all of the DEOCS reports I have read. In a large communications squadron that is spread across multiple buildings, being able to visit the every building as a commander is something that must be deliberately managed. One technique I’ve seen is to block out time on their schedule to ensure visits are conducted. I personally don’t care for that tactic, as those visits can turn into “dog and pony shows” with disingenuous interactions. I tend to visit teams in buildings if I happen to be driving past them. I also visit with little intention of talking about work; I usually check on how the the team is doing in general and how their personal lives are. I expect flight leadership to have those work conversations as they are closer to shaping the actions that are required based on my commander’s guidance. I’d rather talk about movies, music shoe releases, family dynamics, local happenings, or just people things in general. I can have these conversations with anyone, and they are the type of genuine interactions I feel bring our team closer together and feel valued. Leadership presence also doesn’t solely apply to me either. The aforementioned leadership in the squadron (the ones I send the DEOCS report to) are part of the solution that needs to be strategically applied throughout the squadron. Achieving the general feeling of “Hey, leadership actually gives a sh*t about us” is a constantly moving target that leaders must consistently be engaged with. There is no single solution to hitting the target either, as our workforce that contains four generations all feel value in different manners. Our job as leadership is figuring out how to develop relationships with our teammates that deliver genuine engagement that has the power to enhance work performance. Sometimes increasing work performance is a can be achieved by not focusing on work performance. Read that again.