A requirement during your command tour is to conduct a Defense Equal Opportunity Climate Survey (DEOCS), also known simply as the Unit Climate Assessment survey. Here are some bite-size bullets that cover the official purpose of the DEOCS (full information can be found at http://www.deocs.net):
- DEOCS is a confidential, command-requested organization development survey focusing on issues of organizational effectiveness, equal opportunity, and sexual assault response and prevention.
- Unit commanders are required to conduct surveys 180 days from the assumption of command and annually thereafter.
- DECOS provides the opportunity for members within the unit to share their perception of the command climate associated with leadership issues and to provide direct and anonymous feedback.
- Higher headquarters often direct specific questions to be contained within the DEOCS to inform command-wide issues.
- Commanders are required to provide out-briefing to their unit based on the results of the DEOCS.
That being said, the DECOS is unofficially known as a necessary evil that multiple levels of the organization use to gather a sense of how the unit “feels”. Unit personnel can and should provide unfiltered feedback without fear of reprisal, thus providing near and far-term opportunities to ensure the work environment is optimized. Commanders can find blind spots within the unit that require immediate or eventual attention. Group commanders can and will use the information to inform their decisions on rating the overall performance of the squadron commander. Invaluable information for multiple audiences is contained within the DEOCS, so you must take advantage of the opportunity.
DEOCS participation rates can be challenging. The survey is voluntary, with an average of 43% participation DoD-wide. However, the makeup of your squadron may not lend well to obtaining this participation rate. The survey is usually taken online (paper versions are available) and can take between 10-30 minutes, depending on how much time the member takes to answer the open text questions. Teammates may not have ready access to a computer, such as maintainers on the flight line or technicians working in back shops. This requires you as the commander to direct your frontline supervisors to ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in the DEOCS. Assuming the ability to take the survey is equal for all, a higher participation rate is indicative of an environment that promotes open conversation and willingness to listen to feedback.
The DEOCS is broken up into two major areas: multiple choice and open text. The multiple-choice section provides a list of questions that allow the participant to answer questions along the spectrum of Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. Most, if not all, of these multiple-choice questions are defined outside of squadron, so I wouldn’t spend much time analyzing why they are included. All of the provided answers are aggregated into scores that are then compared to the base, MAJCOM, and Air Force. Scores that fall below average are highlighted and should be considered for your attention. I say considered because the scores are based on math equations and shouldn’t be seen as immediate actions to take. The other major area, and by far the more vicious and entertaining, is the open text questions. These usually consist of ten questions that allow the participant to type/write in their own responses…and boy do they. Responses can range from short jabs such as “my supervisor sucks” to long and drawn out novels where heavy emotions are poured out seemingly for the first time. You will often see yourself as commander called out specifically; remember, this is a command climate assessment. This is where you may feel personally attacked by the words you see within the report…don’t feel that way. I realize this is easier said than done, but you must learn to be able to take this level of feedback objectively and not emotionally react to every comment you read. Use the feedback as input to making yourself and the squadron better. If you treat the DEOCS as a self-improvement tool, there can only be positive effects in the future. The responses to each open text question will be consolidated for easier consumption, of which patterns can sometimes be more easily seen. For example, if there are multiple inputs of “I wish the commander would visit us more often,” that is a clear indicator you are mismanaging your time and need to unshackle yourself from your desk. The final DEOCS report will be emailed to you, and you should have a strategy on how to use the product to the advantage of yourself, your leadership team, and the squadron.
Upon receipt of the DEOCS, I recommend you read it alone first. If you partake in adult beverages, I would pour one and buckle in. Print out the report and find a quiet place to read through the report and make notes. Complete this drill three times, because you will spot inputs that you may have glanced over at first try. The biggest challenge will be for you to remain calm as you read the responses. Your emotional response may be warranted, but transfer that energy into your written notes and save it for later. Come up with your top three issues that most concern you. You may have a longer list than three, and that’s ok, but you need to highlight your top three so that the energy of squadron leadership is properly focused.
After you’ve read the report, share the report with the top level of the squadron: Superintendent, First Sergeant, Director of Operations, and Civilian Deputy. Have them perform the same review/take notes drill individually and tell them to keep their notes. After them, pass on to your Flight Commander/Chiefs and have them perform the same drill. When everyone is finished, call a team huddle to discuss your individual findings (plan at least 2 hours, probably best to bring drinks/snacks). Start the conversation off with your initial impressions and lead the conversation to allow everyone to share the same. Similarities will begin to emerge and the list of top 3 issues will be solidified. Some of the observations will involve “I know who said this”, which you can choose to use if you see fit, but I would not advise directly approaching anyone on their alleged inputs. Again, the DEOCS is supposed to be a tool for anonymous feedback. Even if someone writes in “My female SMSgt supervisor…” and there is only one in the unit, resist the temptation to directly confront the situation. Instead, draw out the core of the issue and roll out a resolution that can generally apply. If articulated correctly, the actual application of the resolution will be executed seamlessly throughout the unit, with hopefully similar actions following suit. Your huddle needs to be open and honest in the discussion, even if the subject matter is calling out someone in the room. Like most gripe fests, anything can and should be expressed in the safety and trust of a closed room filled with your extended leadership team. End the huddle with a summary of the most important items that need to be covered at the next squadron event (I prefer commander’s calls). There should also be a list of items that are for action in parallel, usually quick wins that just need to get done. These actions aren’t necessarily for you as the commander to solely accomplish; you just need to make sure they are accomplished. Share your plan of action with your group commander (they will already have a copy of the report and will no doubt ask you what you will do as follow-up). Most importantly, the delivery of your DEOCS review to the squadron must be genuine. If you are just scrolling through the numbers and data points, that low level of “give a shit” will also be translated to everyone. Emphasize the areas that most concern you, which ones you will immediately take action on, and which ones you will need help from the squadron to get right. If the commander cares, everyone should care (in a good military organization).
The DEOCS can be a great tool to provide you a timely assessment of how the unit is performing and what you can do to improve, both as the commander and as an overall team. Use the information to your advantage to drive change and positive impacts. The DEOCS isn’t a popularity contest, and you need to be prepared the harsh reality that will kick you in the junk as you read the report. Regardless, you owe the team your attention to fix the problem areas you have control or influence over. After all, the climate of the unit is directly related to the associated commander.