The courage to lead change

Colonel Mark Brown, 14th Mission Support Group Commander

Colonel Mark Brown, 14th Mission Support Group Commander

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Today, our Air Force finds itself in a predictable AEF rotation, able to surge for contingencies such as Operation Iraqi Freedom and yet flexible enough to respond to humanitarian crisis such as Hurricane Katrina. This is not the Air Force I joined in 1986 nor is it the wing construct I left in 2000.
In fact, I would submit that the Air Force is now leaner, more flexible, more responsive and more lethal. This is all possible because our forefathers exchanged the status quo for the courage to "lead change." We must also have the courage to "lead change." Let me share with you some observations on changes that you can expect and how we must all "lead change" over the next two years.
Program Budget Decision 720, Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, and many LEAN SIX initiatives are today's terminology and tools for leading change. These are not mere "management techniques," rather they are survival tools for a rapidly changing environment. I offer the 14th Mission Support Group, that I took command of just one week ago, as a prime example of why we must have the courage to "lead change:"
· Mission Support Squadron and Services Division will merge into one Force Support Squadron no later than June 2008.
· Communications will become a centralized operation with many of the Network Control Center and telephone operations consolidated at MAJCOM-level service centers no later than July 2008.
· Civil Engineering will go from seven flights to six by merging Environmental, Housing and Real Property - no later than October 2008. They will also convert to privatized housing starting September 2007.
· Security Forces will contract out several functions and in many cases convert military positions to civilian positions in order to meet the high OPSTEMPO required by the Global War on Terrorism in fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2009.
· Logistics Readiness Division regionalized the Traffic Management Flight with the Joint Personnel Property Shipping Office, San Antonio, in order to improve customer service in May 07. 
· Contracting has regionalization and consolidating procurement on the horizon.
These changes are inevitable and we must embrace them if we wish to successfully meet the challenges of the present and the future. Change is not easy and will certainly fail without proper leadership. I offer seven techniques that have proven themselves over the years and during times of significant organizational change:
1. Develop a vision - What will your organization look like when the change is complete? What capabilities will change and how will they support the mission of the 14th Flying Training Wing?
2. Identify your customer - Who is impacted by the change and what are their present and future expectations? Have you looked them in the eye and explained the change?
3. Develop a sense of urgency - The overall implementation of a proposed change may take a year or even several years. Keep the organization moving forward by developing a time certain checklist beyond that provided by headquarters. Adhere to your self imposed deadlines.
4. Throw away the rice bowls - Identify the multiple "rice bowls," protection programs, that are going on in your organization. Deal with these issues early since they will undoubtedly hamper your progress.
5. Communicate the change to all stake holders - We can not over communicate change and the impact it can have on our customers. Most decisions have multiple unintended consequences. The leaders learn about the unintended consequences by communicating the change to their customers.
6. Fight for feedback and be prepared to listen - You can usually be 100 percent sure that changes are not implemented 100 percent correct the first time. The quicker you find out the better you will be at addressing the needed fix. This occurs when you create an environment that allows people to say "you're absolutely wrong."
7. Ask: "Why did we do this?" - You should consistently ask, "Why did we do this?" Measure the response against the actions you are taking to achieve the change. Are you still supporting the mission or is time for a midcourse correction? This honest self assessment should be shared with your major command as a means of check and balance.
Finally, I have a short recollection for those of you who might still resist change. About six years ago, I sat in the back of an Air Force Chief's conference room while several General Officers, medical experts and Chief Master Sergeants discussed the possibility of launching a new initiative entitled "Fit To Fight." I vividly remember a slide that detailed the pitfalls of such a program such as OPSTEMPO, injury, disruption of flying training and morale killer. After what had turned into a negative meeting, the Chief said something to the effect of "Design a 90-day test program with a follow-on plan for implementation."
Fast forward six years, one of the most rewarding things I did during my first week of command was to participate in PT with two of my squadrons and to run in the wing fun run. The Chief's change is not only a reality but also an apparent morale boost for many units. The Chief had the courage to lead change. You must have that same courage so we may continue to be the greatest Air Force on this planet!