SSDJ – Same Sh!t Different Job

Posted: January 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

I was fortunate in my 21 year career in the Army that I was part of an organization that was in a constant state of transition: it was not always easy or made sense, but the Army I came in to was radically different than the one that I left.  The Army I came into was prepared to fight a war that was a few years dead already.  The Cold War was over and we were a heavy, cumbersome creature prepared to fight state sponsored land wars, meaning the Russians, or as they were know at the time, the Soviets.  While we were not ready to transform with technology and capabilities, we were doing it from a human capital perspective.  I came into an Army where Reductions in Force and Qualitative Management Programs were the norm along with slow promotion rates, stagnant pay, limited supplies and opportunities for growth were minimal; similar but not exactly like the Army I recently departed.

As we moved to a more agile and flexible force, opportunities opened up for many.  Use of troops in non-traditional combat roles forced  myriad changes across the training spectrum and as a result it helped to shape the retention, promotion and pay systems.  Basically, we were learning too much and becoming more educated at the hands of the tax-payer and we were now able to take those skills  and use them in the private sector.  No longer was an Infantryman just a killer at the end of the gun, he became a leader, a manager of resources, a trainer, a peace keeper and sundry other skill sets were developed as the technology advanced as well.

As the 20th century closed out we were forced to change how we do business as terrorism became the new buzzword and terrorists became the new enemy.  9/11 closed out a period of reactivity and ushered us into a more proactive approach to terrorism.  Along with that came even further transformation.  We needed to rethink at what levels what types of decisions are made, we needed empower people at lower levels to be the leaders that the Army preached we were and allow them to make decisions based on the ground truth, rather than from afar.  We created networks, human and technological to help us gather and pass information.  The Army as a whole became flatter and this was especially true in the Special Operations community.  I was fortunate enough to work with some true visionaries when it came to Command and Control strategies and tactics and as a result was able to spend the latter half of my career with more influence in the bubble I was responsible for than at any other time.  As a Senior NCO I had more freedom and authority than my mentors did.

Any organization that grows and develops rapidly will eventually need to cut out the deadwood or face it infecting the rest of the organism.  Sometimes you have to cut away a little bit of the live, healthy wood along with the dead to make sure it has a chance to continue on.  While the Army I left is wildly transformed from the one I came in to, it has reached a certain plateau and unfortunately it is time to do some housekeeping.  The growth, promotion and other personnel issues have been allowed to go unchecked and we were beginning to see “forced” reduction through promotion requirement changes, retention of promotion and pay requirement, bringing back Qualitative Management Programs and other shenanigans.  It was a fairly easy, if bittersweet, decision for my wife and I to retire while I had a positive attitude and could walk away with the respect and love for the institution I put so many years into.  Basically, unlike many I have seen go before me, I knew it was my time and needed to punch out.

After just a few months in the private sector, I wonder where some of the leadership visionaries I used to work for actually took their ideas from, surely it cannot be from the business world like they claimed because the flat, bottom up organization I came from are a far cry from the top-down, stove piped examples I am seeing in the private sector.  We had officers who majored in and studied business and were able to dissect those lessons and apply them effectively and efficiently in an organization that was designed to operate at a 100% plus loss annually.  The USG is the ultimate 1% organization, billions in revenue annually and it all has to be spent as programmed or you will not only loss what you saved this year, you will not get your increase for annual operational costs for the next and subsequent years.  Even given that we had mostly effective processes for programming our needs and correcting them as needed.  In the private sector, if the retail industry is any indicator, there is a distinct lack of application of this type of knowledge.

Stove-piped and cumbersome processes are the norm.  Lack of strategic implementation as people protect their own internal empires rather than contribute to the cohesiveness and vision does not allow for sharing across the continuum.  Top driven policy masquerades as collaboration, and, for the first time ever I see the benefit of the Army having Warrant Officers in between the Commissioned and Non-Commissioned ranks.  Private industry suffers because it has only leaders and minions.  I have been trying to read as much as possible and ask as many questions as I can of my new mentors in my new career field as if possible.  So far, with my new eyes, I see the retail industry as really good at rapid growth but wholly unable to sustain it, while the Army has the mechanisms in place to maintain rapid growth but is unable to due to outside policy and regulated manpower requirements.

I am truly enjoying learning and growing in my new career field and I do not mean to make uneducated commentary on the business world.  These are just some observations of someone who spent a long time learning the intricacies of one behemoth organization and now I am doing the same thing in another sector.  So far it has been an interesting and sometimes perplexing ride.

The two best units in the Army are the one you are going to and the one you just left.  For my brothers and sisters out there looking to make the change, either through retirement, desire to leave, or because they say you must a few words of advise.

1. As cumbersome as it may seem and no matter how much you question it, the military chain of command is pretty efficient.  Do not expect the same, so when you are privileged enough to have one a a management team that actually supports you like I do, it is a pleasant surprise, especially, when you do not see it outside your sphere of influence.

2.  Remember the leadership principal that no one is irreplaceable.  It is the truth out here just as it was while serving.  Even if degraded somewhat a team should still be able to function somewhat efficiently without any one person being present.

3. I am approaching the team I have working for me the same way I did when I had one in the Army.  They should have the skills to take my job at any time and move beyond me.  Basically, the “child should surpass the parent” philosophy.  While that is in all the literature it is found less in practice out here than you would think.  See the stove piping and fiefdom protecting above.  But just like anywhere else you will never affect any change if you do not live it, so do it, train it and live it.

4.  I did not know what to expect anymore the first time I stepped off a plane into a war zone any more than I did stepping into my first interview.  Just like everything in my military career it was a challenge and I needed to embrace it.  There is a level of fear and trepidation associated with anything new, but I was able to walk down the street shopping in a bazaar in downtown Jalalabad bad in 2002 when I knew absolutely nothing about war, then I can tackle anything the private sector can throw at me.  I may have to beat some things into my head over and over again, but I was a master of “fake it till you make it” once I can do it again, just like then I have to keep the career-enders to a minimum in the interim.

I have spent all my adult life adapting to challenges, so has most everyone in the military today.  Moving on to the private sector is just another one.  Just like most things it is best to do it with at least a modicum of a plan, but sometimes you have just have to say “fuck it” and react accordingly.

More observations in the future as I continue on this journey.

  1. SwittersB says:

    Best wishes in your transition to the private sector. And, thank you for your long service in the U.S. Army! There are private sector jobs/organizations out there that do emphasize what you are missing. I spent 32 years in law enforcement…an excellent agency with accountability and vision. I went to a non-profit and soon realized the silo effect was in place…but…half way through my career there, a change took place…that pruning and the fresh air and vision and empowerment was refreshing. Hopefully you will find that as well.


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