Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Communication In Superior Commands - More Command Excellence

Superior commands communicate frequently and effectively. As one chief put it, "We talk a lot to each other." This includes communicating about what needs to be done and why; getting input; sending memos; getting information from outside groups; counseling; resolving conflicts; and a thousand and one other things.

In particular, the people in charge give frequent explanations to those below them about what is coming up and what is expected of them. A lot of important communication is informal and occurs when the officers and chiefs are walking about. In doing this they can answer an individual's questions, chat about personal matters, and see if there are any small problems that could later turn into big ones.

These commands make sure the right people get the right message at the right time. They do this through face-to-face conversations, meetings, the IMC, memos, quarters, captain's call, night orders, newsletters, and posters. The POD is a central means of communication. It is clear, complete, and accurate, and often contains reminders of long-range events. It also is issued early enough the day before to help people plan for the next day. People know they can rely on the POD to find out what is happening. In some average commands, the POD is guilty until proven innocent: people feel that they have to double-check to ensure that scheduled evolutions will really happen.

Top commands also realize the importance of listening. People in these units know they do not have all the answers and realize that listening improves morale and decision making. The command senior chief in one superior aviation squadron explained his approach: "People aren't afraid to come to me with anything. That's essential because if you go around scaring people off, you have shot yourself right out of the saddle. I have to be able to get them to listen to me and me to listen to them. You can't possibly put out policies without ears."

Most COs and XOs of superior commands have open door policies, but some go even further. The CO of one top command does not wait for people to approach him; he schedules several request masts each week and tries to see one or two people every day. Aware that most of the personnel who want to see him have complaints, he says he does a lot of listening before suggesting a course of action.

For communication to be successful throughout the command, each level must receive and transmit messages quickly and accurately. In superior commands, communication flows freely and clearly up, down, and across the various levels. Again, this starts at the top, with the CO effectively communicating what's wanted. Each level then passes the baton to the one below it. But these commands know it is just as important that communication flow up the chain of command as down.

Starting with the CO, the norm is established that if someone sees a problem, thinks there's a better way to do something, or has a question, then the command wants to hear it.

From Charting The Course To Command Excellence: Summary

1 comment:

Jason Knudson said...

One of the worst buzz phrases in the Navy is, "I have an open door policy." It is often said to a group of people 10 ranks junior to the person saying it, from a podium, with the CMC standing behind making a cutting gesture which says, "If you go in that door I will kill you!"

I consider grading my ability to implement an open door policy by the candy jar principle: An effective office is one in which the candy jar sits on the desk and is constantly having to be refilled. An ineffective office places the candy next to the door and has never had to refill the candy jar.

The essence of the idea is this:

You must foster an environment where people are comfortable coming in to take the candy from you (your ideas, advice, guidance, etc.) It is given freely and there are no hidden barriers put up. You should always ensure someone who walks into your office walks out with a piece of candy.

If you put up barriers, people will not come to you for advice and will not share their knowledge with you. It is just like having a candy jar that sits next to the door, but everyone is afraid of taking the candy. Eventually, (please excuse the extended metaphor) that candy gets stale.