Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Unit Does Well What the Boss Checks: Mod the Behavior; the Culture is fine.

Superb piece by Dr. Richard Andres and Micah Loudermilk in livebetter eMagazine. I love periodicals that save money on capitalization! Dr. Andres’ piece cites an experiment run by the Power Surety Task Force, where I happened to work at the time. We talked Clark Real Estate (privatized housing) into letting us modify four housing units under construction at Fort Belvoir, one as a control and three with progressively greater degrees of energy efficiency and conservation as well as renewable energy.Our goal was to be able to determine the contributions of the various mods in reducing grid energy use. The only thing we couldn't influence were who lived there or how they behaved. There’s the rub!

Our control house turned out to be the most efficient; our Cadillac house, an energy hog. After resetting everything we could reset and running the numbers again, the results were the same. So we surveyed the occupants. Control house had dual military, no kids, readers (vice TV) who didn’t like air conditioning. Cadillac house had teenagers. Need I say more?

The point that Dr. Andres and Micah make is that behavior matters in energy use. All of the Services talk about needing to change their culture to achieve greater energy awareness. But the cultures are fine. Ask any Drill Sergeant. Culture is just the transmission of values and wisdom from one generation to the next. “Here, kid, this is what works.” Wisdom is the prescription for “what works”. The medium for the transmission are the behavior of senior leadership and the actions they take. Values can be taught, but they are better caught. Each audience will require different messages, the theme tailored to that audience.

If you want to impress a room full of Marines about the importance of energy conservation, have the Commandant deliver the message and make sure commanders know that it will be part of their evaluation. That is using culture to modify behavior.

If you don’t mod the behavior, it doesn’t matter what else you do. When the PSTF introduced energy savings through spray polyurethane foam spraying on tents in Iraq, the efficiency was immediately evident. Energy consumption dropped significantly…until commanders found they had extra energy. Suddenly, other non-mission critical facilities could be powered, and who doesn’t want a latte’ on a cold winter’s night?

As a young battery commander, I decide I would check things in the battery I thought noone else was really checking. I had a great First Sergeant, superb Chief of Smoke and excellent Motor Sergeant. My Lieutenants were equally good, but they would never hear that from me! When I took it over, Bravo Battery was the best in the battalion (or so the outgoing commander said in his speech). Since everything else was going so well, I decided that my “thing” would be to check for pinholes in waterproof bags. If a waterproof back has a pinhole, the sleeping bag inside gets wet and the soldier can’t sleep. Since everyone else had a piece of checking the important stuff, I checked for pinholes.

Eventually we had NO pinholes in our waterproof bags…..but the quality of training, maintenance and supply had fallen dramatically. LTC Del Campbell, the battalion commander, took me aside and said, “Remember, the important thing is to make sure that the important thing remains the important thing”. Once I finally figured out what he meant, (thanks, Top!) I made sure I was paying attention to important things, because that is what the rest of the leadership would then do. The unit does well what the boss checks.

If you want to change behavior, assign responsibility, provide the authority commensurate with the responsibility (no unfunded mandates!) and hold those responsible ruthlessly accountable for the execution of those authorities. It is how it is done in combat and training; why not use that behavior tool here? Well done, Richard and Micah. Dan Nolan


Brian Smith said...

You write:

**LTC Del Campbell, the battalion commander, took me aside and said, “Remember, the important thing is to make sure that the important thing remains the important thing”.**

It begs a question: Would today's LTC, or Marine Corps Commandant, consider energy usage important enough to check? Would they be evaluated on their unit's energy conservation, much like they might be evaluated if they have sufficient ammo, water and food during training exercises? I'd love to see some cases where this is happening---what do those OPR bullets say????

Further, Iraq/Afghanistan has shown that energy conservation can save lives. But conservation's benefits to the military...and America..are more abstract when removed from the context of the battlefield (i.e., counterinsurgency). The benefits are so abstract, in fact, that some military leaders (vets and current commanders) view it as a fad (reference your previous article on the topic).

The Green Hawk movement needs to take on bigger issues: we've proved the tactical importance of conservation. It's time to argue the strategic importance---to the military and America. Then we can change military behavior from both the inside and the outside.

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