The Challenge of Change

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David Dixon
  • 141st Logistics Readiness Squadron
We have all heard the phrase 'change is inevitable' at one point or another in our careers. Change came about quickly at the beginning of my Air Force career as the Air Force transitioned to more of an expeditionary force from the 'garrison-based' structure of Strategic Air Command in which I was initiated. The change to an expeditionary force was dictated by world events and, at times, I felt that I was just along for the ride as we tried to meet the demands of numerous deployments and shifting expectations. Twenty years later change is still taking place, but I see it now from a different perspective based on the experiences I have garnered over time. One example is the retirement of a senior NCO as a loss of tremendous experience and the near-term affects on a unit.

Additionally, I can see the potential gains related to the Total Force Initiatives (TFI) that have been designed to meet future requirements and expectations. While the need for change is important, how we manage that change is even more vital.

The definition of change according to Dictionary.Com is 'to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone'. As we all know, AFSO21 (Air Force Smart Ops for the 21st Century) is our venue for process improvement that "solves problems and eliminates waste to systematically find better ways to do our jobs and strengthen combat effectiveness". In the logistics world, we have eLog21 (Expeditionary Logistics for the 21st Century) which is the "transformation campaign [that] fundamentally changes the way logistics is accomplished Air Force wide" as a means to ensure warfighter requirements are met. Whereas the need for process improvement drives change, the possible effects of change can, and should, influence our management perspective.

An article titled "The Biggest Mistakes in Managing Change" by Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman in Innovative Leader outlines the following nine areas where leadership tends to be at fault and the "lessons learned" when managing change.

· Mistake #1 - Not understanding the importance of people. If people are not receptive to change, then the likelihood for success is diminished.
· Mistake #2 - Not appreciating that people throughout the organization have different reactions to change. Some folks in an organization are more likely than others to adapt and embrace change; these individuals provide a platform for progress across an entire work force.
· Mistake #3 - Treating transformation as an event, rather than a mental, physical, and emotional process. Change is never easy and we need to be cognizant of the "emotional reactions".
· Mistake #4 - Being less than candid. Upfront and sincere communication by management is a must.
· Mistake #5 - Not appropriately "setting the stage" for change. Leadership needs to communicate the justification, objectives, and goals for change.
· Mistake #6 - Trying to manage transformation with the same strategies used for incremental change. Transformation can create unexpected bumps in the road and what may have worked previously is not a guaranteed recipe for success in all instances.
· Mistake #7 - Forgetting to negotiate the new "compact" between employers and employees. A shared road traveled by management and the work force is necessary with "realistic expectations" on each side.
· Mistake #8 - Believing that change-communication was what employees heard or read from corporate headquarters. Appropriate communication to the work force - management must 'walk the talk'.
· Mistake #9 - Underestimating human potential. Trust your folks and you will be amazed at what they can accomplish.

While I feel that the article is corporately centric, the applications to military leadership and management are related to the importance of people and communication. Recognizing the needs of our airmen and committing to proper communication allows us to adapt and make the most of change as it occurs. Regardless of whether it is TFI, Association, or AFSO21 that instigates change in our processes, the end result is ensuring Mission Accomplishment; a constant that does not change.