Thursday, 16 March 2017

On Tradition And Why We Need To #KeepEvolving

On Tradition And Why We Need To #KeepEvolving

Long time no blog! I've been kept very busy since taking the helm of Commanding Officer at 2947 and am thankful for a great team supporting our mission and direction. 

I've been thinking a lot about what makes cadet organizations fly or flunk, and my mind keeps going back to the most dangerous phrase in organizations:

"Because We've Always Done It That Way"

Business, non-profits, government organizations, community groups all face the same challenge; the inability to adapt to change and evolve with the ecosystem.

I'm not kidding when I say that NCOs are the backbone of a military unit, because organizations really are animals. They are organic entities with each member being a muscle fibre, a tendon, a bone, a neuron. And as organic entities, they must adapt to their ecosystem and evolve to survive.

Over the past 10 years, there have been numerous changes to the ecosystem that we exercise no control over. These include funding cuts and redistribution, reorganization at the RCSU level, realignment and restructuring of the Army Cadet training programme (re: NSCE to Master Cadet), and even the overall shift of our technical focus to Expedition training.

With this change, there is an even greater amount of people who throw their arms up saying "we don't like this change", "you're taking the army out of Army Cadets", "things were better back in the day", the list goes on.

Now, I want to reiterate: this is a change in the ecosystem our corps live in.

Change will happen, whether you like it or not. When the water is rising past your hips do you cross your arms and say no, or do you learn to swim?

"Change Will Happen Whether You Like It Or Not"

Organizations that refuse to evolve will drown, while the ones that do become stronger and more agile in their new ecosystems.

Many corps will refuse to evolve for the sake of tradition. Now, I'm not an opponent of tradition by any means, frankly I consider myself a culturally traditional person.

Tradition has its time and place; it builds the corps' cultural identity, promotes esprit de corps, and gives members a sense of pride and belonging. None of this should compromise the corps ability to maintain an agile and competitive position.

Here are some things that many cadet units do wrong for the sake of "tradition".

Tradition Should Not Contradict Orders and Directives

Dress, drill, training directives, the list of instructions and regulations that are contravened for the sake of tradition is endless. 

Many ask, why does it matter if we do things differently? Everyone's having fun and nobody gets hurt.

The answer is that it breeds bad habits, and it breeds a culture of disobedience. The military thrives on compliance, regulation, and exactness. These values are what we want to instill in the young people that we train so that they can follow instructions, give direction, think fast, and lead with a strong foundation.

Divergence from something as simple as dress instructions has shown a contagion effect impacting other operational areas: poorly coordinated training, negligent administration, and ultimately a disservice to the young people in our care.

Tradition Should Never Impact Business Practices  

Running business processes the same way without seeking optimization is a death sentence for any organization.

Whether it be the back office, the classroom floor, or FTX site, we must keep evolving to find better ways to do things. There is a business approach/philosophy of continuous improvement called Kaizen (Reference for more info) which seeks to improve on every minute detail.

One interpretation of the philosophy is to seek perfection, while knowing perfection is unattainable; it is eking that 1% improvement every single day.

Corps who do not seek novel ways to improve their administration, coordinate their training, or deliver instruction for the sake of tradition (or "this is how we've always done it") will see themselves falling 1% behind every single day. It may not seem like much, but 365 days later other units have more than tripled your performance.

Always seek better ways to do things, whether it be building business intelligence, fundraising, training, etc.

Personal rant: a lot of people complain about the functionality of Fortress. A well-maintained Fortress profile for your corps gives an incredibly powerful amount of business intelligence in the form of metrics and statistics. Go clean up your Fortress accounts. 

Tradition Should Embrace, Facilitate, and Celebrate Change

Do you know how many traditions came to be? Most traditional Chinese foods came from somebody eating something 1000 years ago and not dying. They come from any circumstance, either grandiose or inconsequential. 

The story of "cutting the ends off the ham" is a great example. 

A young girl was watching her mother bake a ham for a family gathering and noticed her mom cutting off the ends before placing it in the oven. 
“Mom, why do you cut the ends off before baking the ham?” she asked. 
“Hmmm…I think it helps soak up the juices while it’s baking.  I’m actually not sure, though. That’s just the way your grandma always did it, so I’ve just always cut them off. Why don’t you call grandma and ask her?” 
So, the little girl phoned her grandma and asked “Grandma, mom is making a ham and cut off the ends before placing it in the oven. She said that it’s probably to help soak up the juices but wasn’t sure. She said you’d know because she learned how to cook from you.” 
“That’s true. I do cut off the ends of the ham before baking. But I’m actually not sure why either. I learned how to cook from my mom. You should ask her.” 
So, the inquisitive little girl called her great grandmother and asked “Great grandma, mom and grandma said they learned how to cook a ham from watching you. Do you cut off the ends of the ham to help it soak up the juices?” 
The great grandmother chuckled.  “Oh, no sweetie.  I just never had a pan big enough to hold a whole ham, so I always had to cut off the ends to make it fit.” 
A tradition that may have made sense generations ago, but provides no business value now (or even waste like in the story above!) should be discarded and forgotten. 
On the flip side, a tradition can be started just as easily. Especially one that is meant to celebrate and facilitate change in the organization. 
Recognition for being a changemaker (see Zenkai in article about Kaizen above) is a simple tradition that can be started with little to no effort. 

In Summary (tl;dr)

Change will happen whether you like it or not. 

A large part of my job as Commanding Officer is to build a culture that can adapt to and celebrate change. This is not just to ensure that 2947 remains competitive, but also so that we build young leaders that can tackle these challenges in the real world.

Keep adapting, keep improving, and #KeepEvolving Orcas. 

Duty Above All

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