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October Commander's Corner

Lt.Col. Paul Laymon, Commander of the 169th Security Forces Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Feb. 26, 2013.
(National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

Lt.Col. Paul Laymon, Commander of the 169th Security Forces Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Feb. 26, 2013. (National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- "Reorganizing is a Wonderful Method for Creating the Illusion of Progress while Actually Producing Confusion, Inefficiency, and Demoralization"- Charlton Ogburn Jr.

When I'm talking to Airmen, I often use a simpler version of the above quote: "Change can be an Illusion of Progress." I like this quote because it reminds me to think twice before engaging in an adventure to satisfy one of my many visions as a commander. It's easy to change one thing in an organization, but the real challenge is to create a permanent cultural shift. For that reason, the focus should not be on a single change; the focus should be on evolving the entire system or "Rebranding".

Rebranding is something advertising agencies, handlers of professional athletes, CEOs, etc., do all the time. Most of the time, it has to do with increasing profits, keeping up with the latest trends, or new ownership. From a military command perspective, there may be several reasons to rebrand an organization. The unit may have been operating for many years under an old status quo and requires updating to be more current and appealing to a new generation; the actual mission set may have changed; or a program may need a corrective step to recover from an unwanted perception. Regardless of the reason, the goal should be to avoid "change" as an illusion to progress.

In my experience, there are a few simple ways to help avoid confusion, inefficiencies, and demoralizing your unit with new ideas. The first step would be to ask for feedback from outside parties such as other commanders, chiefs, and/or other uninvolved persons. An outsider's opinion(s) about what has been working for your unit and what has had a negative or negligible (insignificant) impact on your program's success will almost always provide key insight and perspective.

The second step is to poll your unit members. Gathering ideas and opinions about the changes that will most benefit your unit in the future increases your vantage point. The information you collect from them will give you an idea of how open your people are to the prospect of rebranding. Pick a cross section of members to be on the rebranding project team. Including your members early in the rebranding process will help future transitions move smoother because your troops will have had a direct impact from the initiation of the project. This will also reduce your likelihood of implementing new ideas that either aren't new or may not be well-received from the outset.

Next, review your Mission Essential Task List (METL) to determine if there are new areas your team might be able to work within (e.g. new UTCs or mission sets). Rebranding a program is always easier when big Air Force is willing to foot the bill!

The last step would be to empower individuals. People who are taught and mentored well will generally perform well when they are able to think and make decisions. Micro-management and domineering ownership of a program and/or its processes hinders an organization. People must be allowed to make mistakes, learn, and ultimately be decision-makers; otherwise the organizational rebranding will be hollow and unaccepted.

The rebranding approach is not one that can be rushed. Patience and follow-through are the true keys to achieving success. So the next time you see the proverbial sign "Under New Management" or "Change Ahead", look deeper. You might find that the new owner has only addressed the symptoms of the illness, not the root cause.