Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Commander Land Forces speaks out!

Commander Land Forces (CLF) - a thoroughly top bloke called General Nick Parker who has a decent amount of skin in the fight in Afghanistan - has taken to using his new blog on the Defence Intranet.  Entitled with commendable pith "CLF's Blog" he posts on a variety of issues about things that he thinks the entire chain of command need to know.  So for example, through the recent shenanigans with training drivers for fuel tankers (known as Op ESCALIN) we got useful updates from COBR about who was saying what, why, when - and so on.  Stuff we never get to hear because - as you will see in a minute - there is a view in the Army in the higher HQs that the hoi-polloi in the ranks below don't deserve to be exposed to what the 'great men in town' are talking about at the grown-ups' table.

CLF's Blog is a great wheeze and entirely in-keeping with his reputation as a dangerously intuitive, capable and caring Boss.  How on earth he made it to 4-star rank without being found out is astonishing: he really should have given up and left as a Major - as many do.  It matters not - he is exactly the right man, in the right place, at the right time.

So all he has to do whilst the Army agonises about the future is simply point at problems (and one of his many, many subordinate Generals) and say "Fix that!"

Well, perhaps not.  For CLF has used his new blog to (politely and diplomatically it will seem to some) to speak out against the raft of opponents he has across and throughout the span of his command who are engaged in what the Army charmingly refers to as 'consent and evade' tactics.  Basically, you say "Yes Sir" and then do anything but and pray you don't get caught.  It happens an awful lot across the Army.

So - and with apologies to General Nick - here is that blog post:

I am getting some rumblings all the way down the Chain of Command that indicate a frustration with 'Email Culture'.  This bothers me a bit, in part because I think that the future depends on us being able to exploit our ability to achieve information dominance in peace and on ops, and in part because I sense some institutional resistance to the cultural change I am endeavouring to lead.  There is a possibility that people are adopting defensive positions rather than try to manoeuvre around the obstacles and advance.  I know that our hardware/software is not perfect, I also know that our processes are still clumsy and generate a great deal of work.  Better use of collaborative working on web based applications will stem the deluge of emails in due course but we are not there yet and we cannot wait to adapt out culture and practice.  At work there is a sense that order and hierarchical discipline can only be maintained by controlling the flow of information.  This adds layers to the process, increases duplication and will shorten already taught deadlines.  Our information systems are being blamed for this and yet they are only partly at fault – and there can be no turning back!  I sense that we are increasingly comfortable with a very different culture of planning when we are off duty, it is more last minute, it includes many more contacts, details are left later and are then sent to those who need them.  People can chip in at any time and the person with the best (most up to date) knowledge tends to be respected intuitively.  This makes our lives more flexible and responsive, and our circle of knowledge is wider – just as we would wish to be at work.  So what can we do to make our internal communications swift, efficient and all informed?
Well now!  When a 4-star uses this sort of language, it really is time to check your flanks and make sure it's not you he's aiming at.  Unfortunately for the masses below him in change-resistant HQs across the land, he's somehow aiming at all of them.  You see, the problem is - as I have alluded to elsewhere - that we at the bottom know what problems we face: we deal with the lack of money, people, kit, time, exercises and training opportunities and everything else in between on a daily basis.  CLF knows this - because he gives a shit.  However, he is being deliberately fucked over by the mass of self-serving, war-dodging, boarding school allowance seeking staff officers who thrive in the deep, deep waters that a mutually supporting 'consent and evade' policy provides.

But - and here is the kicker - that policy requires that you do 'just enough' to look like you're 'doing something'...and so we end up with endless emails chains, decision by partial consensus (aka "write me a paper") resulting in no decision made, and masses and masses of time-consuming process as each layer of control endeavours to look useful, 'add value' and generally press on with 'consent and evades' attendant policy: activity over achievement.

General Nick appears to ask a question at the end of his blog post: what are we going to do, and so on?  Well, the straight forward answer is "do what you're bloody well told".  However, CLF has to fundamentally destroy the ingrained cultures of resistance and opposition to change in any form that are completely embedded in our psyche.  The last thing these well padded Generals, who toil in pursuit of the next Honour or Award on the backs of their people, want to do is to learn a new way of working.

Well - I suggest they learn fast - or CLF's next post will be delivered belt high from his desk at them personally.  And then where will your little darlings go to boarding school, Generals?

Captain Danger says: Captain Danger worked for CLF in a previous role on warfighting operations.  I am not brown-nosing - he really is that good.

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