Lieutenant Bryant’s article won 1he Naval Submarine League Essay Prize for Submarine Officer Advanced Course 96060.
The Submarine Force enjoys a rich and proud history. Due to the nature of its business, it has developed a distinct organizational culture; one characterized by independence, competence and courage. We have traditionally been considered an elite force: hand-selected, highly educated and groomed for positions of higher authority and responsibility within our Navy. Recently beset with lower than average junior officer retention and a decreasing propensity for USNA midshipmen to go submarines, the Force may be well advised to take a step back and reevaluate how it is meeting the market’s needs. Just as with any great organization, the Submarine Force must adapt to changing market conditions. One possible area to explore is the Force’s organizational or corporate culture; its affect on those areas in which change is desired and recommendations for affecting that change.
Big business has taught us an important lesson in adapting to market conditions. Regardless of the corporation’s size or perceived dominance, if it fails to adapt to its internal and external environment, it soon finds that it loses market share to its competition. The changes which occur generally result in a shift in the corporate culture. Corporate culture is best described as a system of shared values, beliefs, and habits within an organization that interacts with the formal structure to produce behavioral norms. As its environment changes, corporations find it is not enough to change the product or service, but they also have to reinvent the way they do business, often shifting their fundamental beliefs to be more in line with market expectations. The TQM movement is probably the most notable of these transformations. Corporations have found that in addition to producing a better product or service (external), they also develop a system of management conducive to continued improvement and better quality of life (internal). The goal in transforming a corporate culture is to convert worker apathy into corporate allegiance. A side effect is to also draw the most talented and motivated people to become employees of the corporation, increasing one of its strategic resources. In evaluating change in the organizational culture, the factors to consider are: the workgroup, individual leadership style, organizational characteristics, administrative processes and external environment.
The environment of the immediate work group affects one’s perception of the overall corporate culture. For most of us, this translates into the boat. For those who make it through the pipeline and serve only one tour of duty, the boat is the Submarine Force. This leads us to individual leadership style. Each boat and crew is as unique as its hull number. Command climate reflects the personality of the commanding officer, its wardroom and crew. While none of this is news, it does provide insight into the specifics of our corporate culture. The boat is our first line of defense. Regardless of the vision that N87 or COMSUBLANT/- PAC has for us, if it is not internalized on the unit level, it makes for a hollow corporate culture. Furthermore, the boat is that part of our organization which regularly interfaces with the external environment. The implications are that if we lose here, we won’t show Congress, the rest of the Navy or our midshipmen the true vision and capability of our force.
The crew size of a submarine is relatively small. Additionally the Submarine Force is small compared to the surface or aviation communities. The very nature of submarining leads to a great deal of interdependence between the men, thus Jess stratification of rank, and more mutual respect and camaraderie. The officers and crew have traditionally enjoyed this relationship, and this fact has contributed to our being viewed as an elite force. On a more macro level, we are left to question who drives the Submarine Force; is it N87; is it COMSUBLANT/PAC; or is it Naval Reactors? Naval Reactors determine whether you can join the Submarine Force. Submarine officers are well aware that Naval Reactors play a role in officer assignment. An officer’s performance in the nuclear power pipeline is used for wardroom composition, as well as a determinant in whether an officer will be assigned as an engineer officer as a department head. While officers are told that each department head has an equal chance to succeed, the engineer receives a spot (pay and rank) promotion to Lieutenant Commander and has enjoyed the highest selection rate to Executive Officer of any of the three department head billets over recent years. Regardless of the reality, the perception is that nuclear power is submarining, but the truth is that submarining existed well before Naval Reactors was formed. Our corporate culture has a distinct flavor, which sometimes obscures the art of submarining, allowing potential submariners to shy away and current submariners to leave, based on a narrow view of what the Force could be. In parallel, the administrative processes where performance level is linked to reward covers everything from medals to promotion. This factor is common to all communities, and the Submarine Force is not unique in its efforts to find equity. Perception is at play here as well. It is worth mentioning that officer instructor duty at NAVSUBSCHOL is not generally considered a career enhancing shore billet. In fact, a vast majority of the instructors leave the Navy after they complete their tour there. This is not to say that they don’t do a good job; to the contrary, there are many who would serve the Force well to stay in. But once again, our culture has given the impression that our priorities lie elsewhere. This is far from the Hallowed Halls environment of which Admiral Kinnaird McKee, USN(Ret.) spoke almost 10 years ago at the 1987 NSL Symposium. We don’t seem to get the same sense of history and feeling of urgency that was pushed by instructors named Pete Snyder, Ted Swain, Ira Glass and Yogi Kaufman a while ago. The point here is that the Force has several perceptions which directly effect the way submariners view the Force and their opportunities within the Force.
Unlike the previous factors, external environment cannot be directly controlled by the corporate body. Stress from the external environment provides the driving force for transformation of the overall corporate culture. With the end of the Cold War, downsizing of the armed forces and the accompanying reduction in budget dollars, the Submarine Force’s resources and missions have changed significantly over the past decade. In the downsizing, the Force lost competitive officers who fully wanted to continue their naval service. With the decommissioning of boats and none to replace them, screened COs had no place to go. All of these issues add up to cause misconceptions such as the reduced importance of submarines in the grand naval strategy and the thought that only 5.0 water walkers need apply or stay in. This dynamic has probably been the most damaging over the recent years. While our external environment is reality, we can and must do something to change our corporate culture to adapt and compete in our market for the resources we need; primarily: motivated and talented accessions, motivated and satisfied officers and material support. One way to get there is to shift from an organizational culture to an organizational character.
The shift from culture to character is best exemplified by the character development program instituted by Admiral Chuck Larson, USN, Superintendent, United States Naval Academy. In his push for excellence with UI arrogance, Admiral Larson is taking the steps to ensure that USNA remains competitive as a commissioning source well into the 21″ century. For more than 150 years, the USNA experience has been a four year total immersion into its own culture, complete with its own language, traditions and values. The character development program pushes midshipmen to explore the limits of their analytical abilities, causing them to stretch for excellence. By participating in integrity development seminars, midshipmen are able to discuss various aspects of morality and values, while having the chance to bounce those thoughts off of their own personal beliefs. It is this thought process which causes them to start from ground zero and bring their relationship with loyalty, tradition and discipline back into focus. Thus they develop their own personal courage, honor and commitment. No longer looking to be fed, but taking ownership in their own growth-building their own character. Only by knowing ourselves can we best find our place in the Navy, and build that synergy we so desperately need in these times of scarce resources and problems of increasing complexity. Likewise, the Submarine Force needs to develop its organizational character. By doing so we: 1) ready ourselves to adapt to our ever changing naval mission, 2) give our officers a forum for the moral ownership needed to develop an environment of constant learning and improvement, and 3) hopefully reduce misconceptions by providing feedback up the chain of command. To paraphrase Admiral James D. Watkins, USN(Ret.), in a speech from the 1980s, “If we are to bring meaning to our lives and leadership to this nation, we will need to develop the moral person within.” Perhaps we can use USNA as a model for our wardroom training. It is hoped that the discussion will foster an increased sense of camaraderie, esprit and understanding among the officer corps.
As a submarine junior officer approaching the 21″ century, I am forced to consider the health of our Force and assess how I best fit into its future. Particularly, I reflect on my eight years of experience and try to reconcile the decision of my classmates, shipmates and friends who have left the Navy in search of other objectives. Camaraderie brought me to Annapolis, but it was the consummation thereof that drew me to the Submarine Force. After my first deterrent patrol on USS NATHANIEL GREENE (SSBN 636)- (Blue), I was convinced that the Submarine Force held the answers to my questions of service, purpose and future. While onboard GREENE, Captain Bill Grimm, USN(Ret.) took a personal interest in me. We would spend hours at a time discussing subjects, which as I look back on them now, were very sophisticated for my level of knowledge, having only completed my plebe year. More importantly, he asked me to think, pushing me to the edge of my limits and helping me to grow as a person. As a midshipman, I had the pleasure to serve with such stars of the Force as Rear Admiral Bill Habermeyer, USN(Ret.), Rear Admiral Virgil Hill, USN(Ret.), Rear Admiral Al Konetzni, USN, and Admiral Chuck Larson, USN, all men of staunch characters, who brought the silent service to us on a personal level. We did not go to work for the Submarine Force-we joined a family. Personal involvement and personal development appear to be my dominant buying motive or why I went Navy and stayed Navy. In making our naval experience a quality one, we leaders must sometimes consider forgoing the expediency of directive leadership in order to foster a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood. This adds value to our service, constructing an environment conducive to recruitment and retention. Thank you for your time and Happy Hunting!