New Chief, Same Thinking

Guided by an in-depth assessment assembled by a hand-picked transition team of 20 officers and enlisted, the new Army chief of staff Gen. Martin Dempsey wants big changes to fix an army in tatters after 10 years of continual deployments in two wars.

Although the report to Gen. Dempsey included the results of anonymous surveys from army leaders, soldiers and families, the “hand-picked” group that compiled the data seems an unlikely source for innovative, or unconventional thinking given the tendency for “group think” in large organizations.

Add Dempsey statements like “the team threaded together… that have informed my thinking…” and Secretary McHugh “has been a superb partner in helping me think through..,” heralds yet another top down approach pitting one man’s brilliance against the problems of a huge and complex organization.

And yet, the pitter-patter of a flag officer’s mind is the constant tapping of the personal pronoun.

Dempsey probably needs reminding that central planning and execution have never worked. Indeed, Dempsey’s plan will roll back other “great idea” army chief initiatives like the hated black beret, ACU’s and the “plug and play” modular concept that sought to replace human relationships with like tables of organization and equipment.

The big problems, like operations tempo, leadership and impending budget cuts, require national solutions. Any Army policy or procedural changes will at best slightly mitigate impacts on the force. And it’s a truism that organizations seldom self-reform. How capable of change is a bureaucracy that still insists on the imperatives of drill and ceremonies, essential two hundred of years ago in maneuvering massed formations, when effective organizations today are like open networks, non-linear, and non-hierarchical with the meaningful action on the periphery.

More to come in June, where Dempsey will unveil specifics about his plan:

“Dempsey said he and McHugh have used the transition team report, along with input and analysis from agencies such as academia, Congress, think tanks and mentors, to produce a shared vision that addresses nine focus areas the chief described as the “most important for our Army at this time in our history.

They are: the nation, the joint fight, the Army family, mission command, the profession, leader development, the squad, the human dimension, and 21st century training.”

This idea factory doesn’t sound like the periphery to me. No matter, it all makes for great powerpoint bullets.

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