What are the measures of success for a warship in today's Navy? Superb performance in combat, of course, is the ultimate measure of a ship; yet a ship finds itself in combat for only a small portion of its 40-year life. So, in noncombat periods, it may be tempting to gauge success by:
- Performance in the more than 200 inspections, assist visits, reviews, and assessments that most warships undergo every year
- The number of competitive awards a warship wins
- The outcome of dozens of formal and informal visits by seniors in the chain of command
- Your crew's opinion of their ship
- The ship's reputation-earned on the waterfront, in the schoolhouse, and with the servicing maintenance activities
Most naval officers would agree that each of these external measures have some bearing in assessing the performance of a ship. Certainly it is important to do well on inspections, to win competitive awards, and to be ready when called. Yet, short of combat itself, the ultimate measure of a ship's success is its ability to function as a fighting team—inherently an internal activity. It therefore is critical that a warship's leaders be able to assess a standard of excellence and improve all aspects of performance through an internal mechanism. One way to implement a systematic self-assessment and improvement program is to allow a single division each week to show the command's leadership how well it does its business. Such a program—a "Division in the Spotlight" approach—is really a system of education and retraining for excellence.
There is a wide variety of ways to promote quality and improve combat readiness. What works well for one commanding officer may not work at all for another. The "Division in the Spotlight" program outlined here worked well on board a West-Coast warship for a two-year period, and is offered as a point of departure for other ships or commands.
A Structure to Assess and Improve
In the U.S. Navy, we generally organize our ships around time-honored divisions and departments, the heart and soul of any ship. Examining them provides the key to judging a ship's capabilities. Most external inspections, however, focus on aspects of a ship's performance that transcend divisions and departments.
For example, one of the most rigorous inspections facing ships today is the operational propulsion plant examination (OPPE). While it is focused largely on the engineering plant, the OPPE also touches other aspects of the ship's organization—e.g., training, hearing conservation, heat stress, safety, damage control, cleanliness, and preventive maintenance. Another example is the combat systems assessment, a ship-wide inspection that evaluates the ability to put rounds on target, crossing departmental and divisional lines.
Unfortunately, there is no off-ship inspection, evaluation, or assist that looks at the most fundamental building block in the ship's organization—the division. Yet it is axiomatic that quality start at this level. Many critical aspects of our ships and our lives revolve around the division; it is the heart of our efforts to train, evaluate, promote, and support our people. Through the division comes damage-control readiness, safety, valve maintenance, medical treatment, and security. Perhaps most important: combat-readiness systems, the entire maintenance system, and the related supply, electrical-safety, and tag-out systems are administered as divisional responsibilities. Finally, cleanliness and safety in our spaces are administered and undertaken through the division. But no off-ship activity comes aboard a vessel and inspects a division—nor should it. That cycle of quality improvement rests squarely on the shoulders of the commanding officer.
Division in the Spotlight
What is required, then, is an internal quality improvement cycle. One approach is a "Division in the Spotlight" program. As the name implies, a spotlight program gives each of the ship's divisions an opportunity to demonstrate its standard of excellence and receive immediate feedback and advice on how to improve areas that are below standard. It is designed to be a nonthreatening event, and is best conducted a bit at a time, i.e., by one division per week. Generally, various areas are examined throughout the week, and the program ends on Friday afternoon with a meeting to discuss the results and to focus on areas needing improvement.
Two groups are involved in the spotlight program: the command quality team (CQT) and the divisional quality team (DQT). As the name implies, the CQT is composed of area experts drawn from throughout the command. Key members can be selected to fit any particular area the command wants to emphasize. The basic group might include the commanding officer (divisional spaces and personnel); executive officer (berthing, manning, hazardous material); chief engineer (valve maintenance); supply officer (supply support); 3M coordinator (3M maintenance); damage control assistant (damage control readiness, both material and personnel); operations officer (training, security); electrical officer (electrical safety and tag-out); command career counselor (retention); chief corpsman (medical assessment material); safety Officer (safety); personnel qualification standards officer (qualifications); and electronic material officer (test equipment and data processing).
The DQT varies with the size of the division, but for a cruiser-destroyer frigate-sized ship generally would include the division officer, chief petty officer(s), first class petty officer(s), and any senior second class petty officer(s) in key leadership positions within the division.
After individual assessments have been conducted during the week (at mutually convenient times scheduled by the assessor and the division), the CQT and DQT meet in the wardroom on Friday afternoon to go over the results and to focus on improvements. The commanding officer is an active listener and lead evaluator; the executive officer is the recorder. All results are recorded on data sheets by the CQT assessors, who present a copy to the division and a copy to the XO for the command files. The results are retained for a two-year period. On a cruiser-destroyer-sized ship, each division enters the spotlight about once every six months (given open weeks owing to operational commitments, stand-down periods, etc.). Thus, the two-year retention of records provides a look back at four spotlight periods and gives an excellent quantitative evaluation of the divisional standards and trends in each area.
It is essential to ensure that each of the CQT members has a specific, quantitative methodology for evaluating his or her area of expertise. If the evaluator merely shows up, walks around the division's spaces, and pronounces that "they look good to me" nothing useful has occurred. The DCA, for example, must have a detailed evaluation method, which might include a written test for the division's personnel in basic damage control; a percentage assessment of working battle lanterns, CO2-PKP extinguishers, and fire stations; a maintenance spot-check of two weeks worth of ERO9 spot- checks; and so forth. Only through quantitative assessment can weaknesses be identified and improvements undertaken. are maintaining high standards and are striving to improve.
Through a sustained quality program like "Division in the Spotlight," a ship can quantitatively and systematically ensure that the entire organization has the standard of excellence required for prompt and sustained combat operations at sea. The program also allows ships' leaders to examine trends over the course of two years to ensure that all divisions are maintaining high standards and are striving to improve.
Captain Eddingfield, Commander Destroyer Squadron 33, and Commander Stavridis, currently a student at the National War College, served together as commanding officer and executive officer of the USS Antietam (CG-54) from 1989 to 1991, when the Antietam won two Battle "E" awards; the Spokane Trophy for combat readiness; and three fleet-wide warfighting awards. For his tour in the Antietam, Captain Eddingfield won the Navy League's John Paul Jones Award for Inspirational Leadership.