Project Evergreen’s Long-Range Strategic Planningtly, we need a way to rigorously bridge creative analysis of the future environment to practical planning and budgeting actions.
By Commander Joseph S. DuFresne, U.S. Coast Guard, and Charles W. Thomas
The following is an example of how the Coast Guard is attempting to deal with this challenge. These methodologies and lessons learned can apply to any organization desiring to analyze an uncertain future and develop strategic vision. Despite the fact that scenario-based planning is highly participatory, we found that feeding highly polished strategy statements into the organization failed more often than succeeded. We also learned that acting with strategic intent is at least as important as insightful strategic plans, but that takes time and a willingness to fight the tyranny of the present.
In 1998 the Coast Guard initiated an alternative futures, scenario-based strategy development effort aimed at making greater progress in linking Coast Guard strategy development to decision-making processes. The initiative eventually became what we now call Project Evergreen. Evergreen has been a strategic success on many levels, and the Coast Guard continues to invest in the growth and development of the process.
From its early days, when Evergreen codified maritime domain awareness as a key concept for strategy development, to the more recent manifestations of emerging polar and underwater mission requirements, we have used its insights for guidance in decisions that have strategic impact, whether they be long-term, medium-term, or short-term. Sometimes we need the perspective from 25 years in the future to truly understand today’s issues and how solutions will play out over time. We gained significant advantages by innovating the Evergreen process to shift away from discrete time frames, and shift toward understanding the strategic impacts of macro-level trends to all parts of the Coast Guard’s mission.
As a result, the scenarios that Evergreen develops are not geared to answering one “critical question.” The Coast Guard has always been keenly aware that not only does it not know all the answers about the future, it also does not know all the questions to ask. Therefore, the scenarios are broadly cast to ensure the Coast Guard thinks critically and creatively about the future needs for current missions, new missions that might be required, and how they might be accomplished. The strategies and needs that emerge from the scenario planning are, therefore, at the same macro level of analysis. Evergreen cannot say very much about what the next cutter must look like, but it will have a lot to say about the future mission demands that might (or might not) require on-scene surface assets.
It was never intended that Evergreen would be the strategic planning process of the Coast Guard, which should be influenced by a host of inputs. Thus, Evergreen is only one of many components in the Coast Guard’s larger plan, and was designed from the beginning to be the strategy source least influenced by daily activities.
Why Abandon Strategies?
Project Evergreen has always embraced innovation and experimentation. Over the years, we have added and subtracted elements from each four-year cycle in a regular attempt to do our job better, to involve more people, and to make our “products” more useful. At the time, the decision to abandon strategy development within the Evergreen process was just one more experiment. The project always had two main goals: to produce innovative strategies that would help guide the Coast Guard as it dealt with increasing levels of uncertainty in its operating environment, and to create an organization that thinks, as well as acts, with strategic intent.
Many senior Coast Guard leaders will tell you that the second goal has become the first priority. Hundreds of officers, enlisted and civilian personnel have taken part in Evergreen core teams, workshops, and conferences. They looked into the future of the service through the lens of alternative scenarios and imagined new versions of the Coast Guard to fit new operating conditions. They learned to think strategically, and the service has benefited.
Evergreen also produced “strategies” that influenced the course of the Coast Guard: maritime domain awareness; the merger of marine safety and operations into sectors; guidance for the Strategy for Maritime Safety, Security and Stewardship; Arctic mission activities; and underwater mission activities are some examples. That history of success gave us a foundation for further exploring the process.
We set out to experiment with the strategy part of the process for several reasons. First, no matter how brilliant or prescient the strategies from Evergreen may have been, every time we attempted to build an implementation team, or required resource proposals to be measured against them, or sought an executive champion to carry them through, the effort often landed like most additional work on an office with an already full plate: dead on arrival. Rather than giving people new work to do, we needed to inform the work they were already doing.
Second, when previous workshops began to develop strategies to address their identified needs, we often found that the ideal people to do the job might not be in the room. That is not to say that the strategies were not well thought-out or valuable, but when they got distilled and synthesized what emerged was not easily actionable. We were asking Evergreen to do too much.
The fact was, there were good things being done all over the Coast Guard to address acknowledged strategic gaps. Introducing these strategies would influence those things in different ways. We learned that the solution space had to be left to the people who were actually going to implement the solution.
Finally, we struggled to find just the right place to insert Evergreen strategic insight in every cycle. The “program” level did not work well because strategies usually involved multiple programs and implied staggered implementation. The “budget build” level did not work well, due to the macro-level nature of the strategies and the very narrow and technical nature of the issues often evaluated in the budget process.
We have encouraged and supported “strategy development” in more appropriate places in the organization. We were determined that we would find a way to offer strategic guidance to both kinds of strategic decisions: those made in the course of formalized strategic planning, and those made in the course of daily tactical circumstances (but having strategic implications all the same). Of course, we never found one single replacement deliverable for strategies. Instead what has emerged is an interlocking set of products and processes that offer tailored strategic guidance to a wider range of users. Evergreen, therefore, becomes a support structure for strategy development and critical decision-making.
The collective strategies crafted in previous cycles were in many ways an isolated, independent cog, a rigid gear that we devoted considerable effort to forcefully engage into the many turning mechanisms of Coast Guard planning. We needed instead to find a way to make the gear flexible and have the ability to customize it so that it could synchronize smoothly where it needed to go in the various points of the gear train.
In the new version we spend much more time evaluating and understanding the requirements that would be placed on the Coast Guard in each scenario. The end product of the strategy workshops is not strategies, but robust strategic needs. Instead of a list of things the Coast Guard should do, we develop a comprehensive look at the future needs and requirements that the Coast Guard must meet. The difference is subtle but significant. The strategic needs do not provide solutions but rather “demand-side” strategic context, which is intended to be deconstructed and then reconstructed to more specifically inform the end user’s subject or issue.
Evergreen has evolved from a singular tool into a toolbox of options that can be combined and customized. It offers tailored products to support service-wide, program-level, or topic-area strategic thinking and planning:
• Five Evergreen scenarios about the future global maritime operating environment;
• List of Coast Guard Strategic Needs;
• Engaging high-level briefing that offers a stimulating macro-level look at future conditions impacting the U.S. government, Department of Homeland Security, maritime actors, and the U.S. Coast Guard; and
• Five operating models of the Coast Guard that match the demands of the five scenarios.
We used various combinations of these tools several times to further advance Evergreen insights into the service. Sometimes the scenarios and operating models were used as a backdrop to study specific issues against alternative futures such as Coast Guard operations in the Caribbean and the Coast Guard Reserve. In most other instances, we provided customized content from the Evergreen strategic needs as a focal point for further discussion within a particular topic area. In several cases, the results from the Evergreen workshops were deconstructed and rebuilt to guide strategic forums for executive leadership, to inform out-year budgetary guidance, support and shape long-range strategic planning initiatives, and offer strategic context to decisions with strategic impact.
The point is for Evergreen to provide strategic insight and a method of strategic thinking to those who are the most appropriate makers of particular strategic decisions. In many cases, that means Evergreen is a backdoor strategic contributor. It offers guidance and insight, but doesn’t take center stage.
Every agency with a scope of responsibility beyond the near term needs to be in this business of thinking about the future. Project Evergreen has been used to mentor other organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Border Patrol, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, among others. Initiatives such as this one rarely manifest their value through one brilliant report or defining moment. Because senior leadership and vested participants have continuously supported it over the years, Evergreen reached a tipping point and became a regular organizational exercise. Through 15 years of rigorous strategic thought, the Coast Guard has pre-invested the type of analysis that is needed for the inevitable emergencies that arise during times of fiscal constraints. Rather than having to create this analysis from scratch, we can capitalize on the gains from many years of enormous intellectual capital.
Charles W. Thomas is an internationally published author on the practice of scenario planning with over 30 years of professional experience. He is a founding partner of the Futures Strategy Group, LLC.
The Art of Leadership and the Science of Prevention
By Captain Kurt Scott, Captain Lori Laraway, Captain James Need (Retired), Captain Gregory Harris (Retired), and Senior Chief Brett Darnell (Retired), U.S. Navy
By 2008, seven years of war and a high operational tempo were taking a toll on active duty and reserve Navy personnel and their families. Divorce rates, mental illness diagnoses, alcohol incidents, spouse/child abuse reports, and suicides were all increasing. The seemingly endless deployments, requirements to “do more with less,” and long separations from family and loved ones were affecting the professional and personal well-being of sailors and mission readiness.
In response, the Navy has worked tirelessly to establish programs and tools to help those affected by the elevated stress. The Office of the Chief of Naval Operations launched the Navy’s Operational Stress Control (OSC) program in 2008 to introduce stress navigation concepts and applications to schools from recruit through flag officer training as well as all Navy personnel through awareness briefs, general military training, and other leadership training courses.1 Through the delivery of 23 unique content modules, feedback indicated that while individual portions were effective in promoting basic understanding and awareness of stress-related issues, they all fell short of teaching the leadership skills necessary to build resilience. Such skills would mitigate the risk of developing stress injuries, such as those caused by exposure to traumatic events, loss, general “wear and tear,” or moral injuries in violation of deeply-held belief systems.
To remedy these training shortfalls, a course was developed for officers and chiefs called Navy Operational Stress Control for Leaders (NAVOSC-Lead). It was successfully piloted at Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) subordinate units in Norfolk, Virginia; Gulfport, Mississippi; and Port Hueneme, California. In 2010, then-NECC commander Rear Admiral Michael P. Tillotson directed the leaders in operational units under his command to attend the course. This way, they could gain knowledge and skills helpful for building resilience and preserving psychological health within their commands. Over the next two years, the course gained acceptance by line leaders, grew from four to 18 specialized trainers, and was delivered for the first time to an afloat command, the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75).
In 2012, a description of the history, background, and foundational concepts behind OSC was published in Proceedings and included the first course assessments of NAVOSC-Lead.2 Since then, NAVADMIN 262/13 has required NAVOSC-Lead training for personnel in deployable units and the stand-up of the 21st Century Sailor Office to continue the focus on health and resilience.3
NAVOSC-Lead has been delivered over 475 times to more than 11,500 officers and chiefs in every Navy warfighting enterprise. Course feedback indicates an increase in the number of officers and chiefs who practice and promote resilience skills. Most important, it verifies that their ability to foster an open command environment supportive of help-seeking behaviors is gaining momentum.
The NAVOSC-Lead course assessment process collects leaders’ observations and perceptions of stress in the Navy. Participants provide feedback in anonymous pre- and post-course surveys in addition to a six-month follow-up assessment. Survey results, grouped within those three categories, are analyzed to identify how command climates and individual attitudes are evolving.
Data obtained from pre-course surveys are analyzed to understand the participant’s knowledge of OSC principles and gauge their opinions and attitudes about stress. While statistical analysis over a three-year period indicates a significant positive trend in participants’ confidence in having the tools to identify stress in their sailors and help them navigate anxiety prior to training, nearly 30 percent of these same participants continue to believe their “shipmates will see them as weak if they seek help for stress problems,” indicating that negative attitudes associated with seeking help still exist.
The information collected from post-course surveys gauges participants’ responses immediately after attending the course. Data collected over the same three-year period continues to show significant positive trends toward acceptance and participation in the OSC program.
The goal of the six-month follow-up assessment is to give participants an opportunity to provide written feedback on OSC tools and concepts after they have had an extended period of time to apply them in the workplace and at home. Feedback received over the past three years suggests that positive changes are taking place among Navy leaders and that participants are using resilience tools. Participants have reported:
• “The model helps distinguish potentially serious issues from those that may be effectively addressed at the local leadership level.”
• “I have implemented peer support. Encouraging everyone to reach out to one another on a daily basis and take notice when it appears someone may be depressed or taking on too much. Don’t just ‘not bother’ someone who seems to be having a bad day, but rather offer words of encouragement and a helping hand.”
• “Used concepts with spouse in preparation for PCS move to mitigate stress.”
We’re encouraged that leaders are fostering environments that recognize and reward help-seeking behaviors, but there is always room for improvement. From potential conflicts overseas, “perform to serve/career waypoint” actions, sequestration, extended ship deployment times, a shrinking force, and potential retirement plan cuts, stress triggers are not going away. The OSC message is critical to mission readiness—and the health and well being of sailors and their families. Leaders must be able to recognize stress in themselves and their subordinates and know how to properly respond. They should continue to provide hands-on, realistic training to foster unit cohesion.
These observations led to the recent deployment of the Navy Deckplate Leader Operational Stress Control (DPL-OSC) course, which expands on the successes of NAVOSC-Lead and arms junior leaders (sailors with a ranking of E-4 to E-6) with stress-navigation tools. It also gauges how well messages are passed down from the wardroom and chief’s mess to the deckplate, where the real difference will be made.
NAVOSC-Lead and DPL-OSC, combined with other 21st Century Sailor Office initiatives and programs, require well-trained and perceptive leaders. These initiatives demonstrate the commitment of Navy leadership to protect warfighting readiness by building resilience and helping Navy personnel manage stress. With a vision of promoting community, personal responsibility, and comprehensive wellness, the 21st Century Sailor Office introduced the “NavyTHRIVE” campaign as the next step in building resilience. It centers around the concept that sailors shouldn’t be expected to just “bounce back” from adversity. Rather, they should be able to emerge stronger and healthier so that life’s next hurdles don’t seem insurmountable. The Navy OSC program and NavyTHRIVE are “based on the daily application of the science of preventive medicine and the art of leadership” and a paradigm that looks at the full spectrum of stress responses and reactions.4 When combined with core leadership functions, these concepts and tools can strengthen leaders and their shipmates—and thus, the Navy.
Said one commanding officer who received OSC training prior to being deployed:
We had a series of operational stress cases over the previous 24 months, which too often led to our Sailors being in a limited duty status while treated off ship. Now, over the course of this deployment, there have been operational stress-related cases, but each has been self-identified and closely supported by the individuals’ peers and leaders. They have received help onboard, with minimal down time, and been embraced and supported by their shipmates and leadership with a strong sense of team and inclusion. I attribute much of this success to the progressive understanding of operational stress and stress control that the crew engenders due to the OSC program.
2. Lori Laraway, James Need, Gregory Harris, and Brett Darnell, “Navigating Operational Stress,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 138, no. 3 (March 2012), 62–67.
3. Chief of Naval Operations, NAVADMIN 262/13, “Mandatory Operational Stress Control Training for Deployable Units,” 081627Z, October 2013. Chief of Naval Operations, NAVADMIN 153/13, Establishment of Navy’s Twenty-First Century Sailor Office (OPNAV N17), 041113Z, June 2013.
4. William Nash, “U.S. Marine Corps and Navy Combat and Operational Stress Continuum Model: A Tool for Leaders,” in Combat and Operational Behavioral Health (Washington, DC: Borden Institute, 2011). (The original phrase “science of preventive medicine and the art of leadership” coined by Dr. Nash was modified for the title of this article to emphasize the importance of effective leadership in the health and well-being of sailors. His concept is foundational to building and maintaining resilience in military personnel.)
Captain Laraway is the warfighter resilience program manager for Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and formerly the Navy’s Operational Stress Control Coordinator (then OPNAV, N135) for the Chief of Naval Operations. She has served for 27 years as a psychiatric nurse.
Captain Need is a research leader in Force Health Protection for Battelle Memorial Institute. He retired from active duty in 2003 after serving for 22 years in numerous tours as an operational preventive-medicine officer.
Captain Harris is a senior research scientist in Deployment Health for Battelle Memorial Institute. He retired from active duty in 2008, after serving for 26 years in public health and radiation protection.
Senior Chief Darnell is a principal research scientist in public health for Battelle Memorial Institute. He retired from active duty in 2003, after serving for 21 years as a Fleet Marine Force and submarine independent duty hospital corpsman.
Cooperative Strategies for Collaborative Operations
By Captain Tom Negus, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The latest version of Defense Strategic Guidance is best known for its references to the “strategic pivot,” but a casual skim will reveal another explicit intention: for the United States to more heavily rely on “burden-sharing” in the future. Our effectiveness as a military will be determined by how well we coalesce as individual services and with interagency, international, and non-governmental partners to leverage capabilities—not just across our government, but across the global spectrum of partners with whom we will operate.
How we identify, create, and employ the entire range of competencies available across the whole-of-government—and regional or topical communities—will determine our success in meeting the transformed strategic issues to come. We must learn to navigate the complex and fluid environment of collaborative operations. Toward that end I offer six observations to help guide discussion, inform policy, and ultimately enable more effective outcomes in the increasingly complex arena of collaborative operations.
1. Everyone plays on more than one team. As I look back on my experiences in collaborative operations in Afghanistan, Haiti, and other faraway places as varied as the Amazon and the Gulf of Guinea, I am most struck that the common denominator was that everybody reported to somebody else. Though the idea of multiple “chains of command” runs counter to everything young officers learn about successful military leadership, this is invariably the structure in such environments.
The military should not shy away from this command-and-control (C2) construct. In fact, if approached correctly, it can be a capability multiplier. Operating effectively in a diverse collaborative environment requires an appreciation for the various and often competing equities at play for all partners. By accepting this, it is easier to gain a greater understanding of partner capabilities, while gaining insight into how best to align with them and integrate more effectively within the larger effort. Strengths of organizations that otherwise could have been overlooked may be revealed.
2. Seldom does any one person or organization “own the truth” in collaborative operations. In fact, that lack of monopoly is one of the defining characteristics of such endeavors. Consequently the overall effectiveness is a function of how much information is shared and commonly understood. In collaborative operations, the observations and needs of each organization are just as valid as any other—including the military. Collective value lies in the compilation of these individual truths into an overall common situational awareness—one that becomes remarkably important when it comes to prioritizing resources and services. The most difficult decisions often involve the arbitration of needs.
Because of potentially high stakes, the “owner of the truth” ought to be determined before or very early in collaborative operations. Just as in military operations, where the senior commander owns the operating picture and issues orders from that vantage, the supported organization ought to be designated and understood in collaborative operations. From there all situational awareness activities must be channeled to the lead agency so all partners can operate with an understanding of the same big picture.
In U.S. disaster-relief operations, for example, USAID is typically the lead agency and should be the focus of all common operating picture efforts. Competing assessments between the military and other partners will invariably lead to conflicting versions of the truth, which will have a damaging impact on a mutual effort.
3. Military legacy is defined by the exit transition. The military’s primary products are immediacy and capacity. Upon arrival it provides capability through relief supplies, equipment, manpower, logistics, transportation, C2, and, of course, military power. These are highly valued commodities—particularly in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but they are also instrumental to varying degrees in all collaborative operations.
The military typically does not provide the long-term solution. This domain belongs to interagency and non-governmental partners whose work is focused on communal structure and governmental institutions. In humanitarian or disaster-relief operations, the military provides incredible immediate support. This concept can be illustrated by a bell curve beginning at the start of the event: Military capability quickly ramps up, provides help as needed, and tapers off as demand for initial services wanes. People recover, food/water/shelter becomes available through more traditional needs, search-and-rescue efforts run through their timelines, etc. Sooner or later, the military effort runs its course, and the science of delivering capabilities gives way to the art of transitioning to sustainable interagency, international, and non-governmental efforts.
In the larger arenas of Iraq and Afghanistan the military had a similarly shaped role, albeit over a longer timeline. Though the initiating efforts were primarily military in nature, the world has come to see the value of having a transition plan. In collaborative operations, the success with which the military transitions ultimately determines its legacy.
4. Beware of decentralized purpose. To be fully integrated in a collaborative sense doesn’t mean that you necessarily have unity of command, but unity of purpose—which is not always shared by the various actors in a collaborative environment. That is neither good nor bad; it’s merely a feature of collaborative environments in which a large number of people and organizations are trying to solve complex problems under tight timelines and intense scrutiny. All organizations are present for specific reasons; the secret lies in being able to overlap purpose. Being upfront on equities, at times overlooking competing interests and focusing on intersections, can yield surprisingly positive results in areas that initially looked bleak.
5. Strategic communications is a new operating area. The exploding use of various social media has created information demands and expectations from various and distinct groups while shaping the operating environment. There is no longer a “here” and “there” with respect to information. What is known domestically is also available locally. In fact, social media is so ubiquitous that it has become its own discrete operating area.
Just as military officers once had to incorporate mastery of the electromagnetic spectrum as technology drove transformation in weapons systems, today prudent military officers must learn to be similarly agile in social media, an “op area” in which surprising opportunities abound. During earthquake-relief operations following the devastation in Haiti, the Navy and Marine Corps team used the website “Ushahida” to pinpoint affected areas highlighted by increased frequency of disaster related words. Facebook and Twitter provide surprisingly effective means at getting an organization’s message out, and offer additional means to align various entities.
Social media is a powerful tool that has the power to inform, influence, and even transform the environment. Failure to respect the power or presence of this new operational variable can doom even the best efforts.
6. Personality is always a strategic consideration. The military is a notoriously self-selecting organization. Service and community cultures seep into every aspect of our collective enterprises. In a collaborative environment, this can be a handicap. The military must embrace the differences and overcome the unfamiliar, and do so face to face. Commanders and senior leaders must meet their counterparts, while action officers must get out in the field. Get off your ship, get out of your headquarters, and meet people.
Collaborative operations are here to stay. The way we collaborate to maximize our collective, regional, and community capabilities has never had higher strategic significance, and the skill with which we operate in these complex environments will determine our success and structure the future in ways unimaginable just a generation ago.