Our actions and attitudes in fulfillment of professional responsibilities are taken consciously, and every day offers an opportunity to make conditions better for our organization and our people.
Any leader asked what they have done to make tasks easier should be able to point to concrete examples. Even if those actions were not successful, leaders must approach each day with the desire and the will to make things better for those under their command. This is especially important during times of great change or other disorder.
Very often leaders initiate change believing it is good and necessary, but they fail to consider the impact. This is particularly true when changing policies that affect processes. Besides improving the process itself, the impact on the product and the people must be considered. Change must have a benefit and it should be reflected in a better product or a better work experience for the employees creating it. Otherwise, the change is unnecessary.
These benchmarks should be used in strategy development as well as go/no-go decisions and measuring success or failure after the fact. The time and expense needed to institute change mandates improving the product or people’s work, or at least not making work conditions worse.
Process improvement can be measured in the level of effort, the complexity, and the time needed to accomplish the task. Many of our processes are necessarily complex, but each step must add value or essential oversight to be worthwhile. Processes that are more complex than necessary waste resources and people’s time.
Nothing we accomplish happens without people, who must be considered in every decision. If we determine a procedural change will improve our product, leaders must weigh the impact before moving forward. Does the process respect people’s time and energy, or will it create inefficiencies and frustrate employees? Does each layer of oversight add value or does it imply a lack of trust and discourage a sense of ownership? Does the process utilize people appropriately or does it place undue burden on some workers to compensate for shortcomings in others, thereby creating hostility and reducing cooperation?
Personnel considerations too often take a back seat to other factors or are not deliberated at all. That is also a conscious decision. However, the best leaders not only avoid creating negative impacts, they look for and recognize situations where they already exist—and eliminate them.
Improving work conditions is one of the organization’s goals, and it should be a high priority of every leader. The recently released Department of the Navy Goals and Objectives for Fiscal Year 2016 lists people as the first priority among four broad areas. Under this category are ten specific goals, the first of which is to “Support health and quality of life for military and civilians.”
In the military services, quality of life necessarily includes the quality of all employees’ work lives. As such, leaders at every level must take each day as an opportunity to improve conditions for their people. Along with improving the inanimate—adding value to processes and improving products—leaders must seek to make work less complicated, more efficient, and more effective. Doing so keeps employee morale and engagement high and aids in the recruitment and retention of high-caliber personnel.
Leaders who approach every day as a conscious act work intentionally to improve each facet of the organization. They focus everyone’s efforts on achievable, valid, and valuable goals, their own included. They plan, strategize, and make decisions intentionally, fully aware that every action, and every inaction, influences something and someone.
The privilege of leadership demands striving to improve your piece of the institution. Truly great leaders act intentionally to improve the quality of life of their employees. They understand that they have a limited amount of time to make a difference. These intentional leaders see every day as a conscious act. It is they, and their organizations, that excel.
Senior Chief Murphy retired from the Navy after 21 years of service. His June 2012 Proceedings column, “Bring Back Humility,” was included in the recently published Naval Leadership, a volume in the U.S. Naval Institute Wheel Book series.