Buy in to the Navy’s Culture and Values
U.S. NAVY (Abe McNatt)
After the chief results came out this past August and my name was not on the list, I sat alone in my dimly lit living room, head in my hands, troubled at the direction of my career. I asked myself, “Am I good enough?” Perhaps I needed to reinvent myself to get to the next level. For guidance, I reached out to a couple of former chiefs.
They reminded me that good sailors adhere to the Navy’s culture. Chiefs in particular are the stalwart enforcers of Navy Regulations and constant reminders of our traditions. No one is perfect, but chiefs must embody and uphold Navy values. They are symbols of enlisted excellence that junior sailors should strive to be. After listening to those chiefs, I saw a clear path in front of me. It was time to fully buy into the Navy’s culture and traditions.
The problem was I had never considered myself a company man. Company men—according to any dictionary—are workers who acquiesce to company policies without complaint. Similarly, the term “Joe Navy” is used mock a sailor who strictly adheres to Navy rules. These derogatory terms miss the point and denigrate sailors who forgo selfish desires and ego for the greater good of the organization.
Reflecting on my service in the Navy, I had to admit that at times I have questioned the intentions and decisions of higher authorities, with the purpose of solely looking out for my own interests. Other times, I have supported leadership and subordinates alike to accomplish the mission. But I never thought of advocating for my command’s view to my sailors, while privately expressing my sailors’ concerns to my command. As a senior chief told me, the individual must first be able to adapt and fit in with the organization, and only then can he or she take it to greater heights.
“Buying into the system” doesn’t just mean following all the rules; it includes manner of speech, presence, physical appearance, and, most important, attitude. According to Mark Williams, author of Fit In! The Unofficial Guide to Corporate Culture (Capital Books, 2007), organizations establish “fit factors” or informal rules. “Successful cultures,” he explains, “embed their informal rules, norms, and expectations into the organizational DNA. The attributes of company founders, stars, and protégés become the accepted benchmarks.” Conforming to the “fit factors,” being positive about your organization, and positively advocating for meaningful change in the context of the company’s culture give you greater influence.
The Navy recognizes sailors for individual achievement with awards such as the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medals and other commendations. While individual achievements are celebrated, individualism is not. Individualism—valuing personal and individual goals over goals of the group—is counterproductive to achieving the mission. For instance, if a petty officer stays only within his or her division and does not attempt to qualify for other areas, he or she is not able to support the team when a qualified individual is unable to perform his or her duties. Likewise, the greater good of the organization will suffer if the focus is on individual achievements rather than supporting sailors across the command’s activities.
A friend of mine who recently made chief told me that as a first class, once he stopped caring about personal goals and started caring about sailors, things started to fall into place for him. Investing in the sailors by offering advice, mentoring, and informal counseling not only improves the division, but also benefits the command and ultimately the Navy as a whole.
Perhaps the greatest key to being successful in the Navy is to buy into its collectivist culture and values. This takes humility. It means understanding the bigger picture and what is at stake. To be a part of something greater than yourself means accepting a culture forged by generations of sailors who have sacrificed to defend the nation. If by serving the mission and upholding the Navy’s values I am regarded by some as a “company man,” then you can just call me Joe Navy.
Petty Officer Bui currently serves on board the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in Bremerton, WA. He previously deployed to the U.S. Fifth Fleet with the USS Carney (DDG-64) and to Al Udeid, Qatar, and Okinawa, Japan, with Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1).