“The Human Variable is the essential element” to Reimagining Readiness, said Lt Col Kim Smith, U.S. Space Force and DAU Professor of Program Management, and host for the DAU flagship event of the summer as she introduced the first of the three panels. The Department of Defense (DoD) is continuing to build a “diverse and inclusive force to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” she said.
Meritocracy and Diversity
The Navy is exploring a new framework for change that weaves together diversity and meritocracy. Leading that effort is Chuck Barber, Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Department of the Navy. His journey, from Bald Knob, Ark., through the Army to his position in the Navy led him to the realization that “diversity and meritocracy” can work in harmony. To do this, he had to break diversity and meritocracy out of their “rigid definitions and outdated contexts” into a “framework for change.”
“We just simply forget that everyone has a different starting line in life,” Barber said about the decision on whether or not the concept of meritocracy was “even right to begin with,” and instead proposed a framework that harmonized “diversity and meritocracy built on empathy.”
This lesson was reinforced when Barber worked with Bobby Hogue, Chief Diversity Officer for the Department of the Navy. Barber described Hogue as a “middle aged white male with a background as a civil rights attorney, and someone I’m proud to work with.” During a work trip, the two took a detour to visit the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968. Hogue told his own story, “I have reached a point in my life where I am not afraid of dying; I’m afraid of not living.” Hogue’s “dedication to empathy and his vulnerability was such an impact for me,” that Barber found his own resolve.
Empathy is central to the framework and “the gateway to psychological safety.” The framework uses diversity and meritocracy together instead of compromising. “We all are different, from our God-given ability to how we develop, to factors beyond our control,” Barber said.
The Navy’s Maturity Model uses empathy through listening sessions. Naval Air Systems Command piloted the model. The model uses a five-phase continuum of DEI capabilities to “measure progress and impact of individual activities while enabling us to champion the leadership behaviors that promote an inclusive environment,” Barber said. By using the model, the Navy can look at data from culture instruments and surveys. These measurements allow organizations to move from being “DEI Compliant” to being “fully inclusive,” Barber said.
This qualitative and quantitative data encompasses nearly 30 assessment criteria, Barber said, allowing the Navy to determine if individuals are just being DEI compliant, or if they are being fully inclusive. Barber explained that going above compliance was necessary as “using benchmarks can improve representation and inspire us… but we need to do better than benchmarks to win.”
The Navy has also examined under representation as an equity issue and has mapped every military and civilian specialty to Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data to determine what level of diversity is possible. “If the Service’s representation falls short, policy choices can be made to identify or bypass barriers to employment and advancement,” Barber said.
The Navy’s uses four DEI lines of effort across more than 90 initiatives. The lines of effort are policy, culture, operations, and talent management. Barber said the framework looks beyond single diversity elements, allowing the Navy to use intersectionality and “take qualitative data and operationalize the DEI.”
“We have to be ready to fight and win,” Barber said. “And yes, we can leverage diversity as an imperative. [Diversity is] good for business and readiness and good for humanity.”
“In the last two years we have gone from talking about near-peer to peer adversaries,” Robin Yeman, Chief Technology Officer, Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation, said. “What will the next two years bring?”
Preston Dunlap, a former Pentagon official, described the Pentagon as “the world’s largest bureaucracy that needs to stop focusing on internal turf wars and reinventing the wheel and instead work together to tap the private sector, defend the country, and compete with China.” These problems, Yeman said, have more to do with human elements than any technical ones. One avenue to attack these problems is to improve the number and value of “human collisions.”
“Human collisions are organic interactions that happen when we’re working together in shared physical and digital spaces,” Yeman said. “Human collisions could change the narratives.” Increasing collaboration and collisions will help to deliver capabilities at the speed of need.
Yeman showed the power of human collisions with a story from her own career. A task was slated to take six months, but she had a solution to reduce that time using a local server. However, she was instructed to follow existing procedure. Yeman scheduled a “collision” with a colleague and learned that when the procedure was written, there wasn’t a local server. This intentional collaboration resulted in a more than 80% reduction in schedule.
Collisions can prove challenging because different people communicate using diverse mental models. One solution to this communication gap is the creation of a “Rosetta stone,” prompting the team to build and use a unified vocabulary. Additionally, human collisions rely on the proper authority to make decisions in the room. Yeman quoted W. Edwards Deming, an engineer and statistician, saying “It is not enough that management commit themselves to quality and productivity, they must know what it is they must do” and “if you cannot come, send no one.”
In 2010, Yeman was building a “firm-fixed price, agile, bespoke” multi-modal biometric tool. Because different stakeholders attended each demonstration, the program was off budget and schedule. The right people weren't present to make the decisions. Conversely, when supporting the Department of Homeland Security, leadership ensured her clearance paperwork, submitted Tuesday evening, was completed Wednesday morning. “That is the difference of having a person empowered in the development of the solution,” she said.
Human collisions are already part of how DoD does business, including Naval X and Catalyst Campus. “If you can only do one thing, invest in shared digital and physical spaces,” Yeman said. Digital spaces do not limit the chance for organic collisions to happen.
Psychological Safety in the Workplace
“Today, nearly one in five of us are experiencing the same thing that almost ended my career and convinced me that I was going to die,” Trish Martinelli, Regional Director, National Security Innovation Network said, describing anxiety.
“Forty million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, with many more undiagnosed and untreated,” she said. “What happens to our team members that find themselves in that box? How do they regroup, and how do they get back in the fight?” That box is the Anxiety Zone.
“The workplace I was in - locked me into the Anxiety Zone and wouldn’t let me out… ultimately leading to a debilitating panic attack,” she said. “There was no way in that moment that you could not have convinced me I wasn’t dying.” Martinelli got out of the “Anxiety Zone” by achieving “psychological safety.” She has moved to a new position that gives her “the freedom to be creative and make a mistake,” she said.
Lacking in psychological security and safety can lead to “zombie team members … who are present… but only giving the team what will provide them safety in terms of contributions and new ideas,” she said. The solution to this readiness issue is to prioritize the “mission essential element of psychological safety,” she said. Psychological safety will not stop all forms of anxiety, but the lack of safety almost always makes anxiety worse.
“Anxiety is a top 10 reason we lose teammates,” Martinelli said, with “major depression” being the number 1 reason. Both may jeopardize clearances, and she urged the DoD to recognize that mental health treatment is not a reason to suspend security clearances.
“Anxiety with a YOU” is a mnemonic and guide to care for others with anxiety. It instructs individuals to “acknowledge the medical and personal reality of anxiety” first. Next, “establish a safe and meaningful presence” and “invite your person to invest in the help they need.” Next, “open up the treasures you can give” and “unpack the best of your person – remind them why they are worthy of love.” Finally, the guide warns that “sometimes supporting someone with anxiety will stir up feelings within you. Honor that cycle and address your needs too.”
People Do Matter
“What if I told you that connectedness builds happiness and ensures readiness,” Pete Schramm, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Lattus, stated. Schramm’s concept of connectedness is built on a personal board, an idea he generated from his experiences at an early job where he met a mentor who took him under his wing who “helped me get up and running a few years faster,” Schramm said. It was “as if we were cheating.”
“The world has changed how we connect,” Schramm said, echoing Yeman’s discussion. “So, how can we reimagine reconnection to reimagine readiness? First, we need to know ourselves and what we want to achieve,” Schramm said. People “require connection” and “need belonging,” Schramm said, similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
“People do matter,” Schramm said. “We have the power, right here in this room, to unlock a force multiplier around reimagining readiness.” Readiness, in Schramm’s case, is improved by developing and staffing a personal board of advisors.
The advisors include eight individuals. First is a mentor the employee aspires to be like. Second is a mentor from another team who provides insight into different roles and skill sets. Third is a boss or manager; fourth is a peer the employee confides in and grows with. The next two are above the employee in the organization: a champion two or more levels above who helps the employee understand how they fit in the bigger picture and a sponsor who connects the employee to other conversations. Seventh is someone different from the employee, and finally someone who cares for the employee on a personal level.
“Connections don’t have to be top down,” Schramm said. “Insights, perspectives and experiences go all ways. We help one another up along our path.”
The Human Element
Smith asked the audience to consider how it could be a “catalyst for change” and thanked the speakers. “We reimagined meritocracy and diversity; highlighted human collisions. … trust and psychological safety and a safe place to work are readiness imperatives, and [Scrhamm] challenged us to assemble a board of advisors because people do matter.”