Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Making Business Transformation Personal

Transformation in the Department of Defense is nothing new. The Department of Defense is one of the most adaptable organizations on the planet - when it needs to be. If you think about it, this is an organization that has to not only perform, but it has to out-perform militaries from any country on the planet. The United States has been doing well for more than 200 years.

Having been part of the US Military system for 18 years, I have come to believe that the brand of transformation that the Department is most capable of executing is what I call threat-based transformation. When the Department is faced with a threat, it's as if natural anti-bodies kick into high gear and rush to respond. Sometimes the adjustment needed is profound - as when we dealt with North Africa during WWII and more recently when dealing with unconventional, terrorist-based warfare - but we do adapt! Afterward, we're stronger than ever - until the next new threat.

The challenge that Defense Business Transformation evangelists face is a very natural one. We're focused on modernizing the way we conduct business internally (financial visibility, personnel visibility, acquisition visibility, materiel visibility, common supplier engagement, etc). But we are proud (rightfully so) and don't easily recognize ourselves as a threat. Transformation evangelists essentially hear the following: We're the most adaptable - arguably the most effective military on the planet. We've been getting along great - why do we have to change? Where's the threat?

Answering this question is difficult. The pain threshold (the point at which it's more painful to stay the same than it is to change) has not been reached. We who study the need for change see all kinds of reasons why the Defense Department needs to evolve: increasing financial strain on the Federal government, Vietnam era administrative structures, an over abundance of bureaucracy, increased contact with other cultures around the world, asymmetrical threats, the rapid pace of technology advancements, etc. Just take a look at the GAO's high risk areas (, and you can see a bunch of reasons, but these things all seem somehow removed from the day to day operations of the Defense Department.

The Department has a number of formally established groups all working on the Transformation mission, but to compare Business Transformation with a threat-based transformation would be unfair. In a threat-based transformation, every last soldier, sailor, airman, contractor, and civil servant lends a hand. But when it comes to Business Transformation, it could be argued that the typical Defense Department employee thinks it's someone else's job.

As we proceed with Business Transformation across the Department, we are challenged to find ways to make the Business Transformation mission personal. There is an army (no pun intended) of good, capable change agents across the Department of Defense. If the Department provided consistent and authoritative direction, and these change agents all started pitching in, we'd have the Department transformed and the GAO high risk areas closed in short order.

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