Thursday, May 7, 2009

Transformation Fire

The United States Defense Department is not the most formidable Defense Department on the planet by accident. Sure, the US has resources and the American economy backing it, but it is not the material things that really make the Department of Defense great. It's the people in uniform who make the American Defense Department great.

The Defense Department is home to some of the most creative, energetic, and resourceful people in the world. They have to be. We send them into foreign lands and ask them to perform in environments where the rules are unknown, cultures and languages have to be interpreted, and mission objectives frequently change. They not only have to perform, but they must perform better than an enemy that already knows the environment; and all while the potential for mortal dangerous lies around every corner. These people are a special breed.

There's an aspect of the American service member that I believe is particularly relevant to Transformation. In spite of weaponry, the precision of training and drill, the uniform polish on boots, or the straight up and down of a well adjusted gig line, there is something extra that stirs in the hearts of some. When the chips are down, the trouble makers come out to play.

America has a long proud history of trouble makers. I'm not talking about undisciplined delinquents, but creative, energetic, resourceful and committed people who are completely willing to challenge the impossible or take on establishments in order to get the job done.

Our history books are full of these people. When Japan hit America in 1941 at Pearl Harbor, a trouble maker by the name of Doolittle took a rag-tag bunch of other trouble makers and some overhauled hardware and struck the heart of Japan. Many thought the mission - as it was originally planned - was impossible, but it was made even more difficult when the convoy was discovered and the men had to launch more than 100 miles sooner than they anticipated. Any fellow pilots reading this understand that 100 miles can mean the difference between life or death. Run out of fuel - gravity works. They went anyway - and they changed the tide of the war.

These are men and women who can't sit still when they know they have the power to do something about a problem. They are consistently tapping into their environment and figuring out what they can use to to their advantage to make their world better.

Some traditional tools of this brand of trouble maker have been duct tape, rubber bands, bailing wire, paper clips - whatever it takes to get the job done. One might hear them muttering "don't ask" or "you don't want to know" in response to a question from a superior about how they managed to get something working.

These people are Tom Sawyer-ish in their approach to life and living. By hook or by crook, they will make sure the mission is a success. They take pride in their handiwork, listen to Commander's intent and keep a weather eye on the outcome. Look hard enough and you're bound to spot these people. If you spot one, say thank you. They are very often tide-turners and battle winners.

The modern day Tom Sawyer is pretty sophisticated. Their resourcefulness keeps them on the bleeding edge and usually leaning far forward. They realize, for example, the Web 2.0 is a world and organization flattening phenomenon. They recognize that they have a powerful new tool in their tool box for side stepping bureaucracy, acting as a force multiplier, reaching farther, and for getting things done.

These people are the transformation agents of the future.

Transformation is very much a local phenomenon. We have a core set of beliefs or principles (transparency, continuity, agility, accountability, interoperability) which help us to determine good Transformation from chaos wrapped in a Transformation flag, but Transformation in an organization like Defense Finance and Accounting Service may not be immediately relevant to the Commanding Officer of a military hospital. That Commanding Officer may have a local priority that they need to get addressed.

Business Transformation needs local transformation agents to be empowered with the tools of Transformation - to be plugged in to authoritative information about things like the Enterprise plans for the Department. Business Transformation needs to listen to the transformation agents in the field to make sure that the direction the Business Transformation effort takes remains relevant.

Transformation needs the fire in the bellies of these modern day Tom Sawyers to be well fed, and for these creative and resourceful transformation agents to be empowered. The success of the Transformation mission depends on it.

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