The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.
Change in Governmental Organizations
A classmate of mine wrote on the importance of developing a vision and strategy in implementing change in military contexts. There were two points in his post - the impact of military normalization on combat readiness and whether organizations with high leadership turnover can establish a vision and strategy for change - that I think deserve further attention.
How Military Normalization Impacts Readiness
Kotter stated that “the speed of change continues to increase.” The world is changing so rapidly that it affects nearly every aspect of life. If you were to transport a person from 1981 to 2021, he or she would hardly know how to exist! Everything is changing, and because of this rapid change, no sector of society will remain the same for long. This, for better or worse, includes the military. Homberg and Alvinius found that “normative pressures for change… …are problematic for most of the traits that traditionally characterize the military organization.” They also noted that little was known about how these changes may impact crises or combat situations. Clarity of purpose and organizational readiness are important. 1 Corinthians 14:8 (NKJV) reminds us of this by asking, “For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?”
Along this vein, many have lamented the use of the military for social engineering projects and their potential negative impact on combat efficiency and readiness. Because the United States military is generally representative of the American populace, if there are social changes which the government wishes to implement throughout society, the military is a logical place to do it. One classic example of this working well is racially desegregating the military years before the Civil Rights Act. However, no matter the potential for good, achieving it at the expense of military readiness is dangerously irresponsible. Having the world’s most progressive military is useless if it cannot win wars. Social engineering and experiments are best conducted in an organization that is not responsible for the continuous survival of the country.
My colleague also mentioned the planned frequency of leadership turnover in military organizations as a challenge to developing a vision and strategy for organizational change. I would agree, but I think it was likely intentional. For those of you who may be less familiar with military operations, outside of deployments, military units rarely have the same people for more than 90 days. There are always new people coming and going and these all affect the culture of the organization to varying degrees. Leadership changes a little more slowly with an average command assignment of around three years. That means that the commander and senior enlisted dyad changes around the 18 month mark. When you include additional changes at higher and lower commands, it is easy to see that leadership changes frequently. For instance, if a 3-year period sees a single revolution in officer-enlisted dyads at the service, division, regiment, battalion, company, and platoon levels, that results in 4,096 unique leadership chains for the personnel within that platoon during those three years. At this rate of leadership turnover, having a team in place long enough to formulate a vision and develop a strategy for change seems impossible.
Civilian leaders may view the revolving door of military leadership with disdain or suspicion, but the system actually works well for the organizations that use it. The military is much different from civilian organizations in that 100% of their leaders come from within the organization and have much less of a learning curve than their civilian counterparts. They also find themselves leading individuals who are not as resistant to change as conventional wisdom suggests. If there is a major change within the military, the most difficult part of implementing that change is often communicating it to those whom it affects. Once a decision has been made, it is executed. Because of the military’s adaptability, high-quality leaders and service members, and generally homogenous culture, these frequent changes in leadership are hardly detrimental to its operational capabilities.
In fact, the frequent changes in military leadership hold benefits for both the military and civilians throughout the country. The most obvious benefit of a rigid, vertical, ever-changing, multi-layered leadership structure is that it distributes power throughout the leadership chain. This means that there is no leader in charge of the same group for decades who can command the sort of fierce loyalty that leads to military coup attempts in developing countries. It also means that one single bad leader, no matter his or her role, cannot sink the whole ship. Likewise, no rogue leader, good or bad, can drastically alter the organization’s culture. Those leaders who are in a position to make major adjustments have risen in leadership over several decades of service to the organization before being allowed this type of power.
Given the benefits of frequently rotating leaders, one might easily find other applications for such a practice. There is a deeply held American suspicion of those who remain in positions of power for too long. George Washington relinquished the presidency after eight years and many Americans think that Congress should subject itself to term limits. Additionally, there is growing mistrust of “deep state operatives” who fill “the Swamp” of Washington’s bureaucracies for decades. This seems to overlook the need for visionary and strategic leadership in the federal government. But does it really?
Is there really a need for visionary and strategic leadership in the federal government? Ideally, we govern ourselves. What is the need for a national vision and strategy? I would argue that our only national vision should be life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Generally speaking, the Constitution is an adequate strategy for achieving this goal. Furthermore, I don’t subscribe to the idea of elected leaders. God is my leader. I elect representatives and administrators. I don’t need those representatives and administrators to paint an ideal picture of my future. God and I can handle that without them. In fact, I don’t need the government handling a lot of things with which they have involved themselves. While I do not advocate lawlessness, I think that we as a country could do just fine with a lot less government. This country has become the world’s most prosperous because it is the world’s most free. It’s high time we again give freedom a chance.
When considering governmental organizations, the fundamental issue is not how to change more quickly, but instead whether we want these organizations to be more adaptable to major changes. Do we really want a military that bends in response to every whim of public opinion? Do we want a government that drastically changes the American way of life based on which way the political winds are blowing? It is in the best interest of freedom that we allow organizational inertia to keep the military and government humming along. While they should respond to lasting and overarching trends, they do not need to be subjected to major change like private organizations. Should our military be integrated? Of course they should! But should they kneel for the national anthem, wear “woke” T-shrits, and fly the LGBTQ(IA+) flag at military ceremonies? I most certainly think not. I believe our military and government must remain operationally adaptive and culturally consistent for the sake of America and her liberties.
Holmber, A. & Alvinius, A. (2019). How pressure for change challenge military organizational characteristics. Defence Studies, 19(2), 130-148. https://doi.org/10.1080/14702436.2019.1575698
Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading change. Harvard Business Review Press.
The Holy Bible, New King James Version (1982). Thomas Nelson, Inc.