Teamwork, communication overcome complex transformation issues
May 30, 2013
CHIEVRES, Belgium - Imagine the smallest but most geographically dispersed garrison in Europe. It belongs to the Installation Management Command-Europe and is located at the footsteps of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Now imagine that garrison having to reduce its workforce by 37% of positions while continuing to provide support through its six nation footprint.
"The challenge was significant, providing quality service to the Benelux community, while embarking on a reduction in manpower. Our Benelux team rose to the challenge and in less than one year, reduced two battalion command teams and their staff directors and consolidated a three-tiered command structure into one. The effort was herculean and many employees had to relocate, travel or assume greater responsibility to continue to provide the same services," Col. Sergio Dickerson, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux commander said.
U.S. Army Garrison Benelux is largely situated in Belgium and the Netherlands but also spans over Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, northern France and northern Germany. It is home to more than 14,000 service members, civilians and families.
Because it provides support to the U.S. contingent at NATO, it is not just the "Army's Home", it is an Army community supporting a joint international command that includes Air Force, Navy and Marines and Coast Guard. Day to day business also involves supporting Department of Defense and Department of State senior leaders.
"Our joint and multinational communities present unique challenges that are further complicated by the three-nation laws that govern them. Since NATO has the primary Status of Forces Agreement, all other tri-border activities are governed through complex agreements. When you add the distinguished clientele we support, the U.S. Embassy and SHAPE Headquarters in Belgium, the Joint Forces Command Brunssum in the Netherlands and multiple Nation support requirements throughout Western and Eastern Europe, you begin to understand the complexity of changing an organization in this one of a kind environment," Dickerson said.
With the casing of the colors in Brussels and Schinnen in the summer of 2012, the two command teams were dissolved. Though the command and control structure has changed drastically, the mission has not. Garrison staffs in Chièvres have a dual role, serving the headquarters and supporting the U.S. contingent stationed at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe near Mons, Belgium. USAG Benelux-Brussels supports the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium and USAG-Benelux Schinnen supports the NATO Joint Forces Command headquarters in Brunssum, the Netherlands.
When the order came to decrease the size of the organization, leadership had already assessed the impact on the garrison's structure, command and control and on its people. They immediately decided to lead the change and developed a strategy to turn the threats into opportunities. The goal was to maintain effectiveness and quality of life, and to manage stress in a time of change and fiscal discipline.
The strategy the organization developed as early as September 2011 was to add one Line of Effort to the six that were mandated by the IMCOM Campaign Plan. Line of Effort 7 -- transition towards one Benelux team -- was the business process applied to maintain the mission while transforming, and to document the impact.
LOE-7 established a three-step process, including a transition set up, a transition implementation and an end-state phase meant to allow for adjustments and evaluation of the business process. Merging three garrisons into one, with the differences between active duty soldiers, Department of the Army civilians and host nation employees from two different countries required communicating daily with the workforce and customers.
A team of leaders, directors and subject matter experts from each location focused on the common goal. Their initial tasks related to command and control and human resources. The gap left by the elimination of two command teams had to be filled quickly. The answer was the selection of a deputy garrison manager in each site, whose role is to share responsibilities with the brigade level directors and report to the commander.
"Garrison managers provide the focused leadership necessary to support the communities. As one could expect, a command that spans a multination footprint requires dedicated understanding, senior presence and engagement. The USAG Benelux Commander relies on his garrison managers to provide advice and engage his focus on issues that require the commander's attention, influence and immediate action. They insure local missions are nested with garrison and IMCOM goals and objectives. Garrison managers lead day-to-day operations in their respective locations and interact with very senior civilian and military leaders to ensure support meets their missions and expectations. Garrison managers are absolutely essential to accomplishing the mission in their respective locations," Dickerson said.
Schinnen's deputy garrison manager, Kim Wayland said there were some challenges when assuming the position. "My main challenge as a leader was to first grasp the impact of the loss of two local senior military leaders along with about a 30% reduction of the workforce. What would the loss of so many manpower hours mean to the local site management priorities? How would we have to change in order to be effective and eventually efficient in how we operate?" Kim Wayland, Schinnen Deputy Garrison Manage said. She attributed the successful transition to communication and the continuation of integrated delivery systems.
In Brussels the major challenge was "to shape staff attitudes, behavior and actions in response to the new command and control and rating structures so that we could achieve the required outcomes for the community. Teaching people about the new structure was the easy part but implementing it was more challenging because of people's competitive nature, "Patrick Rothbauer, Brussels Deputy Garrison Manager said. "The lines of responsibility and authority were not clear initially and competing viewpoints and management philosophies made stability of the employees' work schedules and service delivery outcomes for the community difficult to predict. The stress levels came down after our commander clarified everyone's roles and responsibilities during an after-action review meeting," he said
During phase 1, directors assumed responsibility for the execution of service delivery, budget planning and staff supervision through the Benelux. Position descriptions had to be reviewed for accuracy to ensure that they properly stated the duties to be performed. The team -- made of Soldiers and civilians; Americans, Belgians and Dutch - was empowered to assess the situation and offer solutions. They developed a leadership survey and identified issues and challenges. They also launched the first ever Benelux wide SWOT analysis in English, French and Dutch.
Leaders decided to use diversity in the Benelux as an opportunity to build the team. With approximately 70 percent of the workforce stemming from not one but two host nations, the command is dealing with two different sets of labor laws and regulations, different cultures and not one, but two host nation languages -- French and Dutch.
The team turned that diversity into an opportunity. They were able to leverage resources and enhance partnerships with NATO. With more than 45 years of presence in the Benelux, the garrison has established relations of trust and collaboration with the host nations. "Agreements and partnership helped improve performance, enhance agility and decrease cost in some cases for the sharing and leveraging of resources," said Andy Castro, Resource Management Office director.
Transition implementation began with phase two in July 2012. The team analyzed the workforce's input and identified focus areas and action plans. The action plans related to command and control, personnel management, communication and workforce engagement, Management Decision Package administration, establishment of baseline processes, data management, customer service impact and local identities, differences and integration.
The team launched short, mid and long term initiatives pertaining to all aspects of the mission, to include acquisition processes, human capital management, service contracts, master planning, energy projects and waste elimination. Team members completed the action plans, continually assessed results and made the adjustments to ensure transition to one Benelux team was on track.
Managing facilities was another way to gain efficiencies. Facilities currently located on the Emma Mine complex in Schinnen will be moving to the NATO Industrial Complex (NIC) in fiscal year 2016. For the NIC site, the Dutch Ministry of Defense provided for land consignment and contributed approximately $13 million to the transformation project," Castro said.
During fiscal year 2018, USAG Benelux-Brussels will be consolidating with the school compound in Sterrebeek. Lease avoidance alone will save the garrison more than $4.5 million of Operation and Maintenance, Army funds. "The beauty of consolidating facilities over at the Sterrebeek Annex is we become more space efficient. By reducing our footprint by 30,000 square feet, we'll save more than $1 million on contract guard costs and our force protection mission will be easier to manage. We won't have to travel between two locations to conduct operations and will be able to walk to every office in just a few minutes, saving us many hours in commuting time annually," Rothbauer said.
Though the new Benelux is now in the third phase of the process, the organization is about half way through transformation. The team is consolidating gains, assessing achievements and making adjustments where necessary. An after action review performed in September 2012 showed that the garrison's transformation process has been shaped by many factors and has been a success overall. The team has developed a command and control process, developed and published a Benelux-wide rating scheme, an MDEP management and validation process, a local differences matrix and redesigned the garrison's communication tools.
Even despite hiring constraints and resource shortages the Brussels site is very successful, Rothbauer said. "We compensate and make up the difference by being creative to serve our community at the lowest cost, communicating frequently, working together more cross functionally and partnering as much as possible with our tenant units, stakeholders, private organizations and host nation. We continue getting better at working together and serving our community every day," he said.
The current success and the key to future success is the people Wayland said, "The Schinnen site is made up of incredible people. People dedicated to serving those that serve. I am continually amazed at their resiliency and their ability to work through challenges and see opportunities for success. Now with the umbrella of the USAG Benelux team, along with the continued collaborations with JFC and Geilenkirchen, we continue to be a strong Tri-Border community."
The garrison now has one commander and one strategic plan. A recent workforce survey indicates that though each location has an identity and culture, personnel understands that being one team translates into working together in support of the customer. Together they have shown that transformation does not necessarily mean instability. The community at large will need time to adjust to the transition but leadership continues to assess results and to communicate with the workforce and the customer base.
"Looking into a fiscally uncertain future, USAG Benelux cannot rest on its significant transformation efforts. The garrison needs to continually evaluate its support to the community and how it can minimize precious resources to continue to provide the best services in a resource constrained environment. Now that we've transformed our organization, the next logical step is to reduce our physical footprint to coincide with our personnel transformation. This physical transformation will see a consolidation and lease reduction in Belgium and Schinnen that will reduce annual maintenance and lease costs by several million annually. The facility consolidation effort will also synergize our organization to provide better support to our customer. These changes are on the horizon in the next three to five years," Dickerson said.