Retiring director sees ARDEC well positioned for the future
May 2, 2014
As Dr. Gerardo J. Melendez approaches the end of his tenure as the head of the largest organization at Picatinny Arsenal, it won't be his daily commute from Princeton that he will remember but rather the workforce and its resilience during difficult times.
"By the time I get to my office from my car, I probably said about 20 'Good Mornings,'" noted Melendez, director of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC.
"Having a workforce that is fully engaged and that's focused on the mission, regardless of issues such as furloughs and sequestration--that's powerful. So that's the one thing when I look back that I'm going to remember."
Melendez came to Picatinny in June 2010 from the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) at Fort Monmouth, N.J.
His retirement luncheon is scheduled for May 15. In reviewing his time at Picatinny, Melendez said sequestration and furloughs were among his biggest challenges.
"The furloughs were really painful," he said. "You have to make decisions that will affect the livelihood of people."
Moreover, he added, it wasn't clear why furloughs were necessary. Travel restrictions meant the workforce couldn't attend conferences, which Melendez said are integral to the professional development of the workforce.
"I'm very protective of ARDEC core competencies and those are issues that affected our core competence," Melendez added. However, the director said he was very pleased with how the workforce reacted in the face of adversity.
In reviewing his tenure, Melendez said he was struck early on by the importance of the "enterprise "concept and recognized it as an ARDEC strength that he continued to push and develop.
"Within ARDEC, when I think of an enterprise, ultimately it's a group of people who have a common goal with enough interdependencies that you have a sense of shared destiny," Melendez explained. "So if there is a decision that only helps one organization at the expense of yours- -and we're in the same enterprise--then that's not going to happen," Melendez said, adding that trust and transparency in decision making are also crucial.
"I would argue that at the extreme--in the most mature of enterprises--I would be willing to take a hit for you if it's more important for the common goal," Melendez said.
He added that by "hit" he meant a willingness to give up some time, some resources, or be willing to do work that may not be the first or preferred choice. "So that would be the ideal enterprise," the director said."I don't think we're there yet, but when I look across the board at other organizations, I think we're very mature in that respect."
From the director's perspective, the far-flung nature of ARDEC makes it necessary to develop and advance the enterprise concept.
"I think it's the right way to execute, to get to the mission," he said. "When you look at ARDEC you have to integrate across weapons, fire control and ammunition. For ARDEC I think it's crucial to maturing even more into an enterprise."
As for employees, Melendez said the enterprise should not be an abstraction but something that seeps into the mindset of every worker.
"It's making sure that all the members not only understand the organization goals but are committed to those goals. That is sort of like the linchpin," Melendez added.
Melendez said that as ARDEC director he has also tried to change the way in which resistance to ARDEC proposals or ideas are sometimes addressed internally.
"A lot of the dialogue within the organization--when we tried to do something and it didn't succeed or we would get some push-back--it was almost like the organization would retreat, put up walls and the statement I would get is,' Well, they are doing that because they didn't like us, they didn't accept our idea because they didn't like us, or we've had a long-standing poor relationship with this other organization.'"
Melendez said that type of reaction is self-defeating, misplaced, and doesn't get to the root of the problem.
"If that's the frame of mind, when you have a problem you've pretty much excluded all the options, " he said, adding that it's necessary to probe and find out what's below the surface."So why is that? What did we do? If it's a real issue, then we have to put it on the table," Melendez said.
In assessing ARDEC's outlook, Melendez said he believes the organization has prepared for future challenges.
"There are going to be some pains for everybody, but overall I think ARDEC is well positioned for a number of reasons," he said. "If you look at our mission, if you look at our lethality, my assessment is that we're going to see increased relevancy in the lethality discussions in the Army," Melendez added.
In addition, ARDEC is also going out and getting new customers, both traditional and non-traditional.
"When I look at the organization, we excel at working with the customer," he noted."Our customer focus is great, along with being able to deliver capabilities."
When asked if he had any key messages for the workforce, Melendez said first and foremost is the importance of the mission. "Every employee should see him or herself in that mission statement," he added. "Lethality is crucial to the Army, to the nation and I think its acknowledgment and relevance is going to increase, so don't lose sight of that.
"What we do enables the Soldiers and allows them to accomplish their mission. Stay true to our mission, particularly the part about empowering, unburdening and protecting the Soldier."
As for his plans for the future, Melendez joked that he doesn't play golf, so leisurely strolls across the greens are not on the horizon. But the director said he has another 10 years left in him for a second career.
"I think I would go crazy if I decided to just hang out," he said. "For me it's a transition but not a complete transition into retirement."