FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Army News Service, July 14, 2014) -- Soldiers are over-reliant on technology and this results in disengagement at the human level, Capt. Heather Schmitt told Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno.
Schmitt didn't stop there with her critique, as the chief empowered her to speak freely and not hold back. She was taking part in Solarium 2014, in which 105 captains from across the Army met July 9-11 to wrestle with problems and brainstorm ideas and solutions.
"Everyone always has their faces down to their cellphones or are behind a computer screen," Schmitt continued, but the problem is even wider and more systemic than that.
The broader issue "is our shotgun approach to a lot of mandatory training and initiatives. Our calendars are filled up with PowerPoint presentations and online training," she said, where there's no one-on-one or group interaction.
A lot more "face-to-face" is needed "to keep us connected on the human level," she said.
"Technology is part of the American culture and part of the Army culture and we know it's not going to go away. But for the Army, that technology should be an enabler, not a replacement for interaction within the human dimension," she explained.
A solution would be to emphasis person-to-person communications formats at leader development courses beginning at entry level, she offered. Developing listening skills and other proficiencies would be part of it.
Soldiers also need to focus on their own self-awareness so they can better relate to others, she added. Unfortunately, training that focuses on self-awareness and introspection is offered late in Soldiers' careers when they are in the field grade ranks.
She concluded that leaders need to take the time to get personally involved with their Soldiers. This harks back to having good mentors, a topic discussed by the talent-management teams.
Seven teams, each with about 15 members, discussed issues at the Solarium. Two teams focusing on talent management, and one team each discussed vision and branding, culture, mission command, education and training. Schmitt and 14 of her colleagues were on the "culture" team presenting their findings to the chief.
"I couldn't agree more with you on this," Odierno replied to Schmitt about mentoring and personal interactions. "We have to start this when Soldiers first come into the Army."
It's not just young Soldiers who substitute technology for human interactions, he said. It's also the "old guys." The importance of human interactions needs to "be infused into current leadership and we need to move forward on this.
"Our business is about human interaction and that's never going to change," he continued. "That's what we are as an Army."
Odierno said he's encountered problems with person-to-person communications first-hand, and he received a report once where platoon leaders were doing accountability tracking within their formations through texting.
The focus of the "culture team" conversation that Schmitt and her colleagues were on then shifted to identity.
"There's an absence of a strong, unifying Army identity, resulting in Army traditions losing significance and a decrease in esprit de corps," Capt. Victoria Wynn advised.
"We love our Army traditions and our proud history, but we see from our level that our Army identity is not as strong as it could be," she continued.
There's often more pride at the unit level, she said, adding that a lot of local commands know how to do that effectively. If some of that success could be transferred to the Army level, the service as a whole would benefit.
Perhaps during the time frame of the Army birthday in June, Soldiers could participate in public service announcements on radio and TV, telling Americans why the Army is great, why they love to be part of it and so on, she suggested. Army pride could also be instilled at leadership courses.
"I can control things from the institutional level, but I can't control how it's followed up in the operational forces," Odierno replied. "Are we just teaching it or are we living it? This is where each of you come into play. NCOs and officers need to embrace this and live it.
"One of the problems the Army has is that it doesn't talk a lot about itself and what we've accomplished," he continued. "We should be proud of who we are and what we've accomplished."
Soldiers made up about 65 percent of all the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Americans "think 85 percent of all the deployments were by the Marine Corps; we don't talk enough about what we do for whatever reason," he said.
Besides doing public service announcements, Odierno suggested going to universities, Rotary clubs and other venues and simply sitting down and talking "about who we are. People have misperceptions about what the Army is all about and misperceptions even about us as individuals."
Odierno said he'd make it a point to start encouraging Soldiers to do some of the things Wynn suggested.
The culture team then discussed authority delegation.
"The Army executes a fairly centralized decision-making process, especially in garrison vice theater," said Capt. Michael Lynch. "Alternate viewpoints and initiatives are not necessarily squelched, but they're also not fostered in junior Soldiers."
There needs to be a "top-down cultural shift to minimize risk aversion at the senior level," he suggested. Junior leaders need to be empowered with decision making.
One of the main reasons senior leaders are loathe to delegate authority, Lynch said, is because if something bad happens when a wrong decision by the junior officer is made, the senior leader will get the brunt of the blame, even if he or she had no direct responsibility in what happened.
"Too often, we feel senior leaders are sometimes dinged on legitimate, honest mistakes regardless of the size or scope of the mistake, thereby leading them to not want to trust us with that additional decision-making authority," he explained.
Delegating authority will become even more important as the Army of the future wades into an uncertain global environment where agility and initiative will be needed.
That delegation of authority will need to be made at the installation level before the Soldier goes into harm's way, Lynch emphasized.
He concluded with a quote from Gen. George S. Patton: "Don't tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with the results."
IMAGE IS EVERYTHING
The 15-member Branding and Vision team then took to the floor.
"Consistency and simplicity are key to creating an effective message that will resonate" with Soldiers and with the public, said Capt. Douglas Morton, referring to the need for an inspiring and unifying Army slogan.
The Army has had a series of slogans; "Be All That You Can Be" in the 1970s, then "An Army of One" and the current "Army Strong," which has more of a team connotation to it than an individualist approach suggested by the other two. But the Army still hasn't got it right, he said.
The most recognized military slogan is "The Few, the Proud, the Marines," he posited. It's been unchanged since the 1970s, and resonates with young people.
A Gallup Poll, conducted in May, showed Americans consider the Army to be the most important military branch, but the Marine Corps is considered the most prestigious by a wide margin of 47 percent to the Army's 15, with the other services making up the remainder, he said. So "Army Strong" hasn't resonated.
The problem in choosing a slogan is finding one that's short and simple, he admitted. There's so much the Army wants to convey to the public and to its own formations: we're not just infantry, we offer many jobs that prepare you for civilian life, we can help build strength and teamwork and so on.
The Branding and Vision team's approach was to pick out the one unifying Army thread, and that was the profession of arms, he said.
"We came up with 'A Trusted Professional' or 'Trusted professionals,' he said. The concept is simple and flexible as it can be tailored to the individual Soldier or the Soldier doing his or her work as part of the team.
"Trust is the cornerstone of our organization," he said. "The American people can trust us to do increasingly complex mission sets and meet the threats of the future.
"And," he continued, "the Army is a profession where Soldiers can continue to grow and better themselves" and profession implies that "we're an ethical organization that's values driven."
"I couldn't agree more," Odierno said, asking "where can I sign up for 30 more years?"
(Editor's note: This is the second article in a series on Solarium 2014. Future articles will discuss suggestions made at the solarium in the areas of mission command, education and training. For more ARNEWS stories, visit http://www.army.mil/ARNEWS, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArmyNewsService.)
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