For far too long, contracting officers (KO) have been articulating the impact their acquisition efforts have on enhancing capabilities, mission success, and ultimately supporting the warfighter in a rather underwhelming way. KOs typically frame their support to the warfighter by detailing the dollars obligated and number of contract actions performed in support of the warfighter. While this approach is widely used within the acquisition community in an attempt to describe the efforts of contracting professionals, it does little to effectively illustrate the impact of a contracting professional or their team’s contributions to the warfighter.For contracting professionals to effectively communicate or articulate their support with key stakeholders outside the acquisition community, contracting professionals need to change the words and approach to develop the message they utilize. More specifically, they need to transform the message from that of a technical nature to a dialogue that is relatable outside of the acquisition enterprise.Operationalizing ContractingAn illustration of the necessity for contracting professionals to change the method they use to describe their value to the warfighter is the concept of “operationalizing contracting,” a concept that was introduced by Gen. Gustave Perna, commanding general, Army Materiel Command (AMC), in 2017. In an Army Contracting Command (ACC) article, Perna shared his vision of operationalizing contracting by describing it as "… Integrating and synchronizing contracting across the materiel enterprise in order to meet the Army’s priorities and the combatant commander’s priorities."He goes on to say, “It’s not about the number of actions and the dollars obligated …", but rather, “… it’s about outcomes for the Soldier on the battlefield and for the Army.”There is very little debate that a complex Base Life Support (BLS) or Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract, valued at more than $1 billion, undoubtedly provides a significant capability to a combatant commander across all levels of warfare and warfighting functions. However, if contracting professionals continue to express their value to supported units in the context of dollars and actions, they fail to illuminate the impact of less complex contracts that also greatly enhance a unit’s ability to train, fight, and win at the tactical and operational levels.Training EnvironmentWhen deciding how to effectively communicate the value and impact their support has to their stakeholders, contracting professionals need to consider several things to develop a proper framework for effective communication. One way is to start with an understanding of the “why, what, and how” associated with the requirement.Frankly, contracting professionals are well versed in focusing adequate energies and efforts to understanding the “what” as well as the “how.” But how much effort is dedicated to understanding “why?” Furthermore, are staff and requirements developers prepared to provide the necessary information about why is it necessary to contract for a requirement or capability?Simply put, the stakeholders are singularly focused on the “what.” Having the information necessary to answer “why” is crucial information needed to further the change in contracting professionals’ communications.Equipped with that vital information, the work can commence to develop an effective communication framework to use when interacting with the supported commanders, requiring activities, and their staff. Building an effective communication framework begins with fundamental building blocks that require an understanding of:Levels of warfare (Field Manual 3-0, Operations [FM 3-0])Phases of the operation (FM 3-0)Commander’s key tasks and intentOperational contract support (OCS) (Joint Publication 4-0, Joint Logistics)Warfighting functions (Army Doctrine Publication 3-0, Operations)Doctrine is the language of our profession while the acquisition policies and regulations are a dialect. A focus on the use of doctrinal language should extend past the confines of professional military education.Practical ExampleLet’s use the previously described contract action to help illustrate how to more effectively communicate contracting support in terms that are operationalized. Remember the BLS contract described earlier as valued at more than $1 billion? For illustrative purposes, let’s assume you are preparing a message for the Task Force (TF) commander under a combatant commander. The TF staff described the BLS contract support as being necessary due to the boots on ground (BOG) limitations established by the host nation (the 'why'). Some other background information is necessary before we begin to build the communication framework.Let’s assume that the audience for the discussion is the TF commander and, for the purposes of this illustration, he is most interested in the impacts contracted support have in the strategic level of warfare. Operation X is currently in phase III and one of the commander’s key tasks and intent for the current phase is to deny the enemy safe haven and freedom of movement throughout the joint operations area (JOA). As a contracting professional you are primarily concerned with the BLS contract acquisition timeline.How do you communicate the significance within the OCS framework?Based upon the process described above, a more effective method to describe your organization’s impact to the mission might look like this:Regional Contracting Center (RCC)-Operation X utilizes 15 acquisition professionals to provide administrative oversight of the BLS contract in a country that provides mission-critical contracted support to 10,000 Soldiers across six camps/bases. RCC-Operation X’s administrative oversight provides mission partners with secure and sustainable facilities and infrastructure that enhance their capability to plan and provide mission command across the JOA. RCC-Operation X’s support provides a platform to rapidly marshal and mobilize forces through the use of mission-enhancing services such as maintenance, logistical resupply, and health services in order to deny the enemy safe haven and freedom of movement throughout the JOA. This contracted capability provides the commander with the ability to rapidly scale operations as necessary.Value of Effective CommunicationsChanging the way contracting professionals express their value to the formation is only one aspect of the issue. The other facet of the challenge that requires some attention is the working relationship that contracting professionals have with requiring activities. There is no denying that Army units have a continued reliance on contracted support, on both the battlefield and home stations, to meet their needs. It is critical that contracting professionals work as closely as possible with supported units, from logistics planning to requirements development, to help facilitate this reliance on contracted support. A concerted effort from all stakeholders is necessary to more effectively involve contracting professionals in the acquisition process. Increasing the involvement and touch points across staff functions coupled with an expectation of communication from contracting professionals that is grounded in doctrine will help set the conditions for success.Increasing OpportunitiesCreating opportunities—the environment and situations for contracting professionals that facilitate the use of a more effective framework to communicate their support to the warfighter—is crucial to develop this critical skill set. Increasing contracting professionals’ involvement in warfighter exercises, tabletop exercises, training rotations at combat training centers, and logistics planning can go a long way to develop the cohesion, trust, and communication of maneuver commanders with the contracting community. Relying on contracting professionals to develop the language only when deployed is not an effective training model. We are, however, in luck. The acquisition support that is provided to our mission partners at the camps, bases, posts, and home stations provides us with an environment that is ripe with training opportunities.ConclusionFinally, a simple example on how changing the communication framework that contracting professionals use is the pervasive use of the term “customer” when describing the supported units. The use of the term conjures up images of “take a number and have a seat,” work hours posted on the door, and long lines at customer service sections. This is not the image of a combat-enabler who provides a diversity of enhancements, operational flexibility, and reduces vulnerabilities of the warfighter across all warfighting functions. More appropriate terms that should be used are requiring activity, mission partners, stakeholders, or support unit, for example. Knowing when and when not to use certain terms can go a long way to better convey the value as contracting professionals to the warfighter.To fully articulate the impact that contracting professionals have to the mission and warfighter, it is critical that contracting professionals develop a relatable lexicon to describe their impact; increase opportunities and touch points with supported units that facilitate practice in utilizing these skills for contracting professionals; and adopt a simple change such as no longer using the term “customers” as the catalyst for change.--------------------Lt. Col. Kevin Shilley serves as battalion commander of 902nd Contracting Battalion, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Shilley was commissioned as an Army field artillery officer in May 2001 from Washington State University, and in 2008 he transitioned to the U.S. Army Acquisition Corps. He has recently served as chief of contracting for Regional Contracting Center-Operation Inherent Resolve, Iraq. His acquisition assignments include contract management officer, contracting team lead, contracting battalion operations officer, Program Integrator, Regional Contracting Center (Iraq), and contracting battalion commander. He is certified in Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act, Level III, contracting, and Level I, program management. He holds a Master in Procurement and Acquisitions Management degree from Webster University.-----------------------------This article was published in the April-June 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.RELATED LINKSArmy Sustainment homepageThe Current issue of Army Sustainment in pdf formatCurrent Army Sustainment Online ArticlesConnect with Army Sustainment on LinkedInConnect with Army Sustainment on Facebook