Coffee with the commander takes people-first approach

By Eric KowalSeptember 7, 2023

(from left) - Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Franks, Picatinny Arsenal garrison command sergeant major, speak with new-hires during a "coffee with the commander" session, Sep. 6.
(from left) - Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Franks, Picatinny Arsenal garrison command sergeant major, speak with new-hires during a "coffee with the commander" session, Sep. 6. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Eric Kowal) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENSAL, N.J. - “Our orientation and onboarding process is broken, and we know that,” said Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander, as he met with a small group of recently hired employees during an open-ended early morning discussion aptly called “Coffee with the commander.”

Knowing that first impressions are lasting impressions, Burgos acknowledged that several areas to improve upon include getting employees quicker access to computers and workstations, and communicating installation activities and events, need to be addressed in order to keep employees engaged and feel a sense of self-worth.

The dialogue allowed for the employees to meet with and get to better know Burgos and his command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Franks, as well as acting deputy garrison commander, Fortunato Rubio Jr.

The meeting was designed to get candid feedback from the new employees without fear of reprisal, along with letting them know that the command maintains an open-door policy. Such gatherings also allow garrison leaders to gauge any areas of concern or in need of improvement during the new hire onboarding process.

“I am only in command for two years, so the only things I can impact are the culture and the climate of the organization,” the 19-year U.S. Army veteran said during the roundtable conversation.

Burgos was forthright with the new hires who will be working in various directorates within the garrison because he wanted them to know that any concerns they may have will not fall upon deaf ears, while assuring them that measures are being taken to address any imperfections or speedbumps along the way.

The command team took notes of action items they can immediately address, but also encouraged employees to familiarize themselves with policies and procedures, and to meet with and know who their Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), and Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program officers are.

The garrison command sergeant major said that leaders must know their subordinates, and vice versa, or there is potential for unit readiness to be negatively impacted. When a unit is compromised because of distractions, it infringes upon the mission.

“I would charge each of you to hold people accountable,” Franks said to the employees, who could be the future garrison leaders. “Just because someone may be a superior does not mean they should not be held accountable.”

Last year Burgos signed a proclamation, reaffirming the garrison’s commitment to the U.S. Army Installation Management Command ’s Service Culture Campaign (SCC), which guides a wide range of operations.

“The Service Culture Campaign is not just a program – it is a people first approach,” said Burgos. “The campaign constitutes an investment in our most valuable resource, people. People are the Army Chief of Staff’s number one priority, and the SCC will be used to operationalize that priority.”

Coffee with the commander is one facet in that campaign and an initiative of the Communications component which aims to improve relations and help make new employees comfortable and address any concerns they may have in the workplace.

In 2019, the U.S. Army rolled out its first “Army People Strategy.” By prioritizing people first, the Army is signaling that investing resources in people initiatives is the most effective way to accomplish its constant mission – to deploy, fight, and win our nation’s wars by providing ready, prompt, and sustained land dominance by Army forces across the full spectrum of conflict as part of the Joint Force.

The people-first approach refers to business leaders caring for their team members first and foremost. While the model may have initiated in a corporate setting, it easily translates to the government/military sectors as well.

Coffee with the commander is currently scheduled as a monthly activity is expected to become a reoccurring event, designed to foster clear communication within the garrison while strengthening relationships between employees, directors, and key leaders.