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Challenging conventional wisdom with creative messages

  • Published
  • By Col. Thomas Walter
  • 315th Maintenance Group commander
There are numerous business books on the market intended to help guide improvement activities for organizations. One book I particularly like is titled “If it Ain’t Broke. Break It!: And Other Unconventional Wisdom for a Changing Business World” by Robert J. Kriegel and Louis Palter.

Now don’t jump to the conclusion that it means break up the organization and then rebuild it. It is more in line with “seeking a new way to think.” We must be creative in how we communicate to make certain the messages we are sending are understood by everyone receiving them; or risk losing the connection with our most important asset, our people. The old way of responding by choosing a larger hammer simply doesn’t work any longer.

In the Air Force Reserve, units, and specifically those assigned as classic associated units, are designed to provide long-term continuity for our active duty counterparts. By design, we (the reservist) are the long-term Airmen working alongside our short term Air Force counterparts. Also as a result of this design, we end up doing administrative type things a particular way, because it has always been done this way.

Our more-senior Airmen are being asked to learn entirely new and different ways of thinking, behaving, communicating, and motivating all while doing the one thing we find the most difficult…change. When is the best time to change? Is it when things are going well and you’re riding high, or is it when your organization is at its lowest? It’s certainly easier to make changes when things are going poorly because it is obvious that change is necessary. But what about when things are going well? That is where my fondness for “if it ain’t broke, break it” comes from.

Because an organization has been so good for so long, doing things a particular way, really has little to do with the way things are done, but rather more to do with who is doing it. Take that really solid performer out of the equation and, does the organization still perform to the same level? How do you know if your processes are what gets you there or is it really the people? We can spend days, months, and years evaluating why an organization is high performing (admiring the problem), or we can simply make a few tweaks to an organization (organizational turnover) and test its resiliency through the adversity that follows. No two leaders are exactly the same, and while the Reserve is designed for long term stability at a single location, I still believe that if it ain’t broke, break it! Just a little…