US Army targets leaders in recruitment push

The US Army, getting a little bottom-heavy, is recruiting officers;

The goals are to attract ambitious young Americans who might normally consider the Army beneath their career objectives and give the Army a jolt of much-needed creative leadership.

“It’s a tough environment out there,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, head of the Army Accessions Command, which oversees recruiting. “It’s no longer where the enemy lines up on one side of the field and the coalition lines up on the other side and the referee blows the whistle. It’s a very complicated battlefield to figure out, and there are no referees.

“It is a different era, and it requires a different kind of thinker,” he said.

This raises some interesting questions:

  1. Can the army offer compensation competitive with that of the big companies and consulting firms?
  2. Will there be clear career paths for these new leaders?
  3. What will the rank and file think about the new kids coming in over them?
  4. Will the rank and file respect leaders who have not been “in the trenches”?
  5. What does the army expect these leaders to change, and how ready is the organization for change?

Of course, this initiative could not come at a better time.  With unemployment approaching 10% and salaries contracting, the first job can be hard to get (by the way, shameless plug:  my book Seven Simple Steps to Finding Your First Job will be out later this year.  I assume it also comes at a good time.), and the army can guarantee employment immediately.  It’s an employer’s market.

Longtime readers will already know that I see three problems recurring in organizations:  groupthink, the Abilene Paradox, and unintended consequences.  There are other recurrent problems, of course, but the big three tend to happen a lot–to the degree that they invariably come up in committee reports and disaster postmortems.

The opportunity for the new leaders will be to address these dynamics to such a degree that the overhead of repeating unhealthy patterns diminishes, freeing the service up to perform its mission.  The reality is that the culture–remember, the values and norms of an organization–is a very strong one in the military, and the above questions point to a likelihood of resistance from above and below.  That’s a massive change challenge, one that most university programs leave graduates ill-prepared to address.  Without the benefit of understanding how change happens or experience in driving change, the new leaders are going to have an uphill climb.  Some will make it; others won’t.

I’m cautiously optimistic about the effort.  Despite the challenges, it is probably better to do something like this than to do nothing.  That said, there’s a real opportunity here to get this right, but it’s going to require conscious, consistent effort on the part of the very top leadership.  Of course, the service has one big cultural attribute in its favor:  these people don’t like to lose.

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2 responses to “US Army targets leaders in recruitment push

  1. Agree that this is a good start. Senior Army leadership is very concerned that with asymmetric warfare becoming the norm rather than the exception, it requires a different skillset than what they have trained for in the past and present. Of course, I also agree that a massive culture change is required and will take much longer than predicted to effect.

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