Leadership: Problem Solved

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February 9, 2012:  The U.S. Army is facing another RIF (Reduction In Force). This is what the military calls a layoff and the troops are not looking forward to the process. It's not just the risk of losing your job but the changes that take place in the army culture during a RIF. Already, senior army officials are talking openly about putting more emphasis on marching and similar drills, as well as greater attention to wearing uniforms correctly and saluting every time you are supposed to. More effort will be directed at improving appearances. On the positive side there will be growing emphasis on being physically fit, with an increase in people discharged for being too fat or unable to pass the physical fitness test.

But overall, emphasis will shift from being combat ready to appearing (especially to politicians and the media) combat ready. The troops call this "mickey mouse" (or a lot of less printable phrases). The troops don't like it but the senior officers and NCOs do. This time around the brass promised to change promotion standards to see that more pro-mickey mouse officers and NCOs get promoted. This means going to the right service schools and getting the right assignments. It's the old "getting your ticket punched" mentality again. It has long proved impossible to recruit lower ranking troops who are pro-mickey mouse but lower ranking troops tend to leave after one enlistment, so it really doesn't matter what they think.

Getting fired outright during a RIF is not a major threat, if only because it's bad for morale. By offering early retirements, buyouts, and increased retention (being able to renew your contract) standards the army plans to avoid just summarily firing people.

The most important opportunity during a RIF is keeping your best people, while getting rid of less capable troops. This is especially important with your career officers and NCOs. But it's bad for morale when you start cutting people loose before they have put in their twenty years (and qualified for a pension). That's where the buyout (partial payment for the lost pension benefit) comes in. The biggest problem is deciding who is worthy of staying. This has always been a tricky process, and past efforts have tended to come up short. This time around the personnel bureaucrats think they can do a better job. Time will tell.

All this effort to keep the best and can the rest is nothing new. It was noted as far back as World War II, when detailed records of troop performance were first compiled and analyzed, that some troops were worth making an effort to keep. But there were problems. A disproportionate number of troops that excelled in combat also had disciplinary problems when off the battlefield. The conventional wisdom was that someone with a "taste for combat" also lacked respect for authority. Research since World War II has shown that risk-taking behavior is the basis of brave acts, as well as criminal ones, drug use, and addiction to things like gambling and dangerous sports. The "best people" for combat are not best suited for peacetime military service. Thus it is likely that the most capable combat troops and leaders will get RIFed, while their more tractable, if less combat worthy, comrades will be encouraged to stay. That policy gets more people killed the next time there is a war but the new American policy is to more energetically avoid war. Problem solved.

 


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