Printer Friendly

The transformation of the Department of Defense senior executive corps: top priority: strengthening the Senior Executive Corps through deliberate, institutional management and educational development.

"Just as we must transform America's military capability to meet changing threats, we must transform the way the Department works and what it works on. And that means we must consider another transformation: the revolution of management, technology, and business practices...."

--Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense September 10, 2001

The world is constantly changing and we must be prepared to meet the challenges presented by those changes. With the emergence of the United States as the only superpower in the world, President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld called for and initiated a transformation of the Department of Defense (DoD) to meet the current and future demands of our national defense. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, were a pivotal event for our nation, and they imposed a powerful sense of urgency, propelling the Department toward continued operational transformation.

In April 2003, the Department issued its Transformation Planning Guidance, which more clearly defined the transformation. This guidance states that transformation is "the process that shapes the changing nature of military competition and cooperation through new combinations of concepts, capabilities, people, and organizations that exploit our nation's advantages and protect our asymmetric vulnerabilities to sustain our strategic position, which helps underpin peace and stability in the world."

For the warfighter, transformation focuses on moving the armed services into a more agile, efficient, and expeditionary force that is able to effectively meet future asymmetric challenges. Civilian transformation efforts emphasize the creation of a high-performing organization that supports the warfighter and the Department's myriad missions. The continuum of transformation that leads to these end results is a set of new strategic priorities reflecting the state of constant change, emerging threats, and unexpected disasters.

Although the Department has accomplished much since 9/11 and the 2003 issuance of the Transformation Planning Guidance, there are still many challenges before us. As we operate in an uncertain global environment with a wartime sense of urgency, emerging threats and irregular, catastrophic, and disruptive challenges confront our workforce. This working environment mandates that our workforce develop tailored solutions, integrated approaches, and the skills to build partnerships and influence positions to achieve success.

Today's challenges demand that we have strong and creative senior leaders who understand the intricacies of national security. The leadership team includes our political leaders, our general and flag officers, and members of our Senior Executive Service (SES). These leaders must possess certain characteristics to be successful in spearheading the Department's transformation. These characteristics define the right people for the right jobs, how they must perform, the foundation and perspectives that they must bring to their work, and the results that they must achieve to meet our overall mission. While the characteristics that emerge apply equally to all these categories, we must begin more aggressively and institutionally to develop the members of DoD's SES corps to ensure that they possess the desired attributes needed to lead the ongoing change.

The military community has a long history of providing deliberate growth and development opportunities with set career paths that lead to promotion. The Goldwater-Nichols Act has facilitated institutionalized management of military officers to ensure that they acquire joint knowledge and experience outside the "silo" of their parent service before becoming eligible for promotion to senior positions. Our political leaders come with preset goals and perspectives supporting a broad national agenda. In general, by the nature of the system and their positions, military and political leaders develop a broad enterprise perspective of the Department that enables them to make informed decisions. Within the SES, however, the Department has not provided a consistent, deliberate education program or a job assignment structure that enables candidates for--or members of--the SES to obtain such a perspective.

It is now imperative that we embrace a model that encourages and rewards individuals who gain wider and deeper experience by moving outside of their silos to achieve new competencies and broader understanding of the DoD and other agencies that contribute to the broader national security mission. The Department's transformation necessitates the development of leaders who are creative, innovative, and adaptive and who possess a wide range of competencies with broad organizational perspectives to meet and overcome the challenges presented in this era of uncertainty. To that end, the Department is in the midst of changing its approach for managing and cultivating members of its SES corps.

Original Intent of SES Has Not Been Met

Before undertaking this change, we reviewed the intent of the federal SES program. The original intent was to employ a cadre of senior executives with strong leadership and managerial abilities who were willing to take on assignments anywhere they would be most effective in leading the accomplishment of agency missions. For many reasons, however, this objective has not been fully realized. As a whole, the federal government has not encouraged its SES members to move outside of their own organization, agency, or function to gain a greater, enterprise-wide perspective. This lack of encouragement has made it difficult to subordinate, when appropriate, the "good of the organization" for the "good of the enterprise."

Experience has shown us that a large number of our executives were selected into the SES primarily because of their technical expertise or knowledge, not because they were particularly adept as leaders or managers of people. Although technical expertise and specialization have served us well in the past, the lack of movement across organizations and functions limits an individual's ability to think more broadly beyond one's own silo. Generally, the characteristics of managing ambiguity, embracing change, and adapting quickly to new environments have not been required of our senior executives. These characteristics, however, are essential in today's environment.

To meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, the Department needs executives who are multifaceted--both functionally and organizationally. While technical expertise is still important, leadership aptitude and all of its subcomponent capabilities are paramount. Federal agencies must do a better job of creating a more deliberate approach for selecting and developing SES members, including their development as key resources for their organizations.

Strengthening the SES Corps

To meet this challenge, the Department is refocusing its efforts to strengthen the SES corps through deliberate, institutional management and educational development. We are emphasizing the total-force concept of the SES through career-enhancing opportunities. We are in the midst of developing a process to ensure that an SES cadre of individuals is available to fill key DoD positions that require a joint, enterprise-wide perspective achieved through deliberate and systemic development and preparation.

The concept of "jointness" [interservice teamwork] is highlighted in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The QDR is the Department's strategic plan and builds upon the Secretary of Defense's 2001 strategy of transforming the way the Department works. It emphasizes the importance of adaptability to different operating environments, developing new skills, and rebalancing capabilities and human resources so that the Department remains prepared to meet the challenges of an uncertain future. The QDR highlights the greater need for coordination across all of the DoD components (that is, the military services, Joint Chiefs of Staff, unified commands, Defense agencies, and DoD field activities), expands the definition of "joint matters" and types of organizational partnerships, and describes a different workforce--a workforce that is a coordinated constellation of capabilities that follow the principles outlined in the National Military Strategy: decisiveness, integration, and agility. It requires that the leaders of the future force be developed through a well-orchestrated sequence of competency-based, joint service, and functional education, training, and experience.

The QDR acknowledges that a key measure of success is the extent to which the Department's senior leadership is able to accomplish the following:

* Identify the key outputs they expect from the DoD components and determine the appropriate near-, mid-, and long-term strategies for achieving them

* Establish an organizational culture that fosters innovation and excellence by shaping the Department's major investments in people, equipment, concepts, and organizations to support the nation's objectives

* Implement agile and well-aligned governance, management, and work processes

* Monitor performance to ensure strategic alignment and make adjustments to strategic direction based on performance

* Employ forces in ways that meet the President's strategic objectives

The QDR also calls for a DoD human capital strategy that outlines broad strategic guidance for developing human capital and ensuring that DoD employs "the right mix of people and skills across the total force." It is the Department's vision that it will identify employees by their competencies and capabilities rather than by limited fixed and static job descriptions. Competencies are defined as sets of integrated behaviors and underlying knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics that define superior job performance. Such competencies enable an individual to think more broadly about what is required to achieve the mission. By matching the competencies of the current DoD senior executives with those that are needed to accomplish evolving organizational missions, the Department will be able to synergize its ability to meet challenges and perform the overall mission. This process also allows leaders to identify skills gaps quickly and plan strategically to address those gaps in a targeted and deliberate way.

A DoD working group comprising SES members has begun to identify the guiding principles to be used in developing the framework to strengthen the SES corps. The principles advanced include active DoD corporate-level or enterprise-wide leadership involvement in filling key leadership positions, deliberate and directed development of core DoD competencies, establishment of a hierarchy of key leadership positions, and institutional management of SES positions.

The working group has also recommended planned and deliberate professional development that includes assignments beyond the traditional career paths. This development must begin early in one's career. It is intended that job assignments providing a broad perspective across the many agencies that support the National Military Strategy will make candidates more competitive for selection into the SES. These experiences can be gained by rotations to other DoD components or to other agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security or by serving on joint task forces.

We envision an SES corps of individuals who possess an enterprise-wide perspective, are prepared to lead in a joint environment, and have strong leadership and management skills. We are striving for an SES cadre that is mobile and ready to assume leadership responsibilities where needed; has substantive knowledge of the National Security Strategy; and possesses a shared understanding, trust, and sense of mission with senior military leaders.

To develop broader senior executive leadership capabilities around competencies, the Department is considering cross-functional development with lateral movement across career fields, as well as national security education, training, mentoring, coaching, expanded intergovernmental exchanges, executive fellowships, and other opportunities that build a relevant portfolio of career experiences. Continuous learning and professional development are essential imperatives in maintaining a state of constant readiness and in building a cadre of senior leaders able to meet current and future DoD requirements.

Because these expanded experiences and education must start early in one's career, it is imperative that functional community managers reframe their thinking about the professional development of career program participants. It is time to reexamine the basic philosophies regarding how we grow our future leaders within these career programs. Our structured career programs certainly offer the platform from which we can offer, early in one's career, deliberate experiences that provide DoD-wide and interagency perspectives by facilitating reassignments beyond one's current organization and function.

NSPS--The Impetus and Framework for SES Reform

The impetus and framework for transforming the Department's civilian workforce and efforts to strengthen the SES is the National Security Personnel System (NSPS). The NSPS is a management system that compensates and rewards employees based on performance and contributions to the mission. The NSPS enables the Department to move employees freely across a range of work opportunities without being bound by narrowly defined jobs. Said another way, it allows employees to move more easily from position to position for growth and development and across functional areas.

The NSPS emphasizes three main concepts: accountability, flexibility, and results. It strengthens the Department's ability to accomplish its mission in an ever-changing national security environment. We see the NSPS as essential to the Department's efforts to create an environment in which the total force (that is, uniformed personnel and civilian employees) thinks and operates as one cohesive unit, with leaders at the top who have enterprise-wide experience that allows them to make sound decisions from a platform of experiences.

The NSPS transformation of the DoD civilian workforce is being conducted incrementally in groupings referred to as spirals. The first group to spiral--some 11,000 employees--did so at the end of April 2006. More about future spirals and other information regarding the NSPS transformation may be found on the NSPS Web site: http.//www.

Using tools such as NSPS and following the guiding principles for the SES identified in the preceding sections, the Department expects to begin the revitalization of the SES corps over the coming months. This revitalization is critical to the success of military transformation and will contribute in a major way to the Department's ability to accomplish effectively the challenging national security missions of the twenty-first century.

Guiding Principles

for Strengthening the Senior Executive Service Corps

* Develop core competencies

* Establish a hierarchy of key positions

* Involve Department of Defense corporate-level leadership in filling key positions

* Institutionally manage SES positions

Did You Know ...


Percentage of Defense civilian financial managers (GS-500 series) who were below age 30 as of end FY05 *

36 years

Median age of accessions joining the Defense civilian financial management workforce


Number of Defense civilian financial managers who were age 55 or older (25% of total workforce)


Number of Defense civilian financial managers 55 or older who are GS-13 to GS-15 (20% of the age group compared to 30% in other non-Defense agencies)


Separation rate for Defense civilian financial managers age 55 or older


Portion of workforce remaining after five years, assuming annual loss rate of 16%

* {all information in this block based on data for FY05 from Office of Personnel Management}

Patricia S. Bradshaw is the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Civilian Personnel Policy).
COPYRIGHT 2006 American Society of Military Comptrollers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Bradshaw, Patricia S.
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Previous Article:Army civilians as leaders: we've come a long way from the drivers, craftsmen, and laborers of the Revolutionary War--but where are we now, and where...
Next Article:Managing a contract workforce in the financial management workplace.

Related Articles
U.S. services studying future power needs.
American forces press service (Feb. 7, 2005): budget emphasizes present, future warfighting capabilities.
Lead, follow, or get out of the way: the Marine Corps is way ahead in its goal to achieve financial improvement and compliance with the Chief...
Training for law enforcement managers: what does professional military education offer?
Army civilians as leaders: we've come a long way from the drivers, craftsmen, and laborers of the Revolutionary War--but where are we now, and where...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |