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The Army Out of Balance

To restore balance and enhance readiness, the Army must consider its institutional culture while developing a strategy to align its four key imperatives.

The Army continues to face challenges in its ability to sustain an all-volunteer force and remain the world’s premier land-based fighting force. In its 10th year at war, the Army must be versatile enough to adapt to operate in a world of persistent conflict that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. It is working to meet this challenge by building a versatile and agile campaign-capable expeditionary Army.1 However, the cumulative effect of fighting two wars has put the Army out of balance.

The Army is out of balance because the logistics demand on our forces continues to exceed the sustainable supply. Senior Army leaders understand the magnitude of this challenge and have crafted a vision and strategy to meet current and emerging challenges. This strategy is articulated in each Army posture statement since 2008 and is grounded in four key imperatives: sustain, prepare, reset, and transform. (See sidebar below.)

The Army’s Four Imperatives

Sustain. To sustain the all-volunteer force, the focus is on recruitment and retention; care of Soldiers, families, and civilians; care for wounded warriors; and support for the families of fallen Soldiers.

Prepare. To prepare our force, the focus is on readying Soldiers, units, and equipment to succeed in the current conflicts; adapting institutional, collective, and individual training to enable Soldiers to succeed in combat and prevail against adaptive and intelligent adversaries; ensuring Soldiers have the best available equipment both to protect themselves and to maintain a technological advantage over our adversaries; and continuing to focus on growing the Army, training, equipping, and better supporting the Army Force Generation process.

Reset. To prepare Soldiers, families, and units for future deployments and contingencies, the Army must reset the force to rebuild the readiness that has been consumed in operations. To reset our force, we are revitalizing Soldiers and families; repairing, replacing, and recapitalizing equipment; and retraining Soldiers.

Transform. To provide the combatant commanders dominant, strategically responsive forces capable of meeting diverse challenges across the entire spectrum of 21st century conflict, the Army must transform the force. Transforming includes adopting modular organizations, accelerating the delivery of advanced technologies, operationalizing the Reserve component, restationing forces, and transforming leader development.
(Source: 2009 Army Posture Statement)

The purpose of this article is not to debate the merits of this strategy but to highlight the need to integrate the four imperatives into a holistic and synergistic framework for restoring and sustaining balance.

The Chief of Staff of the Army, General George W. Casey, Jr., testified before a Senate subcommittee in February 2008 on the efforts required to transform the Army. In his remarks, General Casey noted, “Our Soldiers, our families, our support systems, and our equipment are stressed by the demands of these repeated deployments. . . We’re consuming our readiness as fast as we can build it.”2

The strategy to restore balance and enhance the Army’s readiness must consider the institutional culture that currently exists in the Army. The change literature is clear: Any strategic plan or change initiative is unlikely to be successful—that is, implemented and sustained—unless an appropriate organizational culture is in place to support the plan. If the Army is to succeed in restoring balance, senior Army leaders must clearly understand and effectively manage the cultural aspects of any transformation effort.

A review of the Army posture statements for 2005 to 2011 reveals a decline in the emphasis on institutional culture. In the 2005 and 2006 Army Posture Statements, the word “culture” is mentioned eight times each. In each case, the culture centers on the organization as an institutional culture. For example, the 2005 document says, “Like any large, complex organization committed to achieving transformational change, our efforts to change our culture will prove to be our true measure of success.”

In subsequent posture statements, we see a marked decline in emphasis on institutional culture. In the 2007 statement, the word “culture” appears five times; however, three of those instances do not relate to organizational culture. Most disturbing is the fact that neither the 2009 nor the 2010 posture statements mention organizational culture. Those statements include an addendum on Army culture that focuses more on cultural and individual awareness of our adversaries than the role institutional culture plays in executing any kind of transformation.

Why is this significant? If the Army truly hopes to achieve balance by 2012, it must not overlook the critical role institutional culture plays in this process.

What Is Institutional Culture?

Institutional culture is “a complex set of shared beliefs, guiding values, behavioral norms, and basic assumptions acquired over time that shape our thinking and behavior; they are part of the social fabric of the organization—its genetic code. As such, institutional culture drives the organization and guides the behavior of everyone in that organization—how they think, feel, and act. In other words, the culture forms a behavior template.”4 Tom Davis and Michael J. Landa succinctly capture the essence of culture in the following excerpt from their article:

The factors which define culture are in part internal, deriving from the unique character of the organization and, in part external, determined by the background and experiences managers and employees bring to the enterprise. Culture is a major determinant of productivity; it shapes organizational responses to external pressures; and suppresses or enhances the cooperative effort level of the workforce. Culture has a significant bottom-line effect on organizational effectiveness, profitability, and shareholder value.5

Culture shapes how the Army “views the environment and adapts to meet current and future challenges.”6 Whenever there is an incongruity between the current culture and the goals of a change initiative, the culture always wins.7 For this reason, many change initiatives are ultimately unsuccessful because they lack sufficient cultural support to get people to embrace and implement the change.

Culture and Army Imperatives

The Army institutional culture should be the linchpin that holds the four imperatives together. Culture is the key to the Army’s strategy to achieve and sustain balance. Fundamentally, change is all about organizations and people doing things in new ways with regard to behaviors, organization, and processes. “When large, complex organizations pursue genuine transformational change, a true measure of their success is the ability of leaders to properly focus (and to reorient if needed) people’s attitudes, actions and beliefs—which guide behavior and establish the true operating culture of the organization.”8

The center of gravity for restoring balance resides in the Army institutional culture. The Army needs to place institutional culture back into the restoring balance equation. By paying careful attention to the Army’s values, beliefs, and behavior, we can create the necessary environment that supports achievement of the four imperatives to restore and sustain balance.

The Army is faced with a constantly changing global security landscape. Consequently, cultures that fit old needs must give way to cultures that fit the dynamics of current conflicts. The challenge perpetually facing the Army is not in defining or shaping its current culture but in constantly adapting its culture to the new realities of the 21st century. David Ulrich provides this useful metaphor to illuminate that important point:

Just as people’s closets and attics may be stuffed with mementos of sentimental value, organizations may preserve old cultures that feel cozy but become burdensome by failing to respond to change. Closets must be cleaned; attics must be seen to hold remnants of the past; and organizations must learn to let go of old cultures when new ones become necessary.9

Clearly, a wide variety of people and cultural issues play a huge role in any change effort or transformation. Culture can “not only stop a change effort dead in its tracks, it can also propel it to great heights. Wisdom during organizational transformation is understanding the power of culture and how to get it to work for you instead of against you.”10

How do you get thousands of Soldiers and civilian employees suddenly to change their most basic assumptions about the Army? After all, the beliefs and attitudes that make up a culture filter into everything we do. And so, this is the challenge for Army leaders: Do not lose sight of the important role of culture in the transformation paradigm, and continue to shape and nurture an Army culture that is congruent with the realities of the changing environment. John P. Kotter emphasizes the importance of culture in change initiatives in this passage:

Change sticks only when it becomes “the way we do things around here,” when it seeps into the very bloodstream of the work unit or corporate body. Until new behaviors are rooted in social norms and shared values, they are always subject to degradation as soon as the pressures associated with a change effort are removed.11

Research provides further evidence that culture is a key factor in an organization’s success and a
significant limiting factor in managing change. Transformation leaders recognize that “significant strategic or structural realignment cannot occur if it is not supported by the organization’s values and behavioral norms.”12

This view is further supported by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who suggests that managing change in an organization requires that people find their stability and security in the culture and direction of the organization.13 Therefore, understanding, analyzing, and effectively managing all aspects of the institution’s culture is paramount in supporting any change initiative.

Restoring Balance and Institutional Culture

In order to restore and sustain balance, the four imperatives and the institutional culture must be in alignment. This alignment is conveyed with arrows in the chart at right. All of the “arrows” should be pointing in the same direction—that is, aligned with one another.

Many organizational transformation efforts often fail to meet planned expectations. This may occur if the culture and any of the four imperatives are not fully aligned and interdependent. Any kind of misalignment can put the effort to rebalance the Army in jeopardy of not achieving the desired outcome. For example, if the strategy for one imperative suffers because of resource constraints, the Army’s plans for the remaining imperatives will be affected and so may the overall strategy to rebalance the Army.

Moreover, if the Army’s behavioral norms remain unchanged, the misalignment itself is enough to lead to difficulties in successfully executing the change. These kinds of misalignments put a change effort in danger of not achieving the desired outcome. What is required is alignment—getting all the arrows to all point in the same direction in order to achieve the ultimate goal of restoring balance.

The four imperatives and Army culture are integral components of any transformation process. Culture, although difficult to measure precisely, is a real and very powerful force in how the Army achieves balance. To this end, the need to reposition culture in the overall Army strategy is underscored. There is a direct and powerful link between the way people think and behave (how personnel work together) and the Army’s overall performance. Future posture statements and action plans need to place renewed emphasis on institutional culture as an important element in the Army’s paradigm for transformation so that we are better positioned to execute our strategy and goals in this important area.

Dr. Romuald A. Stone is a faculty member at the Army Management Staff College. He has a bachelor of business administration degree from California State University, Fullerton, a master of business administration degree from the University of West Florida, and a doctor of business administration degree from Nova Southeastern University. He is a coauthor of the book Managing Organizational Change.

1. George W. Casey, “Opening Remarks Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense,” 27 February 2008, <http://www.army.mil/-speeches/2008/02/27/7825-opening-remarks-senate-appropriations-subcommittee-on-defense/>, accessed on 28 September 2009.

2. Ibid.

3. Francis J. Harvey and Peter J. Schoomaker, “A Statement on the Posture of the United States Army 2005,” Office of the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C., 6 February 2005, p. 3.

4. Romuald A. Stone and Joyce Mason Davis, “Change Management: Implementation, Integration, and Maintenance of the HRIS,” in Michael J. Kavanagh and Mohan Thite, Human Resource Information Systems: Basics, Applications, and Future Directions, SAGE Publications Inc., Thousand Oaks, California, 2009, p.219.

5. Tom Davis and Michael J. Landa, “The Story of Mary: How ‘Organizational Culture’ Can Erode Bottom-Line Profitability,” The Canadian Manager, Vol. 25, No. 4, Winter 2000, p. 14.

6. Michael B. Siegel, “Military culture and transformation,” Joint Forces Quarterly, Issue 49, 2d Quarter 2008, p. 103.

7. Daryl R. Conner, Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1998, p. 207.

8. Mark D. Rocke and David P. Fitchitt, “Establishing Strategic Vectors: Charting a Path for Army Transformation,” The Institute of Land Warfare, Association of the U.S. Army, April 2007, <http://www3.ausa.org/pdfdocs/special/may07.pdf>, accessed on 28 September 2009.

9. Dave Ulrich, Human Resource Champions, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1996, pp. 177–178.

10. Larry E. Senn and John R. Childress, “Why Change Initiatives Fail: It’s the Culture Dummy!” Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, Inc., London, p. 1.

11. John P. Kotter, Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1996, p. 14.

12. J. Kerr and J.W. Slocum, Jr., “Managing Corporate Culture Through Reward Systems,” Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 19, No. 4, November 2005, p. 130.

13. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, The Change Masters: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the American Corporation, Simon & Shuster, New York, 1983, p. 123.

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