Change Management in Rapidly Changing Business Cycles

One of the toughest jobs I had in the military was the Chief of Current Intelligence Operations at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).  I was responsible for managing all intelligence forces in the CENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR), but specifically I orchestrated deployments tens of thousands of intelligence personnel to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa between 2006-2010.  This was a period of heavy insurgency and piracy activity in the AOR.  President Bush and Congress authorized surge operations in the region to defeat the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Somali Pirate threats, which meant a rapid increase in requirements for intelligence forces throughout the region.  I distinctly remember the initial reaction from leaders on the ground; give us more troops.  However, they did not define the capabilities they needed.  There are of course a finite number of intelligence airmen, marines, sailors, and soldiers in the military and CENTCOM already had the bulk of intelligence resources since 9/11.  Moreover, counter insurgency operations were fluctuating in Iraq and Afghanistan, which meant commanders on the ground in Operations Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), as well as Navy commanders in Operation Ocean Shield (Somalia) were arguing for the same resources.  The challenge was to find practical means to source requirements during a period of immense and rapid expansion, with competing internal requirements.

Perhaps the most practical solutions we devised was to use unit sourcing to fill requirements.  Instead of trying to provide a scores of individual teams, we could provide a battalion or brigade size unit to satisfy the commanders’ needs.  Even though an intelligence battalion is much larger, it was a win-win-win solution because ground commanders had a unit they could command and control, the battalion/brigade commanders could much easier prepare their units for deployment, and the force providers could write orders for whole units, instead of trying to fill hundreds of four of five soldier teams.

In times of rapid expansion, business leaders are faced with similar dilemmas.  They face tough decisions about where to expand their business operations while trying to balance internal competing opportunities.  One solution may be to outsource a requirement to another company that already has the full capability to get the job done. This is very similar to our methodology at CENTCOM of trying to find a unit sourcing solution.  There are several advantages to this approach, such as rapidly standing up a new capability, reducing the internal disruption, and having the ability to set limits on the time commitment to a new project.  However, the cost may of course be higher.

Another big dilemma in change management during rapidly changing business cycles is balancing competing requirements.  We all want to hire strong leaders who have a desire to succeed.  When business owners have competing, passionate leaders, who believe their own project is the key to success for the company, it is very difficult to choose one course of action over another, especially when emotions run high, which invariably they will.  This may seem counterintuitive, but while we were trying to satisfy competing requirements a CENTCOM we resisted the strong push to set priorities between the competing commands in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We did not do this for two reasons.  First, we knew if we set priorities the force providers would not source all our requirements and may only provide troops for 70-80% of our needs.  Second and more importantly, if we set priorities for one command over another, we would lose the neutral, decision-making authority to evaluate requirements.  Leadership in business is usually all about setting priorities, but sometimes you must enable the competing parties fight it out and let the team that makes the best argument win the case.  In these situations, the role of business leaders must be to ensure a level playing field.

At Ascension, we can be your trusted, independent advisors to help you make tough change management decisions.  We can help set up the ground rules to have a fair and impartial decision-making process.

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