Monday, June 29, 2020

Want Better Communication Coming From Our Navy? There are Solutions.

One of my great frustrations I've shared with readers here and over at Midrats is the decade-long+ retreat from the public conversation by our Navy. 

I'm not sure where it started, but it was in the last few years of the previous decade where we saw less engagement and unscripted conversations with our Sailors, the public, press, and even Congress. 

It isn't just that the military of a free republic should communicate more and be more accountable to the people, it is we need to be in the marketplace of ideas. Most citizens do not appreciate the fact we are a maritime nation and what that means. It's not their fault on balance, our educational system has been off the rails for at least two generations. Most people are mal-educated on both their nation's history and its geography.

Our Navy has a great story to tell about it's critical role in maintaining a national and global order that enables its citizens to enjoy a standard of living unknown in human history. In order to maintain that security, the citizens need to let their elected representatives know they need to make it a priority. They won't do that if they don't know what their Navy actually does.

Our senior leaders have abandoned the conversation. Is being out there unscripted risky? Sure. Is it hard? Sure. Can everyone do it well? No ... but it can be taught or those who are good at it put to the front. Anything of value has some risk, but the risks are small and the gains are essential.

Instead of engaging, we largely retreated from the public conversation and with few exceptions, been satisfied with boilerplate talking points and reactionary damage control when things go south.

How can we expect our nation to support something it does not understand or respect something it only sees while protecting itself?

It doesn't have to be this way.

A lot of people see this problem and have solutions. One of them is our friend Bryan McGrath. Bryan had an opportunity to put a solution on the tee; all Navy had to do was give a swing at it, but the fates had other ideas.

I'll let Bryan give you the details in his guest post below.

Bryan; over to you.

I have watched for a number of years the Navy act as a poor strategic communicator. Part of it is bandwidth for senior leaders, part of it is familiarity with messaging and strategy, part of it is a fear of higher headquarters, and part of it is institutional laziness. The past three years have brought the Navy’s strategic communication deficits into sharp relief, although they were there before the destroyer collisions of 2017. In early 2019, I suggested to a senior Navy official the creation of the following position, and he asked me to write him a memo about it. I still think it is a good idea. I did not arrive at this idea because of the recent spate of bad press the Navy has had. I have written and spoken on the need for effective strategic communication from the Navy for years.

Director, OPNAV Office of Strategic Alignment

The Director, OPNAV Office of Strategic Alignment (DIROSA), is an Executive Schedule, Highly Qualified Expert (HQE) who reports to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).

DIROSA is the CNO’s primary assistant for the alignment of strategic communications and messaging. DIROSA will:

-- Monitor, coordinate, and align the activities of the OPNAV Staff, SYSCOMS, CHINFO, OLA, FMB, the Fleets to ensure message discipline, commonality, and coherence.

-- Devise, promote, and aid in the transmission of communications products to inform the American public and its representatives as to the role of seapower in U.S. national security.

-- Coordinate and engage with Navy Secretariat, Joint Staff, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to ensure CNO and Navy strategic communications are aligned with leadership.

-- Coordinate and engage with cognizant U.S. Marine Corps organizations to promote Integrated American Naval Power narratives, message alignment and integration.

-- Devise and institute processes to promote strategic communications alignment in the Navy, to include closer linkages among programmatics, fleet operations and exercises, and research and development.

-- Assist CNO and CHINFO with crisis response themes and activities.

-- Assist CNO and OLA with Hill strategies targeted to Navy objectives.

The points above are the kinds of things that could eventually find their way into a formal position description. Here is a more informal description of what DIROSA does:

Currently, all the strategic communications alignment in the Navy happens in the mind of the CNO, where it competes with myriad other responsibilities. DIROSA takes custody of this responsibility and manages it for the CNO. DIROSA works side-by-side with SYSCOMS/CHINFO/OLA/OPNAV 3-Stars/Fleets/USMC to monitor, manage, persuade, cajole, influence, and shape messaging and alignment.

DIROSA and staff (1 or 2 others—TBD) are like the BASF Corporation motto—“We don’t make a lot of the products you buy, we make those products better”. For DIROSA to be effective, the organization must not only provide value to the CNO…it must do so for those who could potentially see it as bureaucratically threatening. DIROSA cannot be seen as grabbing “market share” from existing organizations. There will be very little “original work” coming out of DIROSA, as doing so would almost certainly “poach” someone else in the bureaucracy’s territory, no matter how skillfully they are currently executing the function. Where DIROSA comes in is in “checking the work” to ensure that CNO approved communication themes and messages are making their way into subordinate products, and that those messages are within themselves, consistent.

Current CNO special assistants (Speechwriter, OOZ) would remain as they are and continue to do their job. There would be a significant coordination nexus among DIROSA and these functions.

Some of the things I would expect DIROSA to manage for the CNO:

  • The creation of annual communications campaigns that identify key themes and messages, assign responsibilities, and monitor outcomes.
  • The re-invigoration of the “CHINFO Speaker’s Series” wherein Flags are provided with source material and encouraged to seek out opportunities for general interest speeches. Speeches would be tracked (and potentially assigned) centrally, with Flags required to provide feedback to CNO on how the message was received and the kinds of things in which members of the public seemed interested.
  • The creation and management of an experimentation and demonstration campaign as part of the larger campaign. In this, SYSCOMs, and fleet experimentation schedules would be reviewed in advance to find opportunities to message emerging capabilities and concepts, or to make affirmative decisions NOT to message. There is currently no process in which these decisions are made in the context of a larger communications scheme.
  • Unless the Director of the Navy Staff already serves this function, DIROSA would monitor crisis management for the CNO. CHINFO and OLA would continue to do what they do, but DIROSA would ensure that we are telling the public what we want, telling the Hill what we want, and telling the 3rd Deck what we want—and that all of those messages are as consistent as we desire.
  • DIROSA would maintain a close relationship with three and four star “CAGS” throughout the fleet, reviewing material as desired and helping to provide centralized thematic inputs consistent with desired messaging goals.
  • DIROSA would provide alignment and counsel to OPNAV organizations and Fleet organizations sponsoring/overseeing trade shows and forums.
  • DIROSA would work closely with N3N5 to ensure Navy equities are represented to the “thinktank” community in DC, and that the CNO’s messages are central to those interactions.

DIROSA would—in conjunction with other CNO Special Assistants—represent the CNO in the creation/staffing of important recurring documents that come to be identified with CNO intent, such as CNOG, strategy documents, and congressional testimony.

Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC. He counts the Navy among his clients.

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