Monday, March 06, 2023

Retention: the Little Big Things

You can't grow a Navy if you can't find a place for the people you have today to work.

You won't even be able to recruit them.

People decide to join the military or a whole raft of reasons from the honorable to the random to the undefinable. A significant number of those reasons are word of mouth from friends or family who are already serving. 

Once in, keeping a productive climate where the demanding nature of the military adds enough stress and frustration is a hard balance. It is often based on the degree servicemembers feel their command/service "has their back" and is trying to provide the most basic support so the servicemember can do the job they joined to do.

Every time the military screws up pay, makes Sailors wait 3-hrs for a 5-minute evolution, forces them to use a website interface that is slow, dysfunctional, or has impossible software/hardware requirements - the people we try so hard to get to join and stay have one more thing to add to their list of reasons to go.

As we talked about towards the end of yesterday's Midrats - something as simple and straight forward as parking should be one of the most fixable things we do - and is something we stubbornly insist that we won't fix.

We know how many Sailors we have. We know where they work, etc...

However ... we seem to have lost the bubble - and have for decades - on the fact that there is a gap in our understanding that these people - who we like to say are our most valuable asset - have to drive to work, park, and then get to where they are assigned.

Basic stuff.

The notice below from the commander of Naval Base San Diego below came across the transom last week and triggered me into one of those vicarious frustration/anger moods for a bit. 

This is not a new or unidentified problem. I remember well the nightmare of 1990s NB Norfolk - and that experience set in stone my dislike of these mega-master bases. I've been stationed at big, medium, and as a baby JO a small naval base. The larger the base, the lower the quality of work, quality of life, and negative impact on work-life balance. 

From pass-tag, PSD, to the traffic jams at peak times - mega bases are a dystopian horror in a Soviet like cultural way. 

Because of the massive nature of bases like NB San Diego, NB Norfolk, NAS Jacksonville etc - especially for servicemembers who have families and can't afford to pay for private schooling - a 45-minute or more commute to affordable housing and good schools is not uncommon. Then you get on base, you have to park a long way away unless you get there REAL early. 

San Diego is nice, but in the heat and rain of summer in Virginia or Florida - every time you have to hike in 95F to the car you parked half a mile away after an hour commute that AM with a walk in that soaked you to the bone in rain before dawn, worked 10-hrs, and now it will take you 20-min to get off of base and another 45-min to drive home ... you might be a little cynical - especially when the people telling you that parking is part of the job have assigned parking space 10-yards from the quarterdeck.

In the civilian sector, any company that forced its employees to have such a difficult situation would soon find itself losing their best employees and those remaining were disgruntled until you went out of business.

This is a decades old problem because for some reasons we have an institutional mindset set in the middle decades of the 20th Century when most Sailors lived on ship, on base, or near base and reliable public transportation was an actual thing.

We are approaching the mid-21st Century and we refuse to do what other organizations adjusted to decades ago.

One of the first things a competent organization does it make sure their people have convenient parking to get to work. There is nothing magic here. Parking garages with multiple floors are not exotic, are poured concrete.

How many trillions of dollars have we spent in the US military in the last decade? I checked in with a few folks who work on Naval Base San Diego and asked them exactly what Sailors who live off base have to deal with each day. How much time do they spend each day just getting from their car to the quarterdeck? 

How about an hour.

How much "free time" does your standard issue sea duty Sailor have per day?

So, Sailors will find ways to get better parking. Is asking someone who averages 5-hrs of sleep a day to "come in earlier" a good response? No. 

If it looks like a parking spot, people will treat it like one. That creates problems. Those responsible for the safety and appearance of bases get a bit grumpy when people do that ... and yet, there is a cost-benefit analysis going on here. 

Choices: a Sailor can park in a place that doesn't have lines but isn't a hazard and will make muster in 10-minutes (there was a wreck on the way in eating up 30-min of the 15-min buffer he gives himself each day), or he can park a half-mile away, maybe, and make muster.

People will do what they have to do. Then Big Navy has to respond. 

To start with, I don't blame the Commander of NB San Diego. He has a problem that isn't fixing itself regardless of previous efforts. He isn't the one who for decades did not build adequate parking. He isn't the one who decided to make a large base larger in one of the most densely populated parts of the nation. He just has to find a way to make it work with what he has in his PCS cycle.

That is where I found my triggered self not directing my ire towards beautiful San Diego and its leaders, but once again to the permanent class that is the Potomac Flotilla. 

How many times have the issues with parking in San Diego, Norfolk and other soul-sucking mega-bases been raised to the Regional Commanders and then on to OPNAV in that dysfunctional imperial city?

This isn't the base commander's fault - this is the fault of over a quarter century's worth of Chiefs of Naval Operations.

At the end of the day, that is where the buck stops and forces a base commander - in desperation - to draconian actions against Sailors who are not lazy or disobedient, no, they are just exhausted and trying to get to work on time.

This isn't just unnecessary - it is an abusive relationship between 4-star leadership and their Sailors.

No other large organization would be able to treat employees like this in the 21st Century. 

Oh, and what a hell of a Valentine's Day love letter.


No comments: