Friday, October 16th 2015
In the course of a professional exchange in the August, 2015, issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings on the Navy concept of “mission command,” Andrei Perumal, Managing Director at Wilson Perumal & Company, Inc., criticized “an insatiable hunger for information pulled from the tactical level to feed layers of command all the way up to the strategic.”
The same phenomenon can be observed in the State Department. Washington offices tie up Public Diplomacy officers in the field with demands for program readouts, rewrites, resubmissions, counts and recounts, and various immediate declarations of victory. Much of the information is available in Washington, but bureau staffs find it easier to palm off the work on posts.
Perumal is an advocate of decentralized execution.
It has been the U.S. Navy’s ability to lead the way in decentralized execution, with a “culture steeped in subordinate trust and independence” that has set the U.S. Navy apart from all other organizations (both naval and non-naval). These traits were honed out of the challenges and needs of the day, but they are even more, not less, important in today’s increasingly complex world. While communications technology may render them no longer necessary for operations, they are today even more important for effective operations.
. . . Since my time serving in the Navy I have drawn from its lessons to help global companies improve multinational operations—organizations that are now realizing that large, central bureaucracies are too slow and unwieldy to compete in the age of instantaneous interconnectedness. It is doubly unfortunate, and a bit ironic, that while global corporations are now learning the importance of decentralized execution, which the Navy learned long ago, the Navy is now letting itself go the other way.
. . . The “insatiable hunger for information” and the corresponding tendency to micromanage increases staff sizes at all levels (and across the Department of Defense) as more people are collecting, reconciling, and passing information, [leaves] relatively fewer people to actually make, and learn to make, decisions. The result is a bad fit for today’s fast-paced, complex environment. A recent USNI News article by Megan Eckstein cited that “20 percent of the Pentagon’s budget goes to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and associated defense agencies,” which Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus calls “pure overhead,” adding that “they’ve grown faster than the services, even in the time of the Iraq and the Afghan war.”
These two issues are linked. At a time of budget pressure, we are looking at cutting ships, aircraft, and perhaps sailors and Marines, while presumably leaving this massive overhead in place. Based on the experience of global corporations, this isn’t a recipe for success.