Darden Insights & Experience

In my closing remarks at the Darden School of Business, I shared the following…

“Cults or tribes find ways to entice new members into the fold.  They may develop unique forms of communication including symbology.  Strangely enough, over the last few weeks, we all (referring to my fellow classmates) have been enticed by plentiful sustenance and seem to have developed methods of communication using strange symbols, most of which would’ve meant nothing to me a few weeks ago.

“Along with communication, a tribal culture will also seek to establish social and cultural norms.  Considering that we’ve all apparently been inducted into some sort of tribe, our group (the class was divided into groups of 6-7 students) pondered this new culture into which we’d been introduced and came up with new norms we deemed as most significant in our assimilation”

More on these new norms in a moment…

It’s probably too strong of a statement to say that I squandered an opportunity at a world class business school but I sort of feel that way.  I recently completed the US Navy Insights into Industry Management Course at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business – essentially a mini-MBA over the course of 10 days.  Honestly, until classes began, I wasn’t actually aware that this was in fact a world class institution but, without doubt, it’s truly the Staff and Professors that make it world class.

The course began on Sunday evening.  I had requested to attend the course based on recommendations from folks who had attended the course previously and still didn’t really know what I was getting myself into at this point.  The staff recommended reading the first three days material in advance – which I did not do.  I’d attended DAU classes before and I knew good and well how they worked and wasn’t worried at all.  As I’m sitting in a parking garage and gathering my thoughts, I’m essentially more worried about being away from home than anything else.

At this point, I grab all my belongings and head to the front desk for the Inn at Darden.  The staff at the Inn is super attentive and I’m greeted as soon as I come into the building.  I provide my identification, they find me on their list of attendees, and I get my room assignment, room key, gym pass and my choice of a selection of soft drinks, water and snacks from a table prepared for my class.

As I enter the building where the rooms are located, I’m a little surprised as the door automatically swings open when I insert my room key.  That’s not actually the weirdest thing though.  Once I enter I’m presented with three additional doors with no clear identifying marks as to where I should go next.  It took me a bit to realize that, with the building constructed on a hill, I had actually entered on the second floor.  Without going into too much additional detail, let me just say that Darden has lots of doors and hallways and it will initially take a bit to figure out how to get where you want to go.

As for daily structure, classes essentially began Sunday evening at 1800 with a social event followed by dinner.  The food during the entire class was nothing less than outstanding.  Each day begins with 7 am breakfast followed by 8 am classes, lunch, 4 pm personal study, 6 pm dinner and a group study session each evening.  I quickly learned that reading two or three days ahead allowed the flexibility to meet with the study group right after class before dinner.

It took me a few days to realize that learning methods used during the classes were a bit different than what I was used to.  I’m typically used to learning a new topic in class, doing homework to reinforce the new material and then getting tested on that material.  For these classes, the process was to assign reading assignments with new topics and then cover those topics in the study groups the night before class.  It was initially difficult for me but I eventually accepted the fact that I didn’t need to go to class each day feeling like an expert.

My classmates were outstanding.  I learned a tremendous amount from them and was grateful for their insight and patience.  I’m not really a social creature and didn’t really put forth my best effort to make connections within the class.  When you attend, don’t be like me – reach out on the first night and make connections with your classmates.

Jumping back to the new norms my group identified…

First, find ways to create and distribute value.  It can’t be “all about me.”  We ultimately win or lose as a team and we’ve got to work together and find ways to win together in order to survive.  The “win” is to be sure that your efforts and the efforts of those you work with add real value to the end product.

Second; navigate the terrain, guide the process, and seize the initiative.  We’ve got to understand where we are, where we want to go, and what it will take to get there.  Then, once known, we need to move without hesitation and make things happen.  It’s far too easy in government service to get stuck in a “thinking loop” even though we’ve likely already decided on a course of action.

Third, take time to build relationships.  Humans form communities, that’s what happened during my time at Darden and that’s what needs to happen over the weeks and months ahead as we return to our own commands.  We (our class) have a responsibility to take what we’ve learned and bring others into the “tribe.”  The more we have in the community, the healthier we’ll be as a whole.

Next, align resources with opportunities as well as with problems.  As we grow the “tribe,” we have to be vigilant and resourceful.  If we continue to just stamp out today’s problems and not look ahead, we simply will not make the efficient forward progress needed to establish a more effective culture.  This is the clearest example of how we can “do more with less.”

Other items; recognizing that industry faces similar challenges as we do in government, using our cultural differences to strengthen our position and elevate our game, and improving our options prior to negotiation – among the other items we identified – are all choices we can make as we leave Darden and head back to our commands.  Good strategy for implementing change involves making good choices and putting forth our best effort.

A few additional points to mention…

– We need a better process to partner with industry.  They have great ideas that can help us to meet mission objectives.  If we don’t allow them to sit at the table then we lose their insight and will lag behind countries that are embracing what industry has to offer.  It is vital to our programs to develop long term partnerships with industry, leverage sourcing opportunities to drive improvements, and encourage balanced sourcing through both competitive and cooperative opportunities.

– We influence the commercial sector through buying, not talk.  We can’t just tell them what we think is important.  Patriotism is a wonderful thing but our commercial partners need us to buy things – labor or products – in order to be an active participant in national defense.  There’s nothing wrong with being frugal but we simply cannot afford to price the commercial sector out of business.  We should also develop a strategy for procurements; we need to think and plan, not just buy.

– Do peers and subordinates really feel like they can speak openly?  We had an amazing presentation on diversity, nothing like our typical diversity training in the government.  Bottom line; we don’t need to be afraid of how our brains work, but we can’t afford to stop with first impressions or stereotypes.  We are going to see differences; it’s natural for us to notice them regardless of race or color.  The real magic is to not let those differences hold us back; they should elevate us to the next level.

– Be aware of the Zone of Potential Agreement – ZOPA.  As we negotiate within NAVSEA or outside, we need to develop an understanding of things on which both sides already agree and acknowledge that there is a foundation for a final solution.  Far too often we zero in on differences, areas of disagreement, without realizing that we may have already achieved an acceptable 80%+ agreement between parties.  That said, even with an 80% solution, it’s still vital to evaluate and understand the downside of any agreement and have a walk-away plan prepared if there is no other alternative.  We shouldn’t feel obligated to make a bad deal at any cost.

It’s was great to meet with people from commands across the Navy enterprise who share similar goals and visions for what can happen within organizations that set and strive for high performing goals.  I’ve almost always been driven to find and execute solutions for problems within my sphere of influence; sort of like a mountain climber going up a mountainside – solve one problem then move to the next.  It was refreshing spending two weeks with people similarly motivated and not stuck in typical government status quo.

Unfortunately, at least in my organization, there are still a number of institutional or organizational processes that don’t effectively work and, in many instances, inhibit creative solutions and limit our potential for forward progress with anything considered “non-standard.”  Too often we accept these processes as status quo even though members of the organization may actually have better ideas.  Over time, I’ve allowed myself to grow cynical and rather critical toward these processes and too often find myself doubting we can collectively find solutions for challenges we face due simply to the inertia it takes to produce a change within the government.

My first goal leaving Darden was, over the weeks following the class, to essentially reevaluate what I could contribute towards ongoing initiatives within my organization that I previously disregarded as unachievable or without sufficient value, many of which may actually offer benefits.  I committed to shifting my focus towards eliminating the cynicism I’ve allowed to invade my perspective and refocus on propelling the organization forward.

Also, recognizing that I’m an influencer among my peers, I intend work to encourage teaming efforts to address issues within my command that will have the greatest impacts on organizational efficiency.  My focus will be on building interest, inspiring buy-in and reducing implementation times for initiatives, both new and existing, that will most benefit my organization and our customers.

The US Navy Insights into Industry Management Course at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business was a refreshing and invigorating event for me.  I’m glad I was encouraged to go.  I’m glad I was selected to attend.  I’m especially grateful to all those who attended with me from across the Navy Enterprise and to the staff who organized and executed the course.

 

3 thoughts on “Darden Insights & Experience

  1. Don’t lose all of your cynicism. One of the reasons Industry wants a seat at the table is to be able to identify avenues to increase their profit. Always be able to follow the monetary motivation.

    1. I do understand where you’re coming from. That said, we need to recognize vendor profit is a necessity for us. If they don’t profit then we’ll ultimately have no vendors. They need to be motivated to add value and we motivate them through sound contracts. We need them at the table to get their input and perspective on solving the issues we’re trying to solve whether they are manpower, quantity, technology or a combination of each. Contractual negotiations must result in value for both sides of the table.

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