Monday, October 24, 2011

When the Rules Change...

Back in 2003, I was a fresh-faced Lieutenant in the United States Army, and I recently arrived at Fort Hood for my first "real" duty assignment. We were scheduled to deploy to Iraq, and I was told that I had 2-3 weeks before I would be jumping into (not out of) a plane. With this knowledge in hand, I planned out my next 2 weeks, so that I could find a storage center for my stuff (only about 1 bedroom of stuff), set-up a power of attorney, and pack my bags for the trip (which was only supposed to be 6 months, should have known better on that one...).

Unfortunately, the rules changed on me. Thursday morning my commanding officer came to me and said "Matt, we need you on the advance team. Your flight leaves Saturday morning. Take the next 2 days to get what you need done."

Have you ever tried to pack 2 weeks worth of activities into a 2 day period? Thankfully, my first thought (after reaching for a cold bucket of water to put out my hair) was to sit down and revise my plan. I called the JAG office for an immediate appointment, and while waiting in the JAG office for my power of attorney, I called around to the storage centers to reserve a lot; called my buddies in Austin and told them where they could find car keys and pick-up my Jeep, set-up a rental U-haul to move my stuff, and enlisted a couple of soldiers to help me move my stuff (with the offer of beer and pizza; which seems to be a universally accepted payment for young men all over America).

That night, I called my girlfriend (now my wife) and had a long conversation about my impending deployment to a combat zone. Then I called my mother, and told her to check her email for a copy of my power of attorney (no, I didn't make my girlfriend my power of attorney, too many soldier horror stories to do that).

The next day, I ran around to all the pawn and military surplus stores that surround a military base, looking for equipment I knew I would need (extra TA-50, a better Ruc Sac, flashlights, batteries, a portable DVD player, you know the essentials). After the mad dash for supplies I spent Friday night stenciling my info and packing my duffel, Ruc Sac, and tanker ruc. BTW, a personal note, if your bags are going to be one of 300 of the same style bag, find a way to differentiate it (I ran yellow electrical tape around the outside, and spray painted one of the bottom corners of each bag a fluorescent orange, both easy to spot in a sea of olive drab).

Needless to say, I made the flight, and in April of 2003, I arrived in Kuwait (in point of fact, if I remember correctly, my commander told me on April Fools Day that he needed me for the advance team... huh, I guess he did have a sense of humor). But why share this story?

As a leader, I think we all know that rules can change, and that the best laid plans never last. However, when the rules change, let your team know about it, as soon as possible. In fact, if it even looks like the rules MIGHT change, let your team know. If I knew that I had ANY chance of being on the advanced team (which the rest of the advance team knew 2 weeks before I did), I probably would have moved earlier to get my "To Do" list done. Instead, I thought I had weeks to spare, so I planned accordingly. That isn't a good way to treat your people. It causes undue stress and frustration.

I would say that this "rule" (ha ha) needs to go beyond simple scheduling. If requirements, compensation, vacation, overtime, ANYTHING changes, then the team has a right to know it changed; preferably before the impact (In other words, don't tell them Friday afternoon at 4:55 PM that they need to come in on Saturday at their regular time). I know that in some cases the change is immediate, and there is no way to "warn" them in advance; but I've found this to be the exception rather than the rule.

Don't make your people run around with their hair on fire because you had to play with a blow torch. It's not good for moral, and not god for retention (even more so in the civilian sector). Be a strong leader, own the change and COMMUNICATE it to the team, so that everyone can adjust accordingly.

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