This article was a submission to the 2022 Cove Competition.
- Part-time Service does not imply part-time standards. All service is a commitment to the profession of arms. Do not accept part-time service as a rationalisation for the casualisation of standards. Consider tempering your operational design until you have a firm understanding of the professional capabilities of the force and required stepping stones to achieve the directed outputs and/or desired end-state. Like all organisations, you should anticipate some resistance when you become an agitator for greater levels of performance or new approaches. All soldiers crave meaningful work and loathe having their time wasted. You owe it to your team to demand the most from them. Direct it and always demonstrate it through your actions.
- Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Every unit is different, and every sub-unit within that unit can be distinct. You will be working alongside people that are products of their exposure to a service culture that will be different to yours. SERCAT 5 are different to SERCAT 7 personnel of the same seniority and rank – and that’s okay. SERCAT 5 members have a different professional development pathways, career management agencies, unit command and control arrangements and competing personal and professional demands. Army is a culture of cultures, and your unit culture will be reflective of the behaviours that its organisational leadership values, rewards, and tolerates. This very often results in different incentives and motivators at a personal level. In the 2nd Division more than elsewhere, the moral component of command is a stronger lever than the legal.
- Regionality is your centre of gravity. Your unit’s area of operations is the critical component of your unit identity; often the clue is in the name. Reserve units are geographically determined organisations, combinations of their place and the people of that place overlaid historically in time. You will very likely have a responsibility for recruiting, training, and operating within this locality. Be a part of your new community and invest early. Join a club, sporting team, etc. You must understand the physical, human, and organisational terrain and rapidly gain an appreciation of the interplay between these domains. It will be the key to unlocking the organisational culture of your unit.
- Make what’s important, important; not what’s urgent important. It is to be expected that you will be regularly pressured to pivot at short notice in order to engage with an issue of immediate “importance”. Be judicious – too often it is a result of other people’s appalling time management or appreciation. Conduct analysis early and understand where pressure and risk are most likely to coalesce in a manner that prejudices achievement of specified and implied tasks. The single most precious resource is the availability of your SERCAT 5 workforce. You must be looking to the future, planning a longitudinal effort, communicating necessary levels of support, and keeping the team focused on achieving it over time – possibly even years. Be side-tracked by urgent and irrelevant issues at your unit’s peril. You will never recover that time or availability and the unit will be forced to tolerate the impact and consequence.
- Simple things can be hard, hard things can be impossible – don’t let cooperation be hard. Everyone is trying to do good things and very few people wish to be maliciously difficult. Many folks are prisoners of their own experience and will struggle to visualise or contextualise how they can contribute to success beyond that prism. Sometimes your experience means you are the person that is best positioned to see the connective tissue between efforts and inject contemporary practices. Bring people together, help them see what you see, and always seek to exploit economies of effort. Demonstrate operational competence, conduct analysis, don’t wish away the complexity of tasks, delegate appropriately, check and verify, and hold people responsible. And when it’s time for execution? Get out of your office and lead your team at the point of main effort!
- Know your responsibilities. Just about everything in the 2nd Division is different to your experience in the full-time Army. Nothing is automated in SERCAT 5 career progression. Understand the MAE(s) of your people, ensure career progression milestones are accurately reflected on ECN grades and fight (if necessary) to have your people promoted. You will be responsible for the payment of your reservists’ work. Learn about unit roll books, ensure commanders at all levels are accurately reporting and processing the payment of work their people are doing in a timely manner. Find someone who knows the black art of ACMS and work hard to become fluent in resource management: Army refuses to teach you, they prefer you spend all your career development time drawing on pieces of plastic with coloured pens. Nowhere else in the Defence Force will you be required to balance output against payroll.
- Don’t be seduced by sexy – simple is special. Be careful about allowing your organisation to reach beyond its grasp. Developing a complex plan that is executed poorly is worse for the organisation than a simple plan which is executed to a high standard. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Be robust and allow space to exploit opportunities as they present. The newest gadget, the latest training package, the coolest bit of kit. Fascinators fascinate, and sometimes the level of fascination is inversely proportional to significance. The reinforcement and consolidation of core skills is the bedrock for innovation and development, not the other way around; it must add value to your doctrinal purpose.
- It’s a human endeavour. Know your SERCAT 5 and seek to understand them as people. Let yourself be renewed by their enthusiasm and passion. It can be invigorating in comparison to the frequent self-loathing that has taken hold in the regular forces. Be amazed by what discretionary effort can be unlocked when you demonstrate that you are serious about soldiering and delivering great training – it’s why they joined and continue to serve. Communicate your expectations clearly, provide opportunities, develop them personally, monitor progress, and give honest feedback on performance. Don’t neglect to manage the needs of your SERCAT 7 people and yourself. This can mean working with your SERCAT 5 chain of command to help them understand. Shield only when absolutely necessary. Contrary to popular belief in the fulltime Army, a SERCAT 7 position in the 2nd Division is not a respite posting.
- Ability is not necessarily correlated with rank. Many Reservists are people that the fulltime Army would never be able to generate or attract. As such, they can command levels of competence that are grossly disproportionate to their rank. Harness and employ those qualities without constraint. However, respect that they may have explicitly joined the Army to serve in a specific role, rank, and trade. Their personhood is not within the suite of capabilities available for you to task. Never step into their personal, professional, or cultural domain without permission.
- Fight your corner. It is likely that your position will not share geographic co-location with other elements of your own unit, your higher HQ, or your mission-critical supporting elements. Too often, out of sight and out of mind typically translates into lower priority. Don’t expect others to understand pressures and issues as intently as you do. Communicate effectively. Articulate risk plainly. Be forceful when necessary to make sure your equities are being represented when decisions are being made. Those who control resources can often be seduced to use them to solve their own problems.
- A problem shared is not a problem solved. If you encounter an issue, own it through to conclusion. “I’m waiting on an email back”, “I’ve passed it up”, “it’s in the pipeline” – not acceptable. Generally, people are lazy and bad at managing their time and priority of effort (see Point 4). This can be exacerbated by SERCAT 5 patterns of service where there can be a seven-day delay between responses. If these people choose to be reactive, make them react to being made accountable for their responsibilities. Do your duty and make them do theirs.
- Be a good custodian, you are not the full-timer in this organisation. You are in a key appointment, but only for the duration of your tenure; it is the SERCAT 5 that will continue to serve in the unit long after you’re gone. Tolerate absence to allow your people to complete courses, attain new proficiencies, and gain experiences that renew their passion to serve. As a SERCAT 7, it can sometimes be a bitter pill when there is a conflict in priority of effort and your people are a finite resource. Think deeply, making a habit of withholding opportunity is a shortcut to failure over time. You are benefitting from the investments put into the people you have now, from the people of tenures before you. They never knew at the time when that return on investment would pay – you need to do the same.
I will be forever grateful for your support, and that of Arnhem SQN, to AACAP 2022 while in your AO (Gapuwiyak).
This perspective is spot on. Sercat 5 is a rising capability and it is important that Sercat 7 members understand the importance of our reserves, and how to effectively work with them.