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Culture Challenge

Hammons' first commander's call

Col. Jacob L. Hammons, gives his first commander’s call as the commander of the 152nd Airlift Wing during the November unit training assembly on Nov. 2, 2019 in the Nevada Air National Guard Base fuel cell hangar in Reno. Hammons, a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2000 and F-16 pilot with more than 500 combat hours flown in Afghanistan.

NEVADA AIR NATIONAL GUARD, Nev. --

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Peter Drucker

Largely attributed to the late management guru, this phrase permeates American business and government lexicon. At a recent strategic planning meeting, we discussed “culture versus strategy” at length while trying to capture a new strategic end state for the NVANG in 2030. The question remains, what is the relative importance that culture has on an organization as it relates to the execution of strategic, operational or tactical objectives?

As the first in a series of 152AW Notices to Airmen (NOTAM), you can probably see where I think culture resides in terms of importance to an organization.  Positive culture is the most critical factor to achieving success! We can have the best strategies and ideas in the world, but without the culture to support adoption of those strategies, we will never get where we want to go. So what is culture? We can’t have a dialogue about the kind of culture we want to cultivate here in Reno without first agreeing on a definition. Turning to Webster’s, we find that the word culture derives from the Latin “cultus,” which roughly translates to “style.”

Culture: the set of shared attitude, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a company or corporation.

While a strict definition serves as a foundation, it doesn’t really tell us anything about what kind of culture we desire here. Daniel Coyle’s book, The Culture Code (from the CSAF reading list) is not only easy reading, but presents many real-world statistics and anecdotes to prove why positive cultural attributes are beneficial to organizations. These attributes are rooted deep in our sub-conscious, dating back to human origin.  Basically, people want to feel a sense of belonging, which is rooted in our basic human need for safety.  A positive organizational culture should signal “You are safe here. We are connected. You have a future.”  

How do we, as leaders, supervisors, and subordinates engender these outcomes? Coyle posits three qualities that define these belonging cues:

Energy: You are invested in the exchange that is occurring. (i.e. face-to-face communication, eye contact)

Individualization: You treat people as unique and valued.

Future Orientation: You signal the relationship will continue.

Now for the “so what?” How do we translate these simple ideas into practices that will improve the culture of the 152 AW? The Resilience Tactical Pause (RTP) was a great start to solidifying some of these practices, but we can’t have multiple down days to emphasize talking to and showing empathy for one another. We can do this in our everyday lives. We used to call this “leadership by walking around,” and now we see there is scientific proof of why it works. Set a goal to have as many of these “mini-connections” throughout the day across the organization. These don’t have to be long, drawn-out speeches or philosophical debates. Just checking in on your people, letting them know you are there for them, understanding their personal and professional issues, and talking about what the future plans are for the AW. You’ll be amazed at the results we can accomplish just by this one simple act of empathy. We can foster a culture of belonging, excellence and trust. I’m going to practice what I preach here and I hope you do the same.