Robert Rodgers FAHRI, air commodore and director general of personnel for the air force, says that, while the key feature of workforce design is agility, systems and culture also play a large part.
Q. You have an interest in purposive organisational and workforce design, with a focus on creating structures and systems to shape cultural and behavioural aspects of the organisation. How do you see processes like this having an impact on the nature of work and workplaces in the future? And where are gains most likely to be made?
Too often we look at organisations only through the lens of their structure, systems and outputs. The nature of workforce and the attributes that define it are seldom explored other than peripherally. Understanding culture as an expression of the observed behaviours and attitudinal orientation of the teams that comprise an organisation is critical for success. If not purposive, it’s accidental and therefore possibly transitory. If your culture isn’t aligned to the raison d’être of your organisation, your organisational longevity is unlikely.
My organisation exists to deliver air power effects for the protection of Australia and advancement of its interests. Fundamentally, we are a large technical organisation managing complex, integrated, high-technology systems, while also managing the application of deadly force. Underpinning all these facets of our organisation is the concept of discipline; self-discipline and professional discipline. We operate in a highly integrated environment whereby information drives intelligence, which directs action.
In a highly networked, complex, fast-moving context such as air power, what are the behavioural traits you need your workforce to exhibit to best function in such a domain? Once identified, design for it. Your structures, systems and strategy must all be imbued with the behavioural and cultural effect you want to create.
Therefore, I see more organisational psychologists and sociologists on the strategic workforce design team in the future. Where will this take us? That will be differentiated by the nature and goals of our organisations. Hierarchical command structures are already proving inadequate to meet the sheer volume of information that must be analysed, converted into intelligence and then used to create effect. To leverage off capability in the information domain, empowerment of those closest to intelligence/action interface will be essential.
Similarly, traditional organisational behaviour tends to reward those who withhold knowledge or information – poison for networked, dynamic information environments. The key design feature is agility; agility of mind, team and organisation. The generalist becomes a linking agent for specialists – a new kind of enabler for system flow. New kinds of skills will become increasingly important.
The ultimate network is a human one, fed by a system of non-human networks. Human networking skills are not innate in everyone, and the growing importance of social mastery is a reflection of that recognition. The ability to understand and regulate one’s own responses and seek to understand the motivation and responses of others is key. Technical mastery is not always going to be enough as a precondition for individual or team success. Professional mastery is increasingly seen as a composite of technical and social mastery.
Q. You’re heavily vested in workflow modelling and design for the raft of new capabilities being brought into the air force over the next decade. What has this entailed? And what have been your greatest learnings from this process?
The air force is going through an unprecedented capability transition process. Almost every major system is being replaced or upgraded in a short, 10-year period. It’s short in terms of the lead times to grow and develop a mature workforce. The new systems are more complex, more integrated and more capable, increasing the demand on the calibre and competence of the future workforces. It’s leading us to plan for shifts in the demography of our workforce.
The technical workforce is our largest employment group and is increasingly being challenged by those other groups focused on exploitation of information. Such a large workforce transition requires careful planning to ensure capability through that transition. Each trade and specialisation must be managed to high levels. New trade requirements are being identified and we are starting to look at redesigning how competencies are aggregated in specific trade or employment groups. The sheer size of the transition is increasing our need to review all trades and specialties.
Change is normal. As I often say, we once had blacksmiths in the air force. What’s different is that the pace of the change is accelerating, even to within a generation of workforce. This is a significant challenge for strategic workforce design, workforce planning and implementation.
Q. How important is succession planning in all of the above, ensuring that knowledge isn’t lost?
Talent management is a critical business enabler, and succession planning is a subset of that process – and also a flagstone activity for business assurance. For military forces, where lateral recruitment across the many levels of organisation is not part of our current workforce model, the management of individuals from recruitment through to transition out of service is crucial to success.
To buy knowledge means we are going outside of the Air Force to source consultants, contractors or service providers. This area of provision of labour and/or knowledge is now well entrenched as part of workforce design considerations, but this outsourcing of knowledge must be carefully considered in its use and well understood in terms of its long term effect.