Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
The same holds true in approaching corporate learning — by performing a readiness assessment, an organization can determine what Army it has, so to speak, and measure any gaps that might need to be addressed.
Defense Acquisition University (DAU) is a corporate university that provides learning, career management and services to the U.S. defense acquisition workforce. Christopher Hardy, Ph.D., DAU director of plans, policy and leadership support, said he sees many parallels between the military and readiness assessment in corporate learning.
“In the military, they do readiness assessments all the time to support war planning and contingencies,” said Hardy, a former lieutenant colonel who earned a Master Aviator badge as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. “When I was in the Army, they would want to know, ‘OK, Chris, you have 30 helicopters, 200 men in your helicopter company and so many of these other items that are important for your mission. If you did go to war, how much of that is operational, how much of it is broken and what is your readiness assessment of your total organization?’”
Hardy said the difference between this and a business performing readiness assessments is that a business is always operational, whereas the Army is not necessarily always at war.
“The Army is more preparing for war less than fighting it, except for right now,” he said. “But if you’re in a business, that’s actually performing a mission. So, in performing a readiness assessment, you’re measuring your progress and your execution of your mission and not just being ready to go do it. You’re looking at outcomes and expected outcomes. You’re assessing what your progress is and your ability to meet your expectations.”
Hardy has been with DAU since December 2001. He was hired to implement a performance-based strategic planning process, and a readiness assessment was part of that process.
The process encompasses cost and time accounting, budgeting, evaluation systems, and linkages into defense finance, personnel and legacy systems, so DAU has real-time data by which to measure readiness. The eventual result is to make readiness assessment an ongoing activity at DAU.
“When I think of readiness, I think of the future,” Hardy said. “Are we ready for the future? Do we have the resources, the time and the skill sets, and how do you assess that readiness in order to execute a program?”
One answer, he said, is to make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of eventual goals.
“You need to, first of all, in any business, make sure you’re in alignment with your process goals before you start anything — you don’t want to be west on 40 when you’re supposed to be north on 95,” Hardy said. “So, you need to align goals, know your environment and be able to base line where you are right now.”
After that, the biggest challenge to getting DAU to become accountable and more performance-based was approaching individuals unaccustomed to being canvassed for readiness data, Hardy said.
“They accused us of wanting to be Big Brother and of having a lack of trust,” Hardy said.
But his department maintained that it merely wanted to develop the ability to make smart business decisions and assume “a readiness posture.”
“We’ve now outlasted the naysayers, and it’s the norm of operating — they can’t go back to the old ways,” Hardy said. “After that, we needed to show some successes.”
DAU has done so. Since 2000, its student throughput has increased from 30,000 or 40,000 a year to now graduating 113,000 students a year. Hardy said much of this increase has come from measuring readiness.
“We understand how much we can teach, consult and modernize next year based on the finite resources we have,” Hardy said. “Without a system like we’ve put in place, we wouldn’t be able to make a good decision and probably wouldn’t complete a lot of what we started, and we’d have cost overruns.”
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