Perspectives on change

  • Published
  • By Maj. Mary Teeter
  • 509th Maintenance Squadron
I'm sure you've heard it said "the only constant is change." For many of us, change can be very frustrating, but change offers us many opportunities. It allows us to refine our processes and rid ourselves of waste. It forces us to get in the instructions and brush up on requirements, instead of relying on the turnover log or continuity book. 

Change leads us to capitalize on technology and engineer new efficiencies. We have seen many responses to change, including completely resisting change, embracing change, or tentatively accepting change with reservations. Many are understandably concerned about change because they've seen so much of it, and it seems as though we continue to go around in circles. Often we do continue to revisit the same issues, but for the most part we keep moving forward. So how do we get from frustrated to managing change effectively and improving our existing processes? How are we going to shape the Air Force of tomorrow? 

Take advantage of training and discipline. First, we can remind ourselves that there are constants in the midst of change. We are the most highly trained and skilled fighting force...the best of the best Airmen in the best Air the world. And our nation has placed special trust and confidence in us for our problem-solving and decision-making abilities...our human advantage. That is why it has invested in the very best training and equipment, the latter of which has resulted in many of the changes we see today. Those same processes for finding answers that we learned in technical training school and in life have not changed. Though the problems we face may change, we still know how to approach a problem, find solutions, assess pros/cons, and implement the best solutions or propose the right courses of action. For times when doubts creep in, we still rely on the advice of those who came before us who faced difficult challenges, or of someone whom we admire. For example, a successful doctoral statistician and consultant for pharmaceutical companies once told me, "I was not hired because I know everything about pharmaceuticals. I was hired because I am good at finding answers and proposing solutions. The same is true for you." 

The disciplined approach to problem solving we learned through training and practice will help us shape the Air Force for those who follow. Remember when you first arrived at this base. You took a disciplined approach (inprocessing checklists) to integrate yourself into your base, unit, and work center. You reviewed applicable Air Force guidance and instructions governing how you would do your job. You consulted experts and mentors in your field to gain the benefit of their experience. Today, that disciplined approach still applies, even if you consult a Web site instead of an office or person. The order or the items may change, but you still rely on published guidance and technical expertise of those around you to get the job done. 

Remain open to new ideas. Those of us who did not grow up with all the advantages technology affords us today may not yet fully support technological solutions. To forge ahead, we now must encourage development of solutions that take advantage of technology and efficiencies. We must support well developed proposals and assist subordinates in doing their homework to put forth effective improvements. For example, some of our predecessors who are now involved in the new cyber command, dealing with cyberspace as a new frontier, have had to significantly adjust their way of thinking about the future of warfare. Maybe they weren't fully on board at first. But I think they now have now come to realize the threat and fully understand why the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force chief of staff are pushing for dominance in this domain. 

Be courageous. Let's take a look back at our history. Here again, I consulted my predecessor, whose opinion I highly regard. He reminded me to "think of what Billy Mitchell, Spaatz and Arnold had to go through. Think about their conviction for an independent service, their pioneer spirit. Now is the time for us to embrace change, to strive for that same courage and pioneer spirit. As in their time, warfare is changing, technology is changing, and our adversaries will look for other ways to challenge us in the various domains--they will no longer face us on the open battlefield. Those days are over." I agree with his admonition that we can't stay still--we have to adapt to a pioneer spirit. 

Webster's defines a pioneer as "a person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development." According to the Office of the Secretary of Defense comptroller Web site, change management at the federal level involves aligning an agency's organizational culture with new ways of doing business. It goes on to say that managing change requires a unique kind of leader, someone who can "deconstruct an organization or process and put it back together in original, innovative ways." I believe if we apply our training and discipline to changes facing us now and in the future, remaining open and receptive to new ways of doing business, we can courageously lead our Air Force in continued dominance of the battlespace. Each of us can, in fact must, become pioneers and leaders of change if we are to accomplish our wing's priority of hunting down and killing America's enemies.