…it was a powerful and memorable experience.
We’re excited to announce a new course – MERGE: Gaining Cohesion in a Multigenerational Workforce. While completely customizable, in its standard format it is 48 hours delivered over the course of several weeks. It can be used in onboarding, team building, leadership development, change management, policy deployment, and annual refreshers. Let’s talk today about how this course or one like it can be right for you.
The planes are all in the boneyard or museums now. And the once bustling organization that managed the maintenance, repair, and operation of a fleet of giant cargo aircraft exists only in the memories of a few gray heads. But it faced a crisis in its heyday and the C-141 Management Directorate became involved in experiential education quite by accident – and was surprised beyond all expectations. What follows is an account of how a military organization’s experiment with experiential education as a corporate training tool created dramatic change in the organization itself, in the workforce, and in the lives of individual employees.
The C-141 STARLIFTER was the backbone of the nation’s long-range military airlift capability since its introduction into service in 1962. It was the last of the nation’s “bargain” aircraft, despite the increasingly heavy maintenance and repair workload required to keep the aging workhorse viable. With an originally designed service life of 30,000 flying hours, modifications and repairs gave the fleet a new lease on life with continued service expected through 45,000 flying hours. The C-141 Management Directorate was an example of excellent stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Maintenance, modification, repair, and world-wide logistics support were accomplished at Robins AFB since the aircraft’s introduction into service. The STARLIFTER Team always met and exceed customer expectations. Innovative and unique repair techniques and procedures evolved to meet the aircraft’s changing mission needs and support requirements.
The team’s support of this aircraft was at a level unparalleled in either military or industry. Constant and effective communication between the depot, customers, designers, and supporting community ensured world-class maintenance and support to keep the C-141 one of the safest, most effective, most economical aircraft ever bought and used by our country. Examples of its performance ranged from world-wide military operations (Desert Shield / Desert Storm) to world-wide humanitarian efforts (Restore Hope). The value of this aircraft to the nation was far beyond its cost. Equally valuable to the nation was the dedicated, experienced workforce that took pride in maintaining the aging mainstay. Despite trends in industry that sometimes cause employment to be viewed purely as a business arrangement, the STARLIFTER Team represented a loyal, dedicated, and proud work force – in some cases second and third generation Robins Air Force Base employees.
Aging aircraft can be roughly compared to the more mechanically familiar aging automobile. As planes and cars get older and accumulate more miles (or flying hours), they become more difficult and more expensive to maintain. Heavy demand and usage, plus age, results in a formidable workload in maintaining these aircraft. After months of meeting every challenge with a “whatever it takes” attitude, work force burnout became a very real possibility. We began searching for a way to step back, regroup, refocus, and to become proactive again, instead of reactive. The fires were out, or smoldering rather than blazing, and we needed to again focus on our traditional strong points such as quality, productivity, planning, etc. We wanted to corporately shift from a fire-fighting mode to a more detailed, methodical, and process-conscious mode. We found it hard, however, to shift from a crisis mode. We chose a very natural and very common solution of conducting team building classes. But, we got lucky on the method of delivery.
We stumbled upon experiential education because we were searching for a way to make our training a fun, enjoyable, memorable experience, which would contribute to the shift back to a cohesive team. Using experiential education as a corporate training tool, we did all that and more. We developed an experiential education-based curriculum that helped the C-141 Management Directorate continually improve the performance of maintenance, repair, modification, and world-wide logistics support of the fleet of C-141 STARLIFTERS. As those familiar with experiential education know, experiential education dates back to World War II, when the Royal British Navy discovered, contrary to expectations, that survivors of enemy submarine attacks were older sailors. This discovery was puzzling, as the younger sailors were more fit, in better condition, and would be expected to survive in greater proportion than older sailors. To capture the mental toughness, grit, fortitude, and survival skills of the older sailors and transfer this knowledge to the younger sailors, the Outward Bound (a nautical term referring to ships departing from harbor) School was formed. This was one of the earliest recorded formal uses of experiential education.
In the Sixties and Seventies experiential education was used mostly in clinical settings to treat behavioral problems, juvenile offenders, chemical and alcohol dependencies, etc. Clinicians observed, however, that the groups being treated displayed behaviors that are desirable in the work place, such as improved ability to function as a cohesive group, increased diversity awareness and respect, greater creativity in problem solving, and better leadership and followship skills. These results, reported in medical and psychiatric journals, went largely unnoticed by the business world. With the focus on teams and teamwork of the eighties and industry’s increased usage of motivational speakers (many of whom had clinical backgrounds), the use of experiential education as a corporate training tool began to increase. It became widespread in use in such companies as Saturn, Exxon, IBM, AT&T, Digital Equipment Corporation, Du Pont, Schering-Plough, Canadian Tire, General Electric, and Westinghouse.
Our use of experiential education produced outstanding results. We found it got the employees involved in their training through active participation. It was fun, relevant, effective, and provided the employees with a memorable experience. It helped bridge the communication gaps in a very diverse workforce. The C-141 Management Directorate had approximately 1500 employees in nearly every skill or profession except for sales and medicine. We had secretaries, clerks, acquisition and procurement personnel, several disciplines of engineers (aeronautical, mechanical, electrical, systems, structural, and industrial), managers, executives, all disciplines of aircraft mechanics (electrical, hydraulic, sheet metal, aircraft, etc.), information systems professionals, accountants, item and material managers, facilities managers, operations research analysts, corporate trainers, equipment specialists, production managers, workload schedulers, and human resource personnel. All these different people, with different skills and jobs, sometimes found it difficult to talk with each other with a common language and an understanding attitude. Experiential Education helped. It did it with props and training aids such as giant beach balls, darts and blow guns, hula hoops, race cars, tennis balls, parachutes, blindfolds, eggs, green buttermilk, twenty-pound rocks, utility poles, ropes, kid’s play tunnels, water guns, cotton balls, hand lotion, pizza, and fun. If you didn’t hear the discussion and facilitation going on, it looked a lot like play. But make no mistake, it accomplished, in exemplary fashion, our training goals. Our training techniques invited and supported growth – individual, interpersonal, and organizational. Participants learned new skills, or improved and enhanced existing skills, in the areas of team building, conflict management, creative problem solving, leadership and followship, and gained both a greater appreciation for diversity and enhanced self-esteem. If you haven’t yet tried experiential education as a corporate training tool, you should. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I ran a half marathon this weekend. It was my first in over six years. I’d let myself get fat and lazy, in no shape to run even a single step, and certainly not 13.1 miles. But I challenged myself to change.
As a leader, manager, coach, corporate trainer, and lifelong learner, I know the importance of challenging oneself. We can always improve and take our performance to the next level. I seek to improve a little bit every day.
What surprises me, however, is how much books on the bestseller list (both present and past) support this. I am sixty years old. Since July, I’ve lost sixty pounds, restarted my exercise regimen, and am no longer a pre-diabetic. I’ve found help and inspiration on my journey to better health with Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferris, Radical Candor by Kim Scott, Do Over and Start by Jon Acuff, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Made for Amazing by Mark Nation, and many more – my to-be-read stack is huge.
It’s good to challenge oneself, especially if the results are better health, more productivity or capability, increased knowledge or skills, or better job security or earning potential. The feelings that come from meeting challenges are priceless.
Have you challenged yourself lately?
I always enjoy graduations. They are special events. Prison graduations are even more special. They represent redemption, hope, deliverance, and rebuilding. They also represent a bargain for taxpayers. Most offenders come home. We all benefit when they come home equipped to reenter society, find a job, support their families, pay taxes, etc. I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve done to reinvent Career, Technical, and Post-Secondary education in Georgia’s prisons. The photo above is of me accepting a model forklift after speaking to graduates. We produced certificated graduates in Welding, Diesel Mechanics, Forklift Operation, and Carpentry.
In today’s tough environment, leaders need all the help they can get. Our customized leadership courses are industry-focused and have an immediate impact on productivity and effectiveness. We got rave reviews for this series of courses. We trained a hundred foremen, supervisors, managers, and team leads. Followup and company feedback shows our instruction provided new skills for these leaders, which they took back to the assembly line and put to work right away. We can do the same for your company.
We were proud to partner with Oconee Fall Line Technical College and the Associated General Contractors of Georgia (AGCG) in a nationally recognized training program. It prepares individuals for leadership roles in the construction industry. We facilitated workshops on Risk Management and Problem Solving for members of the AGCG. They were a great group and we all enjoyed practicing and sharpening our problem solving skills.
I hear about the skills gap every day from clients. I experience it every day as a consumer of good and services. So, I know there is a skills gap – in every sector, every organization, and every company. But I decided to take a broader look. Google found over two million hits for a “skills gap” search. Interestingly, a significant portion declared there was no skills gap. I disagree, and I bet you do as well. If you’d like to resolve a skills gap in your organization, give us a call. We can help. Here are a few.
The MIT Technology Review posted an article calling the skills gap a myth – https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608707/the-myth-of-the-skills-gap/
Inc. poses the question “Is there a skills gap?” – https://www.inc.com/magazine/201404/cait-murphy/skills-gap-in-the-labor-force.html
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) also flatly declares it a myth – https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1217/pages/the-skills-gap-is-a-myth.aspx
And there are others disputing a skills gap. I’d be interested in hearing your perspective. Please leave a comment to let us hear your opinion on the issue.
Move your company forward by recognizing that it is a business; acknowledge that customers and owners are its primary constituencies; and understand that strategy, culture and vision are tools for delivering products to customers and returns to owners. Connections to community and service are fine values, but they’re also investments that generate returns in talent attraction and retention, and in corporate reputation.
Therefore, you should focus your leadership efforts on creating seven statements that provide guidelines to current operations and a path to the future:
- Statement of purpose explaining why your company exists.
- Statement of the company’s competitive advantage and core competencies.
- Value Proposition for your customers.
- Value Proposition for your leadership and/or owners.
- Vision statement that frames the company’s future direction.
- Values and ethics statement that defines the company’s culture, describes the organization as a place to work, and is directed at employees.
- Strategy proposition, founded upon the value propositions, that ties together the vision of the future with sources of competitive advantage and the values of the workplace.
Each of these needs to be operationalized, measured, and reviewed regularly in the spirit of continuous improvement.
Well-crafted, widely disseminated statements of purpose, competitive advantage, and value propositions are helpful in reminding employees, customers and investors about the essence and purpose of an organization, and form the foundation of a business plan. In contrast, sloppy, generic statements generate apathy and cynicism at best, and active resistance and sabotage at worst.
Which will you choose?
Although we’ve been training for years, we’ve done it without a web page. We finally decided to take our own advice, learn new skills, and create a web site to help clients find us easier. We’ve looking forward to practicing new techniques, enhancing and improving our starter page, and meeting new people needing our services. Happy 2018!