U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey: How the Army Manages Transformation
Like any large, complex organization that must adapt to new realities, the U.S. Army seeks to knock down silos and rethink the way it looks at itself. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., talks about what it takes to modernize a 1.1 million person organization, where getting people to embrace change is the key.
April 14 2009 by JP Donlon
Leading this organizational transformation is General George W. Casey, Jr., 60, chief of staff of the
Recently, Chief Executive Editor-in-Chief J. P. Donlon talked with Casey in his office at the Pentagon about the risks and challenges of the Army’s modernization strategy and found that like many CEOs in the private sector, even four-star generals do not take buy-in for change initiatives for granted.
Like any organization, the Army has to continue to look into the future and adapt. Because it takes so long to get an organization of 1.1 million people to adapt, it’s necessary to move forward now. We didn’t have the army we needed on September 11. It was a good army but it was designed for major tank battles on the plains of
In what way will it be different?
It will be a versatile mix of multipurpose forces and special operations forces, supported by appropriate enablers such as intelligence, communications, engineers, logistics and other kinds of support. It will be a balanced force, able to operate effectively from major conventional operations to peacetime actions. Before, we were organized to fight conventional wars; now we have to be prepared to face a variety of situations of varying intensity across a wide spectrum of conflict. That’s why versatility is our primary organizing principle in terms of how we train ourselves, train our leadership and equip our forces.
In any change initiative many CEOs in business try to use technology as an enabler. How is the Army using technology to help speed the transformation you seek?
In order to best use technology we try to understand better how leadership in the private sector uses it to effect change. I now tell generals that we have to think differently about leadership. For instance, we will send a senior brigadier to a university’s business school for a week, followed by an advanced course where we have them visit a specific industry in order to understand how they use technology. For example, I am going to
Cisco offered a good example of how organizations best collaborate internally. They have a method where you can readily find others in the company who are working on the same things you are working on. I found this very useful, since in the Army I don’t have to worry about people who are not doing anything; I have to worry about people doing similar things but not communicating that fact to one another.
Given that we are in a very tough economy and that you must contend with a new Congress and Administration with very different policies, to what degree has this affected your mission to transform the Army?
It’s up to us, me particularly, to make the case with our civilian leaders and with Congress that we are in an era of persistent conflict. We are at war against a global extremist terrorist network that is not going to quit, give up and go home. We have to be very careful how we figure out the right balance to address this. There are some who argue that we can’t afford to modernize. I say we can’t afford not to modernize.
Speaking at our leadership conference last year, former
There is no question that the cyber threat to our networks, both commercial and military, is real. It is happening every day and in increasingly sophisticated ways. Therefore, we have to adapt and invest in the cyber career field and grow people that can lead us in our understanding. We chose our first Chief Cyber Officer-a general officer-last year out of the information operations career field, because we need that level of technically skilled leadership, and we are looking to add 2,000 to 3,000 specialists to our cyber career field over the next three years. So, we are building a whole new specialty field, and to institutionalize this takes a long time.
Equipping Today’s Soldier
We also have to adapt how our culture looks at the network. We have to think of it as a command and- control system and not as a way to just pass information. Commanders need to be involved in the oversight and protection of their command-and-control system, since you are only as strong as your weakest link. It just takes one open portal for the whole system to be at risk.
You asked about how we work with industry. One of the things we are working on-and well behind business, I know-is having one person be in charge of the network. We’ve done this in
There is much discussion of the increased capacity of
I don’t have an operational role. Through the Joint Chiefs we provide military advice to the President. My job is to organize training, equip the Army and provide forces to the commanders, so what I tell you is just my opinion.
What can the private sector do to help in the readiness area?
The employers of guardsmen and reservists have done yeomen service. My son who is in the Army Reserves works for a company that has a policy that if he gets called up they match the pay difference while he is gone. Many companies across the country do this. I appreciate the strain that employers are enduring. So, my hat is off to the employers out there that do so. We couldn’t be doing what we are doing without such support at home. The guardsmen and reservists are making a difference in this war at a critical time. Secondly, I would encourage employers to consider hiring the many talented people who leave the military because, in addition to having strong technical skills, they have the leadership, discipline and commitment to seeing a job done well.
Looking back on your military career, what single experience proved to be your greatest leadership challenge?
My single greatest leadership challenge was when I was in Iraq trying to help organize and develop three Iraqi governments in a two year period, and at the same time fighting an insurgency and growing the Iraqi security forces to help them take over. That was the hardest thing I have ever done.The takeaway lesson for me was to appreciate that there are many different ways to skin the cat. As a leader you have to step up, build conviction about the right way to deal with it and then go forward. Like any CEO, you have to look to the future and decide which issues you are willing to take on. It takes vision and courage for the senior guy to say, “OK, this is what we are doing,” and then you must support it and do it.