White Paper: Organizational Learning is alive and well in the military services . . . And we must keep up the momentum!

Authored by Daniel T. Murphy


Organizational learning was the management flavor of the decade in the early 1990s. Companies in every industry jumped on the bandwagon, especially when, in 1990, Peter Senge published his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (Senge, 1990). Senge was on the bookshelf of nearly every large company C-level executive in the United States, as well many executives abroad. Hundreds of management consultants were kept busy helping those business leaders build learning organizations. I was one of those consultants, and I met Senge twice during those years. The military services and government agencies were no exception to the fad. Like they had done with Total Quality Management (TQM) and every previous management fad, admirals, generals and civilian government leaders also jumped on the bandwagon. A literature review will show that every military organization and nearly every government agency has claimed, at one time or another, to be a learning organization or a learning organization under development.

Revisiting Senge

To start, let’s review Senge’s perspective on organizational learning. Senge suggested organizational learning occurs when “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” (Senge, 1990, p.1). A learning organization is built on the five disciplines of systems thinking, team learning, shared vision, mental models, and personal mastery. Here is how I recently described Senge’s five principles to Navy leadership:

Systems Thinking: Systems thinking means, in part, shifting away from having a primarily vertical/functional (e.g., accounting department, marketing department, etc.) view of an organization, and transitioning towards a more horizontal/process-focused view. The Navy practices systems thinking on a daily basis. Aircraft carrier flight operations are a good example. As soon as a carrier at sea announces flight quarters, officers and sailors in every functional workgroup suddenly begin to focus less on their vertical functional area, and more on the horizontal process of launching, operating and recovering aircraft. Organizations large and small could actually learn quite a bit about customer-supplier relationships, process mapping, process measurement, and continuous improvement by watching how an aircraft carrier practices Senge’s principle of systems thinking.

Shared Vision: One could argue that there is no large organization in the world that executes the concept of shared vision as well as a U.S. military organization. Vision starts at the top of the national command authority with The United States National Security Strategy (2010), which lays out broad direction. The U.S. National Defense Strategy (2008) cascades that broad direction in greater detail to the Department of Defense. The National Military Strategy (2011) cascades that direction with even greater detail specifically to the military services. With specific reference to the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations’ (CNO’s) Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power (2007) cascades it yet further. Fleet commanders then use that document to develop their own regional strategies. A destroyer squadron staff then uses the fleet command strategy to do the same at the squadron level. The commanding officer of a ship uses that strategy to develop her/his standing orders. Each division and workgroup on the ship then does the same. As described in his 2002 book, It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, Captain Michael Abrashoff describes how modern military leaders solicit and incorporate ideas from the most junior crewmembers. Does the cascading of vision and strategy sometimes break down? Yes. Do ideas and feedback sometimes fail to flow up the chain of command, rather than downward? Yes, of course. However, no other industry has mechanized the process of a cascaded vision and strategy like the military services.

Personal Mastery, Team Learning and Mental Models: Organizational theorists such as Edgar Schein (1984) and others have suggested that an organization’s ingrained beliefs and norms can be at least partially purposefully created through the development of a common language, rituals and other cultural artifacts. Again, aircraft carrier operations are a perfect example of that. And, since all western air force and naval air squadrons tend to work in similar ways, I will turn for a moment to the French Air Force as an example, and specifically to the “ritual” of the aviators’ debriefing session.

A study by Gode and Barbaroux (2012) demonstrated that military aviators’ focus on error detection and correction is based on a highly internalized and ritualized mode of organizational learning. Aviators observe the errors of others, and use that information to help correct their own performance. Aircrews then have reflexive conversation to find appropriate remedies, and to voice accountability for their own mistakes. Every participant is involved in a deep and constructive post-flight review. The post-flight review is highly data-based, and relies on flight data recording and analysis technologies. The aviators intertwine the objective of becoming personally masterful with team learning in a collaborative/reflexive mental model that is manifested in the flight debrief.

Argyris’s Double-Loop Learning: Another organizational learning thought leader, Chris Argyris (1977) would suggest that the reflection or reflexivity is the key. And there is no better example of Argyris’s ideas at play than in the way the Naval War College has conducted war games for more than a century. War gamers assign blue players (U.S. and allies), green players (neutrals), red players (adversaries) and black players (referees) to play out a fictional scenario of a conflict or humanitarian response in a particular region of the world. More important than the moves of the game is the “hotwash” that happens after the game. In the hotwash, the players work collaboratively to understand “what did we learn” in the game. Argyris calls this single loop learning. The players also reflect ask “what did we learn about how we learn?” which is Argyris’s second learning loop. Senge, Argyris and multiple organizational learning theorists argue that it is that second learning loop that drives an organization’s competitive advantage through innovation ability. They might also argue that the second loop is what enables U.S. military forces, not only to reflexively ask what are we learning about how we are learning on the battle field, but also what are we learning about our strategic objectives in the world.

But the Learning Organization was a 1990s fad, correct? And, like most companies in the private sector, the military services have gone on to the next management technique du jour, right? Wrong. If there is one trendy thing in the military services that is absolutely not just a trendy thing, it is organizational learning. First of all, consider the Navy examples described above – All examples of organizational learning at play in today’s 2017 Navy. The Navy is absolutely a tried-and-true learning organization.

Organizational Learning in the Army

Let’s continue the discussion by turning for a moment to the U.S. Army. Perhaps the most often cited (Baird et al., 1997, 1999; Darling and Parry 2001; and Brock et al., 2009) example of organizational learning in a military service is the Army’s after-action review (AAR) process. AAR is a four-step process that is completed at the end of an operation or exercise: (a) Review operational intentions, (b) Analyze actions and consequences, (c) Capture lessons learned and implications for future actions, and (d) Apply the lessons learned. AAR was developed by the Army’s Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL). CALL was created in 1985 and expanded through the 1990s and beyond to collect operational lessons learned that could be incorporated into Army training programs. CALL is also charged to explore the impacts of virtual reality, simulation technologies and other technology innovations, and to observe and learn from actual combat operations. CALL’s impact on Army organizational learning has been documented by multiple scholars, including Margaret and Wheatley (1994), Gerras (2002), Williams (2007), and DiBella (2010).

In fact, the Army’s brand of organizational learning has been emulated by other military organizations. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) created a CALL during the 2006 conflict with Lebanon. The IDF CALL was specifically created to capture lessons learned by IDF troops during combat operations, and share those learnings with units preparing to deploy. The IDF CALL sought specifically to enhance individual and team reflection and learning from mistakes made in the field in a non-punitive spirit of innovation (Marcus, 2014).

Another U.S. Army example is the development of the Rhino Convoy Protection Device. Throughout 2003, U.S. casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan were significantly increasing. While pressure certainly mounted on the White House and the Pentagon to do something, it was the soldiers on the ground who were most impacted by the problem. When leadership failed to respond fast enough, the ground troops developed their own makeshift solutions. Specifically, they began constructing homemade electronic devices from kitchen toasters and other household electronic appliances, and mounting those devices on extension poles attached to the front of their Humvees. The devices caused IEDs to blow up in front of the Humvee, rather than under the Humvee, and they helped to significantly reduce casualties. The Pentagon used those makeshift devices as inspiration to develop the Rhino device, which could be factory-produced in quantity and distributed across the brigades and battalions.

So, why is the Rhino device a big deal from an organizational learning perspective? For an answer, let’s turn for a moment to another organizational theorist named James March. March (1991) studied the difficulties that organizations face when trying to strike a balance between exploitative organizational learning and explorative organizational learning. Simply said, some organizations compete in the marketplace by being effective at incremental change. Financial services companies are a good example. They rarely make breakthrough changes in products and services. Rather, they become successful at learning what the market wants and needs, learning their own product and service delivery capabilities, and closing capability gaps faster than their competitors. Other companies compete through exploration. Pandora, Spotify, and Uber are good examples. These companies focused their energy on learning about unmet cultural-societal needs, and developed products to meet those needs. And some companies are especially good at balancing their exploitative and exploratory learning capabilities. 3M is an oft-cited example as evidenced in their balanced portfolio of breakthrough and annuity products. March might argue that the Army achieves its exploitative versus exploratory learning balance in a unique way. In the case of the Rhino device, ground-level exploratory learning was the creator of a breakthrough product that ultimately saved hundreds, and possibly thousands of lives. However, that breakthrough product developed by the ground troops would never have been able to be mass produced and distributed organization-wide if not for the exploitative capability of the Pentagon.

SIDEBAR STUDY: Organization Structural Fluidity as an Element of Organizational Learning

Manigart (2003) studied organizational structural fluidity as an example of organizational learning and as an operational advantage in the U.S. military. When U.S. military services need to act, whether that action is a combat operation or humanitarian relief operation, or something in-between, organizational structures flex to meet the requirement. Those structures continue to flex as the needs of the operation become better known. For example, when the Air Force needed to align and synchronize air operations between multiple military services and multiple countries to support concurrent operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, they created the 379th Air Wing, which has evolved in structure as the requirements for the two conflicts have also evolved. Similarly, to respond to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the president directed U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) to create a Joint Task Force (JTF) with a dedicated command structure and forces reassigned from multiple military services and government agencies from multiple countries. The JTF concept was developed specifically to be able to flex to a situation in the world based on lessons learned from previous similar experiences, and from standing operational plans (OPLANS) developed based on those lessons learned.

Organizational Learning in World War I

Not only is organizational learning alive and well in the U.S. military services, we see it every day in our western military allies as well. We have already looked at the French Air Force. Let’s stick with both Senge and March for another moment, and look back to the First World War. March’s exploitative versus exploratory learning can be seen in action in the German and British armies. According to Foley (2014), the British army relied on innovative technology-based solutions to solve battle problems (March’s exploration-based organization learning). The German army relied on incremental and tactical battlefield solutions (March’s exploitation-based organizational learning). So, why is that?

Prior to the war, the British Army had 11,000 officers on active duty, and 13,000 on the reserve lists. Most were lightly trained amateurs who served for a period of years when conflicts arose. What’s worse is that the original British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that deployed to the Western Front in 1914 lost 3,627 officers and more than 86,000 soldiers during its first year of combat operations. The result was a significant knowledge drain. On the positive side, because British officers were mostly part-timers, they regularly brought knowledge from the outside into the organization. That was especially true regarding the replacement officers who came to the organization after the losses in 1914.

In contrast, the German army had 120,000 officers, plus Reserves. German officers were professional career officers, with a highly structured and extensive reporting system allowed trends in adaptation to be discerned, combined, improved and exploited.

Looking at the opposing armies’ tactics through March’s lens, the highly sophisticated German trench warfare system is an example of exploitation-based organizational learning. In contrast, the BEF, lacking the same internal infrastructure of the German army, relied on a more fluid exchange of ideas with the external private-sector, enabling the development of technological breakthroughs for battlefield advantage. The BEF’s exploration-based organizational learning advantage resulted in the development of the Stokes mortar, aircraft radios, microphones for sound ranging of enemy artillery, and most importantly the battlefield tank.

Concluding Thoughts: Organizational Learning by Our Adversaries

Evan Ellis (1999) suggested that organizational learning is a new and only form of competitive advantage between military adversaries. According to Ellis, in a military conflict, whichever side can more quickly understand, revise, or reverse expectations regarding what works versus what does not work will gain some degree of competitive advantage over their adversary. Every U.S. adversary seems to have figured this out over the years, and some with a high level of sophistication. Somalian pirates operating along the Horn of Africa and in the Gulf of Aden are a good example. Piracy incidents were increasing exponentially through the early 2000s. Western coalition forces and shipping companies tried new tactics such as increasing speed through high risk shipping lanes. The pirates quickly adjusted their tactics by adding a second engine to their attack craft. As shipping companies shifted their transit routes far offshore, the pirates began operating mother ships to extend their own range offshore – all the way to India, in fact (Efforts to Combat Piracy, 2013).

The Somalian pirates, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al Shabaab, Al Nusra, the drug cartels, the FARC, etc., have all figured out that their ability to fight against the U.S. and other western countries is dependent on their ability to innovate faster than their adversary. When western forces learned how to defend themselves against IEDs, our adversaries adapted new tactics. When U.S. forces killed the leader of Al Qaeda and learned how to interrupt the organization’s highly centralized command and control system, Al Qaeda practiced its own form of structural fluidity (see sidebar), and began operating with a more decentralized command structure. As coalition forces disrupted a large percentage of narcotics trafficked through the Caribbean in the 1990s, the cartels shifted their tactics to rely more on land-based trafficking. And notably, a good number of cartel leaders have attended top U.S. and European business schools, and likely have been exposed to Senge and other organizational learning thought leaders.

Organizational learning is alive and well in the U.S. military services, and in the services of many of our allies. Yet, in today’s complex and uncertain worldwide security environment, there has never been a more important time for a renewed emphasis on organizational learning. The reason is rather simple. Our adversaries know that they cannot defeat us via conventional means. As a result, they have opted to fight unconventionally and asymmetrically. In other words, organizational learning is very much alive and well amongst our adversaries. We will do well to remember that.



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Baird, L., Henderson, J.C., & Watts, S. (1997). Learning from action: An analysis of the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL). Human Resource Management, 36(4), 385-395. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-050X(199724)36:4<385::AID-HRM3>3.0.CO;2-R

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March, J. G. (1991). Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning. Organizational Science, 2(1), 71-87.

Marcus, R. D. (2014). Military innovation and tactical adaptation in the Israel–Hizballah conflict: The institutionalization of lesson-learning in the IDF. Journal of Strategic Studies, 38(4), 500-528. doi.org.ezproxy.neu.edu/10.1080/01402390.2014.923767

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Schein, E. H. (1984) Coming to a new awareness of organizational culture. Sloan Management Review, 25(2), 3-16.

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Williams, J. D. (2007). Is the U.S. Army a learning organization? (Unpublished master’s thesis). Army War College, Carlisle, PA.

Understanding the 2014 Market Basket Crisis through Symbolic Organization Theory

Authored by Daniel T. Murphy

A Pre-Symbolic View

The drama that played out at Market Basket in 2014 left business leaders, management consultants and educators around New England scratching their heads. In its initial days, the crisis resembled many previous situations in other organizations. By the time that the crisis came to a close at the end of August, it was clear that, from an organizational theory perspective, something unusual had taken place, and some significant organizational “givens” warranted reconsideration. For example: (1) That a for-profit organization exists to maximize shareholder value; (2) That power resides at the top of an organization; and (3) That power is contested between the organization and the external market.

Trying to understand what transpired at Market Basket by looking through a modernist lens is a difficult task. From an epistemological standpoint, a modernist would have expected the crisis to play out based on an established set of norms. According to Hatch and Cunliffe (2013), those norms are based on an accumulation of knowledge and experiences by many organizations through many years. For example, one norm is that a for-profit organization exists to maximize shareholder value, and all business decisions are made toward that end. A second norm is that leadership and power resides at the top of an organization. A third norm, especially in a non-union environment, suggests that when the CEO demands that managers return to work, managers return to work. Managers do what they are told, because managers do not have the power to do otherwise. A fourth norm is that Market Basket customers would continue to make shopping decisions based on the same cost and convenience-based criteria that all grocery customers in society always make decisions. If we try to understand the crisis through the modernist lens, we might seek to find the flaw or flaws in our original constructions of those norms. Positivists seek to find the reasons that the situation deviated from what a modernist would call universal principles and laws that govern organizations. In other words, why did the norms of shareholder value, power and distribution, and market forces not prevail at Market Basket during the summer of 2014. In the words of Weber (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2013), why did Market Basket not react like a rational-legal industrialized “iron cage” organization?

The one pre-symbolic theorist whose perspective might be useful in this case is Karl Marx. Marx (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2013) argued that economic efficiency creates a surplus of wealth. In a capitalist society that wealth is contested by those who own the means of production and those who do the work for the organization. Conflict between the two parties is always inherent. As the demand for profitability increases, conflict between the two parties also increases. Marx would argue that Market Basket was historically a relatively peaceful organization because the demand for profitability was low. In other words, the organizational was communal. According to Mackin (Boston Review, 2014c), with the firing of Arthur T. Demoulas, employees saw the writing on the wall that the company was likely to be sold to the Delhaize Group, and that the high-wage business model was likely going to disappear. Marx would argue that the level of conflict was increased simply by the rumblings of a demand for greater profitability. Yet, Marx’s perspective only partially explains the dynamics that unfolded.

Given: That a for-profit organization exists to maximize shareholder value

The Market Basket crisis makes significantly more sense when viewed through a symbolic (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2013) perspective. The symbolic perspective is subjective. The organization does not have any objective reality apart from the awareness of those who are members of it, or who interact with it in some way – In other words, the employees and customers of the organization. Thomas (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2013) suggested that if men define situations as real, then those situations are real in their consequences. Berger and Luckmann (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2013) argued that organizations are products of a collective search for meaning by which experience is ordered, which is a process they called sensemaking. Geertz (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2013) and Giddens (1979, 1984) might explain that the Produce Department is the Produce Department, because we buy produce in the Produce Department. Every time we buy produce in the Produce Department, and every time an employee or customer calls the Produce Department the Produce Department, it reinforces the norm that the Produce Department is the Produce Department. It is not a universal principle to be discovered, but rather a context that is defined and redefined by perception.

Geertz would argue that a similar construction and reconstruction is always at play regarding an organization’s purpose, the roles of leadership roles, and the distribution of power. For example, somewhere in Market Basket’s organizational history, the purpose of the organization must have been reinterpreted from something other than what is the norm in the greater world, which is that a for-profit organization exists to maximize shareholder value. Somewhere in the organization’s history, the organization’s stakeholders redefined organizational purpose as something other than that. Geertz (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2013) would agree that that redefinition was less likely a purposeful renaming of shareholder value (e.g., Attention shoppers, shareholder value will now be redefined as . . .), and more likely an evolution of norms through rewarded behaviors. Schein (1984) would identify the event as a cultural artifact, perhaps purposefully enacted to create a culture, perhaps a byproduct of underlying values, or perhaps both. For example, Nickish (Boston Review, 2014b) told a company story about a customer who forgot to take home his groceries. When he returned to the store, he was told by a manager to just “go inside and grab whatever you need.” Nickish tells this as a typical and celebrated story at Market Basket. And, if it is a typical and celebrated story, it is likely that that employee emulated the behaviors he had seen in upper management, and that such behaviors are rewarded. Every time a behavior is rewarded, either through an actual or tangible award, or through a nostalgic account, that behavior becomes more ingrained as a truth – Again, not because it is a fundamental truth, but rather because it has been interpreted by the actors in and around the organization as true.

Given: That power resides at the top of an organization

Also, somewhere in Market Basket’s history, the norm that employees recognize that power resides at the top of the organization was redefined as well. Macklin (Boston Review, 2014a) hinted at that symbolic or heuristic redefinition when he talked about the “language of ownership” at Market Basket. Employees consistently used such terms as “our stores” and “our CEO.” I can personally contrast that to the many client organizations where I have consulted, and only occasionally heard clients say such things as “our stores” or “our bank branches” or “our pharmacies”. According to Mackin (Boston Review, 2014a) Market Basket is a company where “managers and employees are the natural owners of the firm.” Ancona (Boston Review, 2014a) made the argument that Market Basket had traded the traditional notion of leadership in favor of a distributed leadership (DL) model where power is distributed throughout the organization. According to Ancona, for the model to be successful, it must be combined with a compelling and well-understood strategic business model, and with managers and employees who are freed to become adept at “sensing” the situation and “seizing” and opportunity. The customer who was told to “go inside and grab whatever you need” is a good example of sensing what is the right thing to do, according to the organizational norms, and seizing on an opportunity to act, and in turn, reinforcing those norms. The fact that nearly all store managers joined the cause, but did so in ways that were appropriate to their particular locations is another good example. Through the symbolic/interpretivist lens, we can understand how the managers were able to interpret their role as something different than the role that would be considered the “norm” at another company. Thus, when employees revolted, managers did not respond with the “normal” response of supporting the CEOs. They responded by doing what was best for the company, because they believed that power resided, not with the CEOs, but with they themselves. On a side note, the company likely inadvertently reinforced the normalness of distributed or, at least shared leadership by appointing two CEOs rather than one.

Given: That power is contested between the organization and the external market

The Market Basket crisis also raises debate about whether a for-profit organization and the external market are, by nature, Marxian adversaries. How much power is wielded by customers and other stakeholders such as community leaders and the press, and how much control does the organization have regarding how much power it allocates to the outside? This too is difficult to understand through a modernist perspective. A modernist/positivist might see that the universal principles and laws that govern the company-customer relationship were established decades ago. In the modernist/positive paradigm, Market Basket allowed the shelves to go bare. Customers would therefore need to start shopping elsewhere. And, even if the crisis was resolved, a percentage of customers would likely never return. The company would be permanently damaged, both from a financial position, and from a brand standpoint.   A modernist/positivist would likely wonder why the employees and managers had committed organizational suicide, and destroyed their own livelihood.

However, the symobolic/interpretivist would understand that the managers, employees and customers of Market Basket had re-interpreted the company-customer relationship in a totally different way. Whereas most CEOs, and most business people in the world think and talk in terms of “company and customers” (internal and external), Arthur T. Demoulas, his managers, employees and customers of Market Basket see the situation more akin to a partnership or cooperative. When employees hung signs saying, “Thank you for shopping Market Basket. Boycott Market Basket,” they were reinforcing a norm that was already present. That norm was that the company and the customers were partners in the world, that the employees trusted the customers to come back when things returned to normal – Not society’s normal, but the company’s and customers’ collaboratively perceived normal. That collaboratively perceived normal where the company happily shared power with customers was firmly in place before the crisis. Hence, Michael Devaney said “We don’t need emails to tell us what our customers think.” (Boston Review, 2014b).

Market Basket employees and customers also use the term “family”. Morgan (2006) would call this a constructive falsehood, false because employees and customers are not really together in a family, but constructive in that family members take care of one another. This would make sense to Giddens as well. Every time Market Basket employees and customers use the word family, it reinforces that they take care of one another. Equally important is that it proposes power is not to be competed for, nor wielded by one constituency over another, but instead is agreed to be shared between constituencies. Compare, for example, most marketing models that emphasize customers’ power of the purse over the organization. Similarly, consider the typical government organization mindset that the agency (e.g., IRS, EPA, RMV, etc.) wields the power over the customer. While the modernist scratches their head and ponders why Arthur T. Demoulis would bet money that the customers would come back after the employees had purposely emptied the shelves, the symbolic/interpretivist would say, “Of course they will come back, family always comes home.”

Personal Perspective

I have spent more than twenty years as a management consultant, consulting to managers and executives across multiple industries and countries, in the largest companies in the world. This week was quite a moment for me when I realized how much of my own perspective is based on a modernist paradigm. If we were not studying these very concepts while reading this case study, my modernist brain would have glossed over some of the most important things that were happening in this situation, especially Market Basket’s reinterpretations of organizational purpose, organizational leadership, and the relationship of an organization to its external constituencies. For me, this case study made real many of the readings that until this week were simply conceptual to me. I especially had an “aha” moment thinking about what Geertz would say about the Market Basket crisis. The powerful in an organization are the powerful, not because they have power, but because they are interpreted as having power. Freire (1970) would say they are named as having power. The more they are named powerful, the more they are considered powerful. The more they successfully USE power, the more they are acknowledged to have power. I believe that that is the key to understanding the phenomenon of the “hero leader” in American society. However, what if the leader tries to use power, but is ignored. Geertz would say that power at Market Basket is no longer power as one would traditionally understand it, because it no longer resides where it has traditionally resided. Power is now something else. That is what happened at Market Basket. The crisis arguably permanently disassociated power with the CEO role. Geertz might analogize that the dining room is no longer definitively the dining room anymore, because it’s now being used as an extra bedroom. That is likely what Arthur S. Demoulas recognized. That is why he likely saw no option other than to sell the company – Because no appointed CEO would be able to wield the top-level power that had been either stripped away from the top level by the crisis, or more likely, had never resided at the top level at all.


Boston Review (Producer). (2014a). Lessons from Market Basket: Corporate governance and leadership. Available from https://vimeo.com/108838862

Boston Review (Producer). (2014b). Lessons from Market Basket: Introduction by Curt Nickisch. Available from https://vimeo.com/108827244

Boston Review (2014c, October 8). Lessons from Market Basket: An MIT Sloan and Boston Review roundtable. Retrieved from http://bostonreview.net/us/lessons-from-market-basket-forum

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Hatch, M. J., & Cunliffe, A. L. (2013). Organization theory: Modern, symbolic, and postmodern perspectives (3rd ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

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Schein, E. H. (1984). Coming to a new awareness of organizational culture. Sloan Management Review 25(2), 3-16.

Navy Diversity as an Engine of Doxicity: Lessons Learned in a Navy Recruiting District

Authored by Daniel T. Murphy


The purpose of this study was to understand how diversity is recognized, promoted, and supported by a Navy Recruiting District (NRD), and how the organization benefits from diversity. In general, the results of the study were positive. Artifacts of diversity are very observable, regularly espoused, and seem to be genuinely “felt”, and members of the organization seem to have consensus that diversity has a positive contribution to the mission and to the organization overall.

To understand the features and benefits of diversity at NRD, I completed interviews with three members of the organization. All interviewee names in this paper are pseudo names. Sam is an officer recruiter with 15 years of experience. He is a lieutenant, and has spent the majority of his career in operational roles, including multiple tours of duty at sea. Gin is a medical officer recruiter with 10 years of experience. She is a lieutenant, and has spent the majority of her career in shore-based clinical roles. Cole is a minority enlisted recruiter with 12 years of experience. Cole spent the early part of his career at sea, and became a career recruiter approximately seven years ago. The interviews lasted approximately 40 minutes each. I explained to the participants that the interviews were for exercise purposes only, would be kept confidential, and would be shared only with my classmates and professor. However, military members and government employees, are regularly reminded that non-classified and non-personally identifiable information (PII) is generally releasable to the public. As a result, Rosenfeld, Booth-Kewley, Edwards and Alderton (1994), and other studies have found that military members tend to be more impression sensitive than their commercial sector counterparts. In other words, they tend to be more guarded in the information they share, especially regarding sensitive topics such as diversity and inclusion.

Each interview began with a tangible, artifact-level (Schein, 2010) discussion of diversity where I discussed with participants the typical things they see, say, and hear in their workplaces on a regular basis. As the interviews progressed, I challenged the interviewees to help me uncover some of the less visible diversity elements of organizational culture; in other words, values, norms, and underlying assumptions. Each participant was asked a total of eight semi-structured, diversity-related questions, plus additional probing questions when necessary. The interview questions are included as an appendix in this document. Following the initial set of interviews completed for the general organizational culture team assignment, I conducted three follow-on interviews with the same interviewees to ask probing questions regarding the organization’s diversity-related artifacts. As a data capturing technique, I used a combination of verbatim note taking and paraphrasing. I documented the interview summaries in a standard template, and then reviewed, analyzed, and aggregated content into groupings and themes. The analysis was qualitative, with some quantitative elements, such as counting content elements to define themes.

Key Findings

Unlike the previous general culture study completed by Team 4, where we had a robust data set of 12 interviews across four organizations, the data analysis in this study did not yield a set of diversity “themes” per se. However, I was able to identify elements of diversity across each of Schein’s (2010) three levels of culture (x-axis): artifact-level, espoused beliefs and values, and basic underlying assumptions, and across his group levels (y-axis) of microculture, subculture, and macroculture.

I analyzed the interview data across two of Schein’s (2010) cultural dimensions, which for the purposes of this paper, I am describing as x-axis and y-axis (See Figure 1). As a quick review, Schein (2010) says culture develops across two dimensions. In an x-axis, culture has three levels. Observable artifacts, including structures (e.g., business processes and organization structures) and behaviors, are the top layer. Espoused (described) beliefs, values, goals, and ideologies, are a middle layer. Underlying assumptions, taken-for-granted beliefs and values, are at the bottom layer. In a y-axis, microcultures develop in workgroups. Subcultures develop in specialty groups (e.g., officers, Chief Petty Officers, and the Career Recruiter group). A macroculture develops at the organization level (e.g., NRD level). The study resulted in three key findings. First, diversity at NRD is very evident at Schein’s (2010) artifact level of culture. Second, diversity is also a clearly espoused value, and very embedded in the organization as an underlying value. Third, the organization seems to have consensus that diversity has a positive contribution to mission accomplishment, and very likely has a greater than usual positive ripple effect into our greater society.

Finding: Diversity is Artifactual

Interviewees mentioned artifact-level diversity components that generally fit into four categories: event-based artifacts, investment-based artifacts, measurement-based artifacts, and organizational structure-based artifacts. For example, all three interviewees mentioned event-based diversity artifacts. NRD’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) committee conducts events such as bake sales and pot luck lunches. These events occur at NRD Headquarters each year during African American History month in February and National Hispanic Heritage Month in September and October. In Schein’s (2010) model, these event-based artifacts exist: (a) within the macroculture level, because they are often celebrated by the Navy and NRD leadership through press releases and other organization-wide communications, (b) within subcultures, because they are celebrated by ethnic groups that cut across workgroups, and (c) within microcultures, because specific workgroups often take the lead on organizing the events.

All three interviewees mentioned investment-based artifacts. For example, NRD allocates a percentage of its operating budget for recruiters to attend local and national diversity events, such as the Society of Women Engineers conference and National Society of Black Engineers events. NRD also made a specific investment in operating costs and human resources by reopening a previously disestablished recruiting station in Quincy, Massachusetts. In recent years, Quincy has transitioned from being a predominantly white community to a more mixed community with a large Asian population. NRD reopened the station to specifically target the growing Asian demographic. NRD leadership also assigned an Asian American recruiter as the leading petty officer of the station. Diversity investment is generally a macroculture-level artifact, since investment allocations occur at the NRD and national levels.

All three interviewees also mentioned measurement-based diversity artifacts. Measurement-based diversity artifacts can be seen at the macroculture level. Navy Recruiting Command (NRC) assigns annual officer diversity recruiting goals to each NRD. Each NRD assigns a specific “diversity mission” to each officer recruiter. Here, the nomenclature itself (diversity mission) is a diversity-related cultural artifact. Each officer recruiter is assigned to recruit approximately three diversity applicants per year. At the end of each fiscal quarter, the commanding officer conducts a formal performance review of each officer’s goals achieved, including their diversity goals achieved. The formality of the performance measurement process underscores the organization’s commitment to the diversity mission.

Two of the three interviewees discussed organizational structure-based diversity artifacts. For example, one interviewee pointed to “rates and ranks” as macroculture level artifacts that, might not seem to be diversity related, but in fact are very diversity related. Perhaps more than any other organization in the world, including other military organizations, the U.S. Navy has historically categorized its enlisted workforce into vertical subculture job classifications called “ratings.” For example, Gunners Mates are responsible for operating and maintaining weapons systems. Boatswain Mates are responsible for deck operations. Intelligence Specialists are responsible for intelligence collection and production. The Navy has historically celebrated the legacies of those ratings through rituals, symbols and language. Gunners mates are often nicknamed “Guns”, and Boatswain Mates are often nicknamed “Boats”. Each rating has a logo that is worn on the uniform. For a Boatswain’s Mate, the logo is crossed anchors. For a Gunner’s Mate, the logo is crossed cannons. The Navy has also traditionally celebrated vertical subculture affiliations. When a Boatswain’s Mate is promoted to first class petty officer, he or she joins the “First Class Mess.” When that same Boatswain Mate is promoted to Chief Petty Officer, he or she is ceremonially “initiated” into the Chief’s Mess, and is pinned with anchors. The Navy aviation community has its own subculture with its own rituals, symbols (e.g., brown shoes) and language. The Navy nuclear community has its own subculture, and the Supply Corps does as well. As a result, every Navy sailor always belongs to multiple subcultures and microcultures that are significantly more tangible than in other organizations.

Looking at the organization through Freire’s (1968) lens, one could make the argument that the Navy’s organizational structure creates “hard” subcultures and microcultures where vertical and horizontal professional affiliations outweigh ethnic and gender affiliations. All three interviewees referred to their colleagues by using their subculture affiliation titles. Every time an African American Boatswain Mate is called “Boats” it reaffirms that the sailor’s primary affiliation is with his or her job specialty, rather than his or her ethnicity. If Freire asked a Navy Boatswain Mate to define “other”, he or she might be more likely to think of a Gunners Mate, rather than a member of a different ethnic group. Similarly, if Hatch and Schultz (2002) asked a Navy Boatswain Mate to define “we”, he or she might be more likely to think of the Boatswain Mates, rather than a same ethnic group. Notably, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) announced two weeks ago that the Navy will stop using rating names such as Boatswain Mate and Gunners Mate, and will instead use the term Petty Officer to refer to all junior enlisted sailors.

Finding: Diversity is Espoused and Underlying

All three interviewers talked about diversity as an espoused value at the macroculture level, by the Navy overall, and by the leadership at NRD. All three interviewers said that Navy leadership and NRD both state regularly that they and the organization value diversity, and that they and the organization believe that increasing workforce diversity and inclusion will positively impact organizational performance.   Two of the three interviewees stated that they have read the NRD commanding officer’s written diversity vision statement. One interviewee said “Our commanding officer does talk about it during various command functions.” Another interviewee said “The command always mentions diversity and inclusion at every major event.”

I am conducting this study as a scholar practitioner who has personal experience in the organization being studied. With that mind, I would like to also offer my perspective. I have 25+ years of experience as a military officer, and as an organizational change management consultant in the commercial sector. When I weigh the Navy against the many Fortune 100 clients I have served, I believe Navy leadership and Navy personnel have a relatively low emphasis on espousing diversity as an organizational value. The interviewees seemed to agree. One interviewee said “Honestly, I think the Navy already ‘feels’ like a very diverse place. In my specific work group we have two Hispanics, two African Americans, five women and only two white males. So, yes, I think we have a sense of diversity – To the point where we don’t really talk about it. We just ARE diverse.” Another interviewee said “Until last year, Admiral Andrews was the leader of Navy Recruiting overall, and she was an African American female. And, I don’t know this for a fact, but it looks to me like Navy Recruiting does purposefully select recruiters who are diverse. I think we have a larger percentage of diversity in Recruiting than we do in the fleet overall.” The third interviewee emphasized how diversity in Navy Recruiting leadership has “normalized” diversity in the organization – “Our last admiral was an African American female. My supervisor is an African American female. My last supervisor was a female. My supervisor before that was a female. Our previous commanding officer was Hispanic.”

I asked the interviewees about the role of diversity in the promotion and job assignment processes. Interviewees believe it is a good thing that NRD tries to assign a female to each recruiting station as a way to provide mentoring to female future sailors. They also agreed with NRD’s strategy of assigning an Asian recruiter to a predominantly Asian geography, and Portuguese-speaking recruiters to Portuguese-speaking geographies. Although I probed multiple times, none of the interviewees felt that diversity had any negative impact on promotions or assignments. On the contrary, they each referred to the Navy’s “color blind” advancement policy. One interviewee said the Navy is “not like the fire department, where you get extra points” for being a diversity applicant. The interviewee felt that that is one of the reasons why the organization enjoys a relatively high level of racial harmony. Another interviewee mentioned the “good will” that the Navy has earned by making the advancement exams as “job performance-based as possible,” and through programs such as the Naval Academy Preparation School which helps prepare minorities for the academic challenges of the Academy.

Finding: Diversity Benefits the Mission

According to Brown, Knouse, Steward and Beale (2009), the generally accepted view of the correlation between diversity and organization performance is through process variables, where members of the organization categorize or stereotype each other, assign responsibilities based on those stereotypes, and the organization experiences either a beneficial or detrimental performance effect. In contrast, in NRD, the net benefit of diversity seems to be more matter-of-fact and tangible. In fact, all interviewers provided specific examples of where diversity contributes to mission accomplishment. One interviewee said “I think we are able to cover specific demographics because we have the people to cover those demographics. We have female recruiters who cover an annual recruiting even for women engineers. And, I know we have assigned Portuguese speakers to our stations on the North Shore and Fall River and Providence areas.” Another interviewer emphasized how diversity enables the Navy’s international security cooperation mission: “I think you see it, for example, when one of our ships makes a port call somewhere in the world, or even during Fleet Week in New York City. You see small racially and gender diverse groups of people walking all over town. I think that has set the Navy apart for decades.” Hajjar (2010) conducted a cross-service study exploring the linkage between diversity and mission accomplishment. He argued that improving cross-cultural competence, which includes cultural knowledge, attitudes and behavioral repertoire, improves the military’s ability to work effectively in foreign cultures. Likewise, Nuciari (2007) has argued that today’s military engages in a more diverse range of military operations than in previous generations. Those operations are sometimes called military operations other than war (MOOTW). MOOTW requires personnel to have a more culturally sensitive skill set. Nuciari (2007) argues that more diversity results in more cultural sensitivity.

Similar to the way a diverse group of Navy sailors makes an impression in a foreign port, a diverse group of recruiters make a similar impression walking around a local mall. When mall goers see a diverse group of accountants walking around the mall, it does reinforce that we live in a diverse society. However, mall goers see a diverse group of Navy sailors walking around the mall, one would presume that it reinforces even more that we are a diverse society, because the sailors are wearing the same uniform, and they are representing a fighting force that takes an oath to defend the nation’s Constitution – Not the document called the Constitution, but what constitutes us as a country. In their organizational change dynamics model, Burke and Litwin (1992) describe a two way relationship between an organization’s culture and its external environment. Most often, the external environment has a greater effect on the organizational culture than the organizational culture has on the external environment. However, the optical impact of a diverse group of Navy sailors walking through a shopping mall is likely to have a more significant external impact than usual.

The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (Bordieu, 1972) used the term doxa to describe the underlying norms of a society, or what Schein (2010) would describe as the basic underlying assumptions of an organization. For Bordieu, the nature of something is reinforced when it is named, and every time the name is re-used in conversation, and every time it is seen again in the same context that it was seen previously. Bourdieu (1972) might have argued that a diverse group of Navy sailors walking through a shopping mall reinforces what is already becoming “commonsensical” in American society, often through “espoused” means. Bourdieu might say that it reinforces the norm that there is “strength” in diversity. Sociologist often explained Bourdieu’s view in examples such as: “Every time we have dinner in the dining room, it reinforces the fact that it is the dining room. Therefore, every time we dine in the dining room, it becomes more the dining room.” Likewise, Bourdieu might have said, every time a diverse group of sailors walks through the shopping mall, it reinforces that the strongest military in the world is diverse – And therefore, like so many slogans and memes have espoused, there is, indeed, strength in diversity. In similar fashion to the way the U.S. military may function as an engine of diversity doxicity in our greater society, the military itself has its own internal engines (See Figure 2). For example, according to Moitoza (2008), when U.S. military personnel see military chaplains of multiple denominations working side-by-side in a combat environment, it reinforces within the organization itself the idea of strength in diversity. Another example is the Army’s purposeful assignment of cross-ethnic mentorship assignments, described by Cho (2013).


In general, NRD’s diversity story is a positive one. Compared with many organizations, NRD has a complex array of purposely placed diversity-related elements at the artifact level, and a highly tangible two-way “flow” between the internal culture and the external environment. NRD is a diversity and inclusion-friendly component of a larger organization called Navy Recruiting Command, which was recently led by a female African American admiral. Breaking the glass ceiling is a good thing. However, true organizational change happens in the grass roots of an organization.

Lomsky-Feder and Ben-Ari (2012) studied the Israeli Defense Forces, and determined that the higher the echelon of a military organization, the stronger the ethos of cohesion, and the greater capability to regulate or silence ethnic conflict. Having a female African American admiral as the leader of Navy Recruiting Command certainly does help the Navy and society break barriers. However, the doxa (Bourdieu, 1972) that is reinforced when a diverse group of Navy sailors walks through a shopping mall is arguably even more powerful. When asked if NRD has an environment and culture that supports diversity, one interviewee answered, “I think so. I am a female, and I have rarely felt uncomfortable, even though the Navy is still a predominantly male organization. But obviously, even that is changing. I do think, as a woman you need to be aware that it’s a blue collar environment, so you are occasionally going to witness certain kinds of ‘sailor’ behavior. But again, the organization, I think is trending toward more professionalism every year.”



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Using the Balanced Scorecard to Improve Regional Maritime Security Cooperation: Organizational Communication Implications

Authored by Daniel T. Murphy


Organizational communication is challenging enough in a commercial organization where top-level strategic objectives are well-defined and ingrained in the culture. In the for-profit world, employees generally have a common understanding that the organization’s objectives are to maximize revenues, minimize costs, and deliver value to the company’s owners or shareholders. While internal communication in for-profit enterprises can still be challenging, leadership at least has that commonly understood set of objectives upon which the organization’s “story” can be communicated. For example, while employees of the New England Patriots organization in Foxboro, Massachusetts do believe that the organization has a mission to give back to the community, we can presume they understand that the organization is a for-profit enterprise that ultimately exists to create wealth for its owners. In the public service and military sector, the story of “why we are here” is not always as easy to tell and sell to employees. Internal communications related to transformational initiatives are especially difficult in the government and military sector, because, for a variety of reasons (e.g., legislated requirements), such organizations are difficult to unfreeze (Lewin, 1947). The United States Navy’s fleet commands, located in geographies across the world, are a good example.

My dissertation focuses on regional maritime security cooperation planning in the fleet commands. The United States National Security Strategy directs military services to develop new and deeper partnerships in every region of the world.   Multi-national integration and interoperation is also emphasized in the National Defense Strategy, National Military Strategy, and in the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power. In a world where security is becoming more complex each year, and where military resources are becoming more and more finite, the challenge for a regional fleet commander is to make smart partnering decisions that enhance regional maritime security. My dissertation will test my theory that regional fleet commanders will make more effective regional maritime security partnering decisions if they transition from today’s intuition-based planning approach to a more data-driven approach such as Kaplan and Norton’s (1996) Balanced Scorecard method used by commercial sector executives.

The Balanced Scorecard method, developed by Kaplan and Norton (1996) has become a standard for documenting and measuring an organization’s business strategy. In a series of collaborative working sessions, an organization creates graphic value tree model, with cascading strategic objectives from the top level (e.g., increase earnings per share) to the work group and individual levels (e.g., increase cross-selling of services to existing customers). Performance measures and targets are then identified to support each strategic objective in the linkage model. The performance measures are balanced across four dimensions (financial, customer, internal processes, and employee learning and growth), and include a mix of both leading indicators of future performance and lagging indicators of past performance. The result is a Balanced Scorecard that provides leaders with a “dashboard” to manage the organization.

Assuming my research ultimately does support the argument that the Balanced Scorecard will deliver value, there will still be the challenge of implementing the Balanced Scorecard in an environment where leaders and their staff are comfortable with their current subjective or intuition-based approach. Such an initiative will require a multi-dimensional organizational change management (OCM) effort. Organizational communications will be a significant percentage of that effort. This literature review addresses organizational communication within the context of performance measurement initiatives such as the Balanced Scorecard, and especially within the government environment. Several themes emerged from this literature review: (1) Employees usually wish they had more, rather than less communication from leadership; (2) Communication content may be shifting from qualitative to quantitative; (3) Employees recognize organizational communication as something that connects them to leadership; (4) Organizations are recognizing that communication is only one component of OCM; (5) The Balanced Scorecard itself is a powerful communication enabler.

The Workforce Wants More

Multiple studies show that the workforce usually wants more communication from leadership than they are currently receiving. Ruck and Welch (2012) conducted a study of organizational communication across 12 organizations. They determined that most internal communication programs and assessments of those programs focus on communication process effectiveness, rather than employee content needs. The study suggests that most organizations must improve their internal communications, especially during stressful times when new initiatives are being introduced, and during times of economic pressure. Finally, the study proposed a conceptual model to help organizations practice a more balanced approach to communication assessment, considering both channel effectiveness and content satisfaction.

Similarly, Florina (2013) conducted a study across government agencies in Hungary, investigating workforce opinions on both internal and external organizational communication. The study found that leadership granted a greater level of importance on external communications than on internal communications, and that employees were less satisfied with the organizations’ internal communications than with external communications.

Leonard and Grobler (2006) studied employment equity (EE) initiatives within organizations in South Africa. Even when compared with the world’s largest corporate mergers, acquisitions, downsizings, and information technology implementations, the EE transformation efforts underway in South African companies are unprecedented. As a contrast, in the United States, there has been much debate about Disney employees losing their jobs to offshore replacements, and being required to train those replacements (Preston, 2015). Disney employees feel confused, fearful, and resentful. However, the reason for their replacement is relatively tangible. Disney is trying to reduce its cost of human capital. EE transformation in South Africa is also causing “fears, uncertainties and expectations” (Leonard & Grobler, 2006, p. 401). Yet, the reason is less tangible. The South African government is seeking to reverse a history of racial oppression. Leonord and Grobler (2006) conducted semi-structured interviews in a qualitative study across multiple organizations. Like Ruck and Welch (2012) and Florina (2013), they too determined that, even in a highly emotionally-charged transformation environment, internal organizational communication did not receive as much attention as external communication.

The findings in these studies are relevant for my own dissertation research. Trying to transform a Navy fleet command from a subjective and intuitive regional maritime security cooperation planning approach to a more data-based decision-making approach will require a communication plan that targets multiple stakeholder groups. The lesson learned from Ruck and Welch (2012) is to not only worry about selecting the proper communication channel (e.g., Should we use email or Twitter?), but also about content (e.g., Are we giving stakeholders the information they want and need for the initiative to be successful?). The lesson learned from Florina (2013) and Leonard and Grobler (2006) is to have a holistic communication program where external communications to partner countries, policymakers and the public are balanced against internal communications to the military personnel who must make the program work.

Qualitative to Quantitative Shift

Some studies indicate a trend in organizational communication from qualitative to quantitative information. This is something that could be confirmed through a more focused follow-on study. Olsen (2015) described a new research focus on numerical psychology, and how quantitative performance information affects organizational behavior differently than qualitative information. Olsen points to old school psychological studies which argued that personal experiences have a greater effect (the vividness effect) on decision-making than statistical information. However, ready access to quantitative performance data (i.e., through the Balanced Scorecard and other performance measurement tools) may be changing that psychology, and Olson believes this field is worthy of additional research.

Moynihan and Pandey (2006) conducted a national survey of U.S. state government agencies to understand the factors that lead to desirable organizational characteristics. They conducted their study within the new public management (NPM) paradigm that public sector organizations must adopt a greater focus on results, while allowing managers greater decision-making authority. The study found that strong internal communication is a key enabler of the NPM model. They suggest strong communication enables an organization to transition from bureaucratic systems, which have a high emphasis on inputs and few incentives to increasing efficiency, to NPM which emphasizes clear goals and authorities.

Pollitt (2006) described the worldwide trend of government organizations at the federal, state and local levels to adopt quantitative performance measurement programs. Pandey (2015) emphasized the shift has been fundamental and continuous through the remainder of the last decade in the public sector. Kroll (2015) underscored that, despite the trend toward performance measurement, few researchers have studied the linkage between performance measurement and how it impacts organizational performance. Of those that have studied that linkage, a percentage have found that performance measurement itself is not what matters most, but rather how the performance data is communicated and used in decision-making. Kroll conducted a study of 397 museum employees in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, to understand how performance information affects managerial accountability and organizational performance. He found that quantitative information is particularly effective when the organization is in the midst of a transformational change, when there is a greater need for tracking and communicating progress against innovation-related goals, and when established assumptions must be questioned. He found that performance information is less effective when it is used as a new way to track and communicate business-as-usual progress against old objectives. However, Kelman (2006) surveyed 1,600 frontline government contracting officials in the United States, and found that crisis situations inhibit, rather than enable organizational change, especially when employees feel that the “social contract” has been violated, or that the initiative is downsizing-related. Therefore, the correlation of quantitative performance-related communication to organizational performance is worthy of further study.

The shift to a more quantitative dialogue within public sector organizations seems to be real. Conversations between leadership and the workforce are becoming less focused on “How are we feeling today?” and more focused on “How are we performing this month?” Assuming the trend has started to trickle into the Navy’s fleet commands, such a paradigm shift should be helpful to the implementation of a Balanced Scorecard-based approach. In past decades, it would be perfectly natural for the admiral to ask their staff, “So, how did we do with the Indonesian Navy this year? Thumbs up, or thumbs down?” In future years, perhaps the staff will not be surprised if the admiral asks “Show me the numbers for the Indonesian Navy. Let’s start with the capabilities numbers and then talk through enablers and constraints. And how we are measuring up against last year?” Ideally, the new quantitative communications paradigm shift will help smooth the way for a relatively painless Balanced Scorecard implementation.

Creating Connectedness

Multiple studies confirm the criticality of organizational communication in building relationships between leadership and employees. Welch (2012) conducted a qualitative survey-based study which support Ruck’s and Welch’s (2012) findings that organizational communication strategies must focus on employee preferences, rather than manager perceptions. More importantly, the study found that: (1) Internal communication is critical to organizational effectiveness because it contributes to positive relationships between managers and employees, and (2) Paradoxically, internal communication poses a threat, because poor communication can be counter-productive to the relationship. Similarly, Hume and Leonard (2014) conducted case studies at five non-governmental international organizations, and determined that internal communications play a significant tactical role in manager and employee relations. Karanges, Johnston, Beatson, and Lings (2015) used surveys and regression analysis to confirm that internal communication creates workplace relationships based on meaning and worth, and helps improve employee engagement.

The new shift to a more quantitative discourse, plus the new realization of the role played by internal communication in the relationships between managers and employees, sets the stage for significant improvement in Navy fleet commands. The Balanced Scorecard, because it is a data-based tool, can be the mechanism for a more quantitative, more rhythmic, and less anxious dialogue between the fleet commander and his or her staff. And, presumably, more structure, more rhythm, and less anxiety will contribute to more connectedness.

Returning to the Indonesian Navy example, the fleet staff will be able to know, rather than guess, the elements of conversation that the admiral will want to have regarding the Indonesian Navy. In fact, that connectedness can potentially extend even beyond the managerial relationship between the admiral and his or her staff. The Balanced Scorecard would hopefully become the mechanism for a more structured, rhythmic and less anxious dialog between the fleet command and the partner navies in the region. For example, in decades past, a conversation with between the fleet staff and the Indonesian Navy staff might sound like this: “So, how many of your ships will be coming to the RIMPAC exercise in Hawaii this year, and what role do you think you would like to play?” Future conversations with the Indonesians might sound different: “The metrics show that you are significantly growing your coastal warfare capabilities. Other metrics are showing that you have some constraining factors. We have some ideas on the roles we think your navy could play in regional security in the coming years. Let’s look at the metrics, and have a conversation, okay?” In other words, the Balanced Scorecard can be an instrument for what Freire (1970) would call the transition from cultural invasion, where invaders come to teach and transmit, to cultural synthesis, where navy members from multiple countries in the region come together to dialogically learn about the world.

Communication as a Component of Organizational Change Management (OCM)      

Both the public sector, and in the private sector abound with stories of organizational transformation initiatives that either failed, partially failed, or succeeded, but with a significantly larger measure of fear, anger, confusion, and resentment than was necessary. The good news is that, especially in the last two decades, organizations have become more adept at handling the human dimension of organizational transformation. Today’s information system implementations, organizational restructurings, mergers, acquisitions, and other transformational initiatives, typically include, not only a training work stream and an internal communications work stream, but also an overarching OCM work stream. Change agents have begun to recognize and address the complexities of creating change in organizations where “man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself as spun.” (Geertz, 1973, p. 5). Thus, an organizational analysis-based OCM work stream has become a critical component of most transformation initiatives, and internal communication is typically a sub-stream of a larger OCM work stream. Researchers have begun to study OCM successes, partial successes and failures.

Nograšek (2011) studied OCM as a critical success component in e-government implementations. The study identified the complex challenges of implementing e-government solutions. For example, e-government service often requires integration across multiple government agencies. Government agencies typically have distinct stove piped organizational cultures. Each has their own norms, and languages. Imagine, for a moment, if a state environmental police department working with a state department of motor vehicles, in order to automate a vehicle registration process. Both agencies might typically use the word “risk” in their daily business conversation. However, one agency defines risk in transactional terms, while the other defines risk in environmental terms. E-government initiatives also have a multitude of external stakeholder groups, each with their own distinct concerns and languages. Vehicle registration customers might define risk in an entirely different way. They might be most concerned about the risk that their vehicle registration will be mishandled by a government bureaucrat. Nograšek’s (2011) study sought to develop a conceptual change management model that could be used across all e-government implementations. More importantly, the study may underscore the paradigm shift described by Mumby (2013), where scholars have begun to understand organizations as structures of meaning, has begun to trickle from academia into practice. Apostolou, Mentzas, Stojanovic, Thosenssen, and Pariente Lobo (2011) also studied e-government initiatives, found consistent communication as critical to success, and suggested a model that brings users, designers and developers into a more collaborative development cycle.

Lawler and Sillitoe (2010) conducted a study across multiple Australian universities undergoing significant changes to their government funding processes. The changes were causing high levels of personal uncertainty for the staff. Rather than attacking the issue as a communication problem, a tactic that would be typical in decades past, they combined insights from Senge (1990) and Kotter (1996), to suggest a set of principles for a more holistic set of OCM principles. Specifically, they argued that an organization in transition must: (1) learn from its mistakes; (2) conduct solution consultations with stakeholders before making decisions; (3) conduct consultations regarding change implications with stakeholders; and (4) provide training and development to support the change. While Lawler and Sillitoe (2010) did not propose a communication solution per se, they did propose a solution where every principle has a significant communication element.

Fernandez and Rainey (2006) studied OCM in the public sector and developed a set of eight success factors based on a consensus of researchers and experienced observers. Six of the eight are either explicitly internal communication-related or discursive in nature. Cunningham and Kempling (2009) tested a similar set of nine success factors across three public sector organizations in Canada, through a series of ten interviews. Six of their nine OCM success factors either explicitly internal communication-focused or communication-related. Kickert (2014) studied the conditions for successful OCM in six government ministerial organizations in the Netherlands. Kickert combined Kotter’s (1996) and Fernandez and Rainey’s (2006) findings into a set of eight OCM success factors: (1) establish a sense of urgency; (2) develop a vision and strategy; (3) communicate the change; (4) ensure top-management support and commitment; (5) build external support; (6) provide resources; (7) institutionalize the change; (8) pursue comprehensive change. Similar to Lawler and Sillitoe’s (2010) principles, seven of the eight are either explicitly internal communication-focused or communications-related in nature. Kickert discovered that OCM success factors varied considerably by organization and by initiative. More importantly, however, he discovered that the third and fourth success factors, communicating the change, and top management support and commitment, were by far, the most critical conditions for success. Fernandez and Rainey’s (2006) third and fourth success factors are nearly identical to Kickert’s. However, Fernandez and Rainey stress the considerable challenge of these two success factors in the public sector. For example, career civil servants may be more motivated by security and caution than their private sector counterparts. They have a tendency to “wait out” a new initiative until the current political appointees (which career civil servants sometimes call the “summer help”) are replaced by the next group of political appointees. Also, political appointees are political. While a particular initiative might be good for the organization, good for the tax payers, and good for the employees, the initiative may have inherent political risks to which an appointee might not want to be exposed. Such obstacles require creative and sometimes rigorous OCM tactics to overcome.

Cunningham and Kempling (2009) stressed the importance of building a guiding coalition. The good news is that, at a Navy fleet command, that coalition will already have been partially constructed. A Navy fleet leadership team, which consists of the fleet commander and his or her department heads (called “J-codes”), will already have an established and ongoing meeting cadence (called the commander’s “battle-rhythm”). As explained in the previous section, the keys to success will be to: (1) change the language of that coalition from a intuitive and subjective nature, to a more quantitative nature, and (2) extend that coalition from what it is today, with U.S. forces guiding, and other countries following, to what it should become in the future, with all countries collaborating, and using empirical data as a starting point to a strategic conversation and Freire’s (1971) cultural synthesis. The lesson learned from these studies is that a successful Balanced Scorecard implementation at a Navy fleet command will require a strong emphasis on communication of the change, and vocal top management support and commitment. Also important will be to keep in mind that, while each of the studies described in this section emphasized communication as a key to success, those same studies emphasized that communication is but one of the dimensions of a successful transformation effort.

The Balanced Scorecard as a Communication Enabler

Finally, several researchers have studied Balanced Scorecard implementations both in the public and commercial sectors, and have focused, not on how the Balanced Scorecard must be communicated to be successful in an organization, but rather how the Scorecard itself functions as an enabler for organizational communication. While the Balanced Scorecard does not help an organization decide when, where and how to communicate, it absolutely can help an organization determine what to communicate. A Balanced Scorecard can contribute to the qualitative to quantitative shift described earlier in this paper, and it can help build connectedness between leadership and employees.   Kaplan and Norton (1997, 1993) conducted case studies across multiple industries and countries, and determined that organizations achieved a variety of communications-related benefits from the Balanced Scorecard including: (1) communicating the strategy throughout the company, and (2) aligning business units, workgroups, and employees with the business strategy.

For example, MacBryde, Paton, Grant, and Bayliss (2012, 2014) studied how the Balanced Scorecard was used by the United Kingdom (U.K.) Ministry of Defense as a communication tool to manage the relationship between Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, and a Royal Navy defense contractor. Also in the United Kingdom, McAdam and Walker (2003) studied how 13 local governments used the Balanced Scorecard to build strategic consensus, to focus attention and subjective analysis on specific municipal issues and to minimize information overload.   Chang (2007) studied the implementation of a Balanced Scorecard-based Performance Assessment Framework (PAF) at the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. The PAF was intended to operationalize the U.K.’s national healthcare strategy, communicate that strategy down to the local level, and measure, track, compare, and communicate the performance of local health authorities.

Muldrow, Buckley and Shay (2002) studied Balanced Scorecard implementations at the U.S. Mint and Environmental Protection Agency, and concluded that the Balanced Scorecard helped those organizations transition from hierarchical and non-participatory cultures to more communicative cultures that reward creativity and innovation. A U.S. fleet command would similarly want to transition its culture to a more communicative and collaborative data collection and analysis rhythm. A more communicative, collaborative and rhythmic culture would presumably result in better data, and better data would presumably result in better decision-making regarding partner selection and role assignments.

Dreveton (2013) studied the Balanced Scorecard implementation in the French government’s National Centre for Distance Education (CNED), and concluded that the Scorecard provided a new way for the organization to work strategically and collaboratively, and specifically helped the comptroller of the organization communicate his role as a key enabler of strategic decision-making. The Balanced Scorecard could similarly communicate role clarity for regional maritime security partnering in the Navy fleet commands.

Perramon, Rocafort, Bagur-Femenias, and Llach (2016) studied Balanced Scorecard implementations across 253 organizations in Catalonia, Spain. The authors validated the effectiveness of the tool in improving organizational performance, especially in communicating of cause and effect linkages of strategic objectives. Chen, Jermias, and Panggabean (2016) determined that the visual nature of the Balanced Scorecard’s strategic linkage model alone helps communicate the business strategy from leadership to management, and helps managers make better business decisions.

Hurtado, Gonzalez, Calderon, and Galan (2012) studied a Balanced Scorecard implementation at a large printing company in Spain. The Balanced Scorecard helped reduce causal ambiguity regarding the business strategy. Similar to the findings by Perramon, Rocafort, Bagur-Femenias, and Llach (2016), the study showed that the Balanced Scorecard helped managers communicate how strategic objectives at the top of the organization cascade down to, and are supported by tactical objectives at the work group level. The researchers also demonstrated that the Balanced Scorecard could be combined with Capelo and Ferreira’s (2009) mapping method, to provide leaders and employees a more visually communicative strategy. The combination of the two methods could potentially be useful to the Fleet command as they endeavor to communicate and align perceptions versus realities of maritime security partner roles and responsibilities within a region. Interestingly, the fact that the Balanced Scorecard’s strategic linkage model helps make an organization’s strategy more visually communicative, Lewin (1947), Giddens (1979, 1984), Freire (1971) and Schein (2010), might argue that that is a bad thing, since it helps keep the culture frozen. Mumby (2013) might argue that the organization instead needs unfreezing tools that enable, rather than inhibit the paradigmatic shift from pragmatic to critical/purist.

Sundin, Granlund, and Brown (2010) studied the Balanced Scorecard initiative at a state-owned electricity company in Australia. In the first part of the study, the researchers demonstrated that the organization had stakeholder groups with multiple competing objectives and interests. In the second part of the study, they examined how the company’s Balanced Scorecard helped communicate the cause and effect relationships between strategic objectives, and it helped facilitate agreement that the interests of competing stakeholder groups must negotiated and balanced. The Balanced Scorecard could similarly help a U.S. fleet commander negotiate competing stakeholder needs, for example, between U.S. State Department representatives, foreign navies and United Nations representatives.


This literature review demonstrates that there is already a great deal of organizational communication-related research that is directly relevant to a Balanced Scorecard-type initiative. Five themes emerged from this literature review. First, existing research shows that employees often want more, rather than less internal communication from leadership. Second, because organizations are tending to increase their use of quantitative performance measurement methods and tools, they have more performance information to share with employees. As a result, the content of internal organizational communication may be shifting qualitative to quantitative. Third, research suggests that employees increasingly recognize organizational communication as something that connects them to leadership. Fourth, leadership seems to be realizing that organizational communication is only one component of the larger OCM context. Successful organizational transformation requires a holistic OCM approach. Whether real world organizations are transitioning from a pragmatic to a more purist (Mumby, 2013) paradigm is worthy of follow-on study. Fifth, the Balanced Scorecard itself has become recognized as an enabler of organizational communication, because it helps ensure that leaders and employees are singing from the same sheet of music regarding the organization’s strategic direction.

The themes in this paper suggest a multitude of potential paths for future study. For example, is it true that organizational communications are shifting from qualitative to quantitative? What is the correlation between the quality and quantity of organizational communications and leadership-employee connectedness? Do organizations that have implemented the Balanced Scorecard have higher communication satisfaction scores using frameworks such as the Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire (Downs and Hazen, 1977)? One exciting possibility is to explore how the Balanced Scorecard could be coupled with a community of practice approach to create rhythmic and communicative regional maritime security partnering programs. Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) describe a community of practice approach that could overlay and enable a Balanced Scorecard-based partnering program: (1) Design the program for evolution; (2) Create dialogue between internal and external, and public and private sector stakeholder groups; (3) Focus on value (mission); (4) Combined familiarity and excitement; and (5) Build a rhythm. Hercheul (2011) argues that such communities can actually build social capital and emotional support, which is crucial for building the kind of regional relationships that can make the world a safer place.

As the world security environment continues to become more complex, and as budgets are likely to tighten, fleet commanders must make smart partnering decisions that enhance regional maritime security, while making best use of increasingly finite resources. My dissertation will suggest and test whether regional maritime security partnering decisions can be optimized through a more data-driven approach such as the Balanced Scorecard method, and whether better decision-making will result in a more secure region, and a more secure world. Yet, implementing a data-based decision-making tool in an environment where leaders and their staff are comfortable with their current intuitive-based approach will be no easy task. A Balanced Scorecard implementation in a Navy fleet command will require a holistic OCM approach, with organizational communication as a key component. The good news is that the Balanced Scorecard will not only be dependent on OCM, it will be an enabler of OCM.



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Combining the Balanced Scorecard and Leadership as Practice (L-A-P) to Improve Regional Maritime Security Partnering

Authored by Daniel T. Murphy


One’s initial reaction to the idea of leadership-as-practice (L-A-P), as it is described by Raelin (2011, 2015, 2016), might be that it risks organizational chaos. A “Great Man” (Raelin, 2015) or Great Woman leader brings order, do they not? While L-A-P might work in some settings such as academia, scientific settings, and the arts, how can it possibly be useful in a setting that requires timely decision-making? How could it work in an organization with a rigid chain-of-command structure and a command-and-control culture? This paper will suggest, not only that L-A-P can work in a military setting, but that it is the best leadership approach for some situations, and specifically within the context of my dissertation problem of practice.

My dissertation will be focused on regional maritime security partnering. I have suggested Kaplan and Norton’s (1993, 1996, 1997) Balanced Scorecard method as a solution that I believe will help Navy fleet commanders improve their decision-making regarding the countries they select as security partners, and the roles they assign to those partners. I believe L-A-P can be combined with the Balanced Scorecard to significantly improve a fleet command’s decision-making ability, and to help make the maritime domain, and ultimately our world, a safer place. In this introduction, I will provide short overviews of my problem of practice, the Balanced Scorecard approach, and L-A-P. The remainder of the paper will describe how L-A-P is synergistic with, and can be combined with the Balanced Scorecard to improve regional maritime security partnering, and ultimately to make a safer world.

The United States National Security Strategy directs military services to develop new and deeper partnerships in each region of the world.   Multi-national integration and interoperation is also emphasized in our National Defense Strategy, National Military Strategy, and in the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power. In a world where security is becoming more complex each year, and where military resources are becoming more and more finite, the challenge for a fleet commander is to make smart partnering decisions with the right countries, to enhance regional maritime security. My dissertation will test my theory that fleet commands will make more effective regional maritime security partnering decisions if they transition from today’s intuition-focused planning approach to a more data-driven approach such as the Balanced Scorecard method used by many commercial sector executives.

The Balanced Scorecard method, developed by Kaplan and Norton (1993, 1996, 1997) has become a standard for documenting and measuring an organization’s business strategy. In a series of collaborative working sessions, an organization creates a graphic value tree model, with cascading strategic objectives from the top level (e.g., increase earnings per share) to the work group and individual levels (e.g., increase cross-selling of services to existing customers). Performance measures and targets are then created to support each strategic objective in the linkage model. The performance measures are typically balanced across four dimensions (financial, customer, internal processes, and employee learning and growth), and include a mix of both leading indicators of future performance and lagging indicators of past performance. The result is a Balanced Scorecard that provides leaders with a “dashboard” to manage their organization.

Raelin (2015, 2016) has suggested that modern organizations operate in fast-moving environments, and therefore cannot rely on traditional individualistic approaches to leadership. He points to a Gallup poll showing 70 percent of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged with their work. When an organization has 70 percent of its workforce practicing passive (at best) followership, it is at a significant disadvantage vis-à-vis its competitors, especially if the organization is in a highly competitive market segment. Raelin (2016) described how Whole Foods’ decentralized leadership structure allowed an empowered employee to propose an in-store “tap room” for employees to taste local wines and beers. The tap room contributes both to employee satisfaction (internal benefit) and employee product knowledge (market competitive benefit). Raelin (2016) believes organizations should start thinking less about leadership as a set of traits associated with specific individuals, and more about leadership as a set of collective practices among employees who engage together to craft their own role in an organization. Raelin suggests Leadership-as-Practice (L-A-P) occurs when people: (1) understand a problem and begin to design the problem-solving role they can play; (2) scan the environment for resources that can help solve a problem; (3) mobilize with each other to share knowledge and create consensus; (4) weave new information-sharing networks to help address the problem; (5) reflect, redirect, and re-stabilize as necessary; (6) Invite all members to share; (7) confirm inclusiveness has been achieved, even at the cost of creating ambiguity; and (8) reflect collaboratively on how individuals and the group as a whole are challenging their biases and assumptions. Raelin believes not only is L-A-P a more natural form of leadership for people to work together for a common cause, but more importantly, that L-A-P can be actively practiced and consequently embedded and normalized in an organization, and can result in breakthrough performance.

This literature review suggests that there are at least five areas where the Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P can synergistically combine to benefit an organization, whether that organization is public or private. The Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P could be especially useful to a Navy fleet command engaged in regional maritime security cooperation planning. The five areas are: (1) improved leadership and staff connectedness; (2) improved staff collaboration; (3) improved middle-management role clarity and accountability; (4) improved collaboration among partners; and (5) greater reflexivity and identification of potential unintended effects.

Improved Leadership and Staff Connectedness

Multiple studies show that both the Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P improve the connectedness between leadership and the workforce. The Balanced Scorecard helps frame the structure and content of the conversation, and L-A-P helps shift the organization from an individualist leadership paradigm (Raelin, 2016) to a more collaborative and leaderful (Raelin, 2011) paradigm. For example, Chang (2007) studied a Balanced Scorecard-based Performance Assessment Framework (PAF) initiative at the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. The NHS PAF helped cascade the organization’s strategic imperatives from the leadership level to the workforce. A key criticism of the PAF was that it was a mostly top-down communication tool. L-A-P could make the PAF a much more powerful leadership tool because it would drive more bidirectional communication between leadership and the workforce. MacBryde, Paton, Grant, and Bayliss (2012, 2014) studied a more successful Balanced Scorecard initiative at Babcock Marine, a military subcontractor supporting the British Navy. Their study found empirical evidence that the Balanced Scorecard improved the communication of strategic direction from leadership to the workforce. Again, the study by MacBryde et al. (2012, 2014) indicated that the communicative benefit of the Balanced Scorecard was more top-down than collaborative. Thus, McBryde et al. (2012, 2014) presents another opportunity for L-A-P to make a Balanced Scorecard initiative more effective.

Perramon, Rocafort, Bagur-Femenias, and Llach (2016) studied Balanced Scorecard initiatives across 253 organizations in Spain. They validated that the cause and effect linkages of the strategic objectives helped align leadership and workforce around the business strategy. Chen, Jermias, and Panggabean (2016) determined that the visual nature of the strategic linkage model alone helped managers improve their understanding of the direction of the business. Hurtado, Gonzalez, Calderon, and Galan (2012) conducted a study at a large printing company, and found that the Balanced Scorecard reduced causal ambiguity around the business strategy at multiple levels in the organization. The study also proved that the Balanced Scorecard could be successfully combined with Capelo and Ferreira’s (2009) strategy mapping method for a more collaborative approach to strategy development.

While the Balanced Scorecard provides a content framework for a conversation between leadership and the workforce, L-A-P can potentially enable a more democratic and workforce-engaged problem-solving and decision-making process. Zerjav, Hartmann, and Amstel (2014) studied a work group engaged in L-A-P in a medical imaging center in the Netherlands. The objective of the study was to construct an L-A-P model for collaborative design to support architecture, engineering and construction-related projects. The researchers recorded and coded team interactions related to a specific problem-solving discussion. They segmented participants by level of experience, and captured total interactions per participant, conversational durations, and self-reference ratios. They found that L-A-P emerged naturally as the session progressed, as participants took ownership of their specific knowledge domains, and as they brokered their knowledge during the problem-solving process. Leaders emerged from the multiple knowledge domains necessary to solve the problem at hand. Presumably, some of the participants brought expertise from multiple knowledge domains, some brought expertise from a single domain, and some others brought expertise that was ultimately not needed by the team.

Imagine in a Navy fleet command where the Balanced Scorecard could be combined with L-A-P for improved leadership and staff connectedness. For example, if the objective was to develop a counter-piracy strategy for the Strait of Malacca, multiple knowledge domains would be required to create an effective and efficient strategy. Counter-piracy operational knowledge would be one such knowledge domain. Similar to the study by Zerjav et al. (2014), naval officers with counter-piracy experience would likely emerge as leaders, and demonstrate a greater number of interactions, longer conversational durations, and self-reference ratios. The difference between Zerjay’s et al. (2014) environment and the fleet environment would be that the Balanced Scorecard could be a conversational starting point. And, rather than the admiral telling the operations team “I want the Indonesian Navy to cover patrol sector X-Ray?” the conversation might begin with “The Balanced Scorecard shows that the Indonesian Navy has four new coastal warfare vessels coming on line in the next three years, and they are retiring two larger offshore vessels. I would like the operations and intelligence team to collaborate on the implications of that change. Then, let’s figure out who should patrol which sectors.”

Improved Staff Collaboration

Multiple studies show that both the Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P each improve internal workgroup collaboration. The Balanced Scorecard enables collaboration by helping frame the structure and content of the conversation. L-A-P works as the enabler of conversational flow. In tangible Navy terms, the Balanced Scorecard is the engine, the measures inside the Balanced Scorecard are the fuel, L-A-P is the discursive lubricant, and the practitioners are the operators and engineers. Together the Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P can bring a work group into a greater rhythm of problem-solving, decision-making, organizational learning and performance improvement. In other words, the result is an engine that hums. Carmona and Gronlund (2003) and Elefalk (2001) studied how the Swedish National Police used the Balanced Scorecard as a communication and consensus-building tool for long-term and short-term strategic goal-setting. Dreveton (2013) conducted a study in the French government’s National Centre for Distance Education (CNED), and concluded that the Balanced Scorecard had improved the organization’s ability to work strategically and collaboratively. Kaplan and Norton (1993, 1996 and 1997) studied multiple private sector implementations of the Balanced Scorecard and found examples where the tool helped organizations reinvent themselves through strategic collaboration and definition. For example, a large insurance company used the iterative and collaborative Balanced Scorecard workshop-based approach as a way for the leadership team to redefine the company as an underwriting specialist. A large metropolitan bank similarly used the Balanced Scorecard approach to collaborate and align its 25 senior executives around a new customer-focused strategy.

Kaplan and Norton (1996, 1997) emphasize that the Balanced Scorecard is not only a dashboard of metrics. The method around the Balanced Scorecard is collaborative, cross-functional, workgroup and working session-based, and evolutionary. Similarly, Raelin (2016) emphasizes that L-A-P is a coordinated and collaborative practice of leadership among participants who develop their own norms to achieve a specific outcome. A member of a workgroup may disagree with the current approach because it conflicts with their preferences, role identity or self-concept. In a Balanced Scorecard environment and even more so in L-A-P, disagreement is encouraged, because it helps the group stop, learn, reflect and push forward in a new direction, or in the same direction with a new perspective.

Like the insurance company described by Kaplan and Norton (1996 and 1997), a Fleet command could use an L-A-P-powered Balanced Scorecard as a collaborative mechanism to re-envision itself from being a regional protector and defender to becoming a regional facilitator and partner-builder. Like the bank described by Kaplan and Norton (1996, 1997), a U.S. fleet command could use the Balanced Scorecard to help senior military officers collaborate around a new emphasis on partnership-building as a primary mission of the organization. While the Balanced Scorecard drives the “what” of the conversation, L-A-P can drive the “how” and the “why”. When the Balanced Scorecard shows the Philippine Navy’s indicators flashing red, and the Malaysian indicators flashing green, L-A-P might be the unfreezing (Lewin, 1947) mechanism that enables participants to say, “Before we select Malaysia to take the lead on a particular mission area, let’s stop for a moment and talk about why the Philippine Navy is flashing red in particular area.”

Improved Middle Management Role Clarity and Accountability

The Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P can also potentially be put to work in the middle management layers of an organization. Kempster and Gregory (2015) believe middle managers are particularly challenged because they have both a vertical relationship role where they must participate in communications upwards with their senior managers, plus they must also execute leadership decisions downward with their own direct reports. Psychological studies have shown middle managers to be vulnerable, ambiguous and insecure. They seek to protect their role and identity, and they are resistant to change. Kempster and Gregory (2015) conducted a case study of middle managers who were confronted with a difficult ethical decision, and they used that case study to develop a practical reflexive L-A-P process to help middle managers work through such challenges in the future. Combining Kempster’s and Gregory’s (2015) L-A-P process with the Balanced Scorecard might be helpful in improving role clarity and accountability in the middle management layer of an organization. As evidenced previously by Perramon, et al. (2016), Chen, et al. (2016), and Hurtado, et al. (2012) the Balanced Scorecard does help connect leadership and workforce (including middle management) in a more tangible way.

A Navy staff at a fleet command similarly functions as a middle management team. They are the department heads who report to a senior leader who is an admiral. They have direct reports who are division officers. They are confronted with quandaries similar to the one faced by Kempster and Gregory’s (2015) middle management team. For example, policymakers and diplomats might suggest a regional partnering strategy that, when viewed from the top, makes sense. However, those on the ground may identify potential unintended consequences that leaders in the upper echelon are not in a position to recognize. Thus, the fleet staff would similarly benefit by having a reflexive process that would result in a more collaborative and presumably better solution. And, presumably, such a solution would more effectively withstand political flak from above, especially if the solution was based on empirical data, such as the data in the Balanced Scorecard. When pressed by the admiral, the department heads might be able to say, “Admiral, we understand that Country X wants to take point on the regional energy infrastructure security mission. However, our team has a dashboard of metrics that will be blinking red if we do this. In our working sessions, we are using collaborative and reflexive approaches that we believe result in sound data-based and consensus-based decisions. If you would like, you can participate with us in those sessions, and maybe together we can come up with a strategy that will help you satisfy the needs of our external stakeholders, yet without resulting in too many undesirable ripple effects.”

Improved Collaboration among Partners

Studies indicate that the Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P can also work in concert to improve collaboration among country partners. Similar to the intramural examples described above, the Balanced Scorecard can enable extramural collaboration by helping frame the structure and content of the conversation. L-A-P would work as the enabler of conversational flow. Together the Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P might bring a regional coalition into a greater rhythm of problem-solving, decision-making, organizational learning and performance improvement.

Sundin, Granlund, and Brown (2010) studied a Balanced Scorecard initiative at a state-owned electric company in Australia. The organization was seeking to balance competing objectives and interests of multiple stakeholder groups. The study showed that the Balanced Scorecard helped the company define stakeholder groups and interests, and also helped all parties agree that stakeholder needs must be balanced in some logical way. In other words, the Balanced Scorecard helped clarify that the organization could not please all stakeholders all the time. The Balanced Scorecard could similarly help a Fleet commander negotiate competing stakeholder needs, for example, between State Department representatives, foreign navies and United Nations representatives.

Folan and Browne (2005) studied a company that supplied automobile parts to manufacturers in Europe and Canada, and defined itself as an extended enterprise (EE). According to Brown & Zhang (1999), the EE manufacturing paradigm redefines organizational boundaries, and helps make an enterprise more competitive. An EE must measure performance not only within the segments of the supply chain which reside within its own company walls, but also the segments that reside outside the company walls, in the organizations that have traditionally been called suppliers and customers. Amazon.com is a good example of an EE in that it relies on other companies as producers and suppliers, and sticks to its core competencies of marketing, selling and managing fulfillment. Folan and Browne’s (2005) study demonstrated that the Balanced Scorecard can help measure and manage an EE, and therefore help enable the shift from a traditional organizational structure to an EE. The study is relevant for regional maritime security partnering, because it demonstrates how the Navy can potentially “unfreeze” (Lewin, 1947) the current traditional regional maritime security partnering paradigm, and replace it with an EE-type paradigm. In today’s maritime security cooperation paradigm, regions of the world have: (1) countries that cannot defend their own interests (customers); (2) neighboring countries that have some excess security forces they share (suppliers); and (3) U.S. military forces (and the United Nations) working between the customers and suppliers in a supplier and brokering role. A Balanced Scorecard built on the EEPM model could, potentially help the U.S. fleet commander manage the regional maritime security situation overall as more holistic EE.

A key question is whether an EE model could work at a fleet command, given the culture of the Navy. I believe the answer is . . . possibly. However, a regional maritime security EE could not be built on the Balanced Scorecard alone. The Navy’s current individualist-based leadership (Raelin, 2016) paradigm is not the best fit for such a solution. For decades, Navy leaders have been trained, evaluated and promoted based on a traditional competency model. While the Navy’s competency model does include a leadership dimension with indicators such as teamwork, organizational skills, inspiration, etc., it does not include skills such as collaboration and reflexivity. However, a Balanced Scorecard combined with a purposeful L-A-P emphasis could enable a transition to a more EE-based regional maritime security cooperation program. Carroll, Levy and Richmond (2008) have specifically proposed an L-A-P as an alternative to competency-based leadership programs. They conducted a survey of 65 leaders who had recently completed L-A-P-based leadership development programs in Australia, and described the dramatic paradigm shift that happens when leaders discover L-A-P possibilities. Participant responses included: “I am still in the process of actively unlearning,” and “It made something unconscious conscious” and “For me, it’s how I articulate me to myself.” These L-A-P-transformed leaders describe the type of reflexive awareness that, when combined with a powerful decision-making tool like the Balanced Scorecard, can result in transformational ideas that can potentially change the security posture of the world. A traditionally trained Navy leader might look up at the Balanced Scorecard on the wall and say “Hmm . . . Vietnam’s antisubmarine warfare capability score is low. Malaysia’s antisubmarine warfare capability score is high. So, let’s partner with Malaysia.” An L-A-P-focused Navy work group might say “Why is Vietnam’s antisubmarine warfare capability score low? Would Vietnam agree with the criteria we are using? What other questions should we be asking?”

Greater Reflexivity and Identification of Unintended Effects

Perhaps the most potent result of combining the Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P would be the enhanced level of intramural and extramural reflexivity that would occur, and the improved ability to proactively identify potential unintended effects of decision paths. Bento, Mertens and White (2016) studied a Balanced Scorecard in a commercial bank. The study compared performance measures related to shareholder value maximization (SVM) and performance measures related to corporate social responsibility. Not surprisingly, researchers found that the SVM measures outweighed the CSR measures in executive decision-making. The study is relevant for a fleet commander, because a regional maritime security Balanced Scorecard would likely present similar quandaries. For example, partnering with highly capable Country A might be the most tangibly beneficial option for U.S. national security interests (the commander’s equivalent of SVM). However, Country B might have the highest “upside” potential in the region. If the objective is simply to improve near-term regional security, then partnering with Country A would be the logical choice. However, if the plan is a more “grand” strategy, Option A versus Option B quandaries will likely abound.

One of the L-A-P participants in the study by Carroll et al. (2008) explained, “In the end it asks that very existential question about who is the person we are creating through our actions and work.” While the Balanced Scorecard alone can present the Fleet commander with an array of red, yellow and green indicators for each country in a particular region, L-A-P can enable the Fleet commander’s team, plus the partner countries in the region, to be able to step back, reflect on the indicators, purposefully blur their eyes a bit, and ask bigger questions, such as “What is the partnership we are creating through our actions and work?” Such reflexive questions create a new starting point that generates even bigger questions such as “What is our definition of regional security?” Through reflexivity and discursiveness, we will surely realize that U.S. and western definitions of security differ from definitions in non-Western and developing countries. And, coming to those realizations in concert with our allies can be a tremendously good thing.


This literature review has demonstrated that there are at least five areas where the Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P can work synergistically for the benefit of organizational performance, and especially in support of improved regional maritime security cooperation. Specifically, the Balanced Scorecard and L-A-P together can improve leadership and staff connectedness, staff collaboration, middle-management role clarity and accountability and collaboration among partner countries. Most importantly, and underlying all the other benefits, is the benefit of greater reflexivity and identification of unintended effects.

In this paper, I chose to focus on L-A-P, which is one of multiple “new” leadership theories which Cunliffe and Eriksen (2011) describe as “post heroic”. Similar to L-A-P, Harris (2007) and Hairon and Goh (2015) found that Distributed Leadership (DL) encourages cooperation between formal and informal leaders, and helps link vertical and lateral leadership structures. Gronn (2008) and Bolden (2011) demonstrated that DL domains of expertise necessary for decision-making are typically distributed across the many, rather than the few, and for that reason, actions should be concertive action and decision-making should be shared. What matters most is not the name of the method, whether it is DL or L-A-P, or whether it is some other “post-heroic” method. What matters is the nature of the leadership method, and whether it is collaborative, reflexive and discursive. On one hand, a Navy fleet commander’s job is to always ask the question, “Is this the best decision for the United States?” On the other hand, even international relations realists such as Henry Kissinger and Hans Morgenthau (1978) do understand that a zero sum or “we win/you lose” approach to national security is not the right answer. We cannot change the world if we define regional security in terms that are beneficial only to the United States. The question for the fleet commander will be “How do we strive for ontology, when we have been only practicing epistemology at best?” How do we redefine what does regional maritime security mean in a particular region of the world. Or, as Freire (1970) might ask, how do we rename the world to make it a safer place.


Bento, R. F., Mertins, L. & White, L. F. (2016). Ideology and the Balanced Scorecard: An empirical exploration of the tension between shareholder value maximization and corporate Social responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics, 139(1), 1-21. doi:10.1007/s10551-016-3053-6

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Strategy of Attrition in New Jersey and Italy: How George Washington and Quintus Fabius Maximus Waged War

Authored by:  Daniel T. Murphy


George Washington’s father was a tobacco planter who died when the future president was only eleven years old.  As a result, according to David McCullough, because of the family’s reduced circumstances, Washington had only seven or eight years of schooling by a private tutor.  Unlike many of his Virginia contemporaries, Washington had “no training in Latin or Greek or law.”[1] Yet, he ironically waged a war of attrition against British forces in New Jersey and Pennsylvania during the years 1776-1781 that very much resembled the Second Punic War waged by the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus against Hannibal of Carthage in 218-203 B.C.

Washington was described as being a “man accustomed to respect and being obeyed,” yet “amiable and modest.”[2]  John Adams said Washington would have “great effect in cementing and securing the union of these colonies.”[3]  Likewise, Romans saw in Fabius “soundly-based judgment,” that he “never acted on impulse,” and was “steadfast and resolute in all circumstances.”[4]  Fifteen years prior to the American Revolution, Washington had proven himself as a Colonel in the French and Indian War.  Fifteen years prior to the war against Hannibal, Fabius had led the Roman legions in a victory over the Ligurians in Tuscany.  Thus, we are comparing two battle-tested commanders.

In the American Revolution and in Rome’s Second Punic War against Carthage, Washington and Fabius both explicitly opted to fight wars of attrition against their adversaries.  Washington opted for an attrition strategy because he led a developing yet recently degraded army with limited operational capabilities.  For Fabius, it was because he commanded a remnant army and faced an adversary that was knocking at the gates of Rome.  Washington intended to use time to exhaust the British army, to either cause the British people to become weary of the fight, or to eventually strike the British army when its forces had become sufficiently depleted, and strike when the time was right.  Fabius similarly sought to exhaust the Carthaginian army.  Washington’s and Fabius’s attrition warfare strategies can both be examined via the Clausewitzian trinity dimensions of people, military and government.


Most importantly, both Washington and Fabius recognized that, in their particular conflicts, it was Clausewitz’s second dimension – the military – that was most critical.  For both commanders, the army was the center of gravity, and the army would need to survive at all costs.

When Washington was defeated in New York in 1776, the future of the Revolution became questionable.  According to Russell Weigley, “Washington’s first object in his defensive war was to defend not any geographical area or point but the existence of his army.  If the army could be kept alive, the Revolutionary cause would also remain alive.”[5] British forces used amphibious and maneuver warfare tactics to defeat Washington’s Continental Army in New York in November 1776.  For Washington, it was a significant learning event.  As a result, he essentially sought to avoid any full-scale confrontation with British forces for the remainder of the War, stating explicitly that a decisive battle with the British army was “incompatible with our interests.”[6]  Washington recognized the “amazing advantage” the enemy derived from their command of the sea, and that it kept American forces “in a State of constant perplexity and the most anxious conjecture.”[7]  Thus, Washington adhered rigorously to the principle of concentration of force, insisting that he would not divide his army.[8]  And he spent significant effort on recruiting and retention.  In a 1777 letter to Congress, he wrote “I must beg you will write to the Assemblies of the different States, and insist upon their passing a law, to inflict a severe and heavy penalty upon those who harbour deserters . . . Our Army is shamefully reduced by desertion.”[9]

Similarly, when the Roman army was defeated, and the Consul Flaminius was killed in the battle at Lake Trasimene in 224 B.C., Rome’s future existence became questionable.  The Carthaginian general Hannibal had transited his army across the Mediterranean to Spain, had then crossed the Alps into Italy, and after killing Flaminius and fifteen thousand of his troops, had been laying waste to the Italian peninsula.  As Romans had done when facing previous existential threats, they elected a temporary dictator with total government and military authority.  Like the Congress in Philadelphia selected a battle-tested Virginian aristocrat, Rome selected a battle-tested patrician aristocrat.  Like Washington, Quintus Fabius Maximus realized that what remained of the Roman army after Trasimene needed to be kept alive at all costs.

Fabius understood that Hannibal’s army was not incredibly large (although he had a powerful cavalry), and it was poorly supplied.  He urged Romans to “have patience and on no account to engage a commander who led an army that had been hardened in many contests for this very purpose of forcing a decisive battle.”[10]  Instead, in Clausewitzian fashion, they should allow Hannibal’s strength, which was currently at its peak, to “waste away like a flame which flares up brightly but has little fuel to sustain it.”[11]  In other words, Fabius wanted to wait for the culminating point at which the capabilities of the recently defeated Roman legions would be sufficiently restored, and Hannibal’s capabilities would be sufficiently degraded.  So, Fabius and the Roman army essentially followed Hannibal up and down the Italian peninsula for fifteen years.  When Hannibal stayed still, so did Fabius.  When Hannibal marched, so did Fabius.  Fabius typically camped his army in the mountainous areas nearby Hannibal’s army so that he could watch over Hannibal’s movements, and simultaneously reduce his own exposure to the Carthaginian cavalry.[12]  When opportunities arose, Fabius made harassing attacks, as he did at Casilinum where his army killed eight hundred of the Carthaginian rear guard.[13]  As a result of these tactics, Fabius earned the nickname “Cuncator” (lingerer).  Like Washington, Fabius had many critics, but was confident in his strategy of attrition – “I should be an even greater coward than they say I am if I were to abandon the plans I believe to be right because of a few sneers and words of abuse.”[14]


While Washington and Fabius both understood that the survival of the army meant the survival of their cause, they also appreciated the government dimension of the Clausewitzian trinity.  Thus, they both spent a considerable percentage of their efforts aligning their strategies with their respective civilian government leaders.

While some members of the government clambered for a decisive engagement (including an invasion of Canada), Washington was constantly cautioning in his letters to Congress that “We should on all occasions avoid a general action or put anything to the risk unless compelled by necessity.”[15]  At times he seemed to be fighting an information warfare campaign with his own leadership, reiterating his strategic logic on a daily basis.  In a letter to John Jay he underscored why the Continental army was not ready for anything other than attrition warfare – “In the present depreciation of our money, scantiness of supplies, want of virtue and want of exertion, ’tis hard to say what may be the consequence.”[16] Likewise, Fabius was constantly re-selling his attrition strategy to the Senate and other members of the civilian leadership in Rome.  Several influential leaders wanted to replace Fabius with his Master-of-the-Horse, Marcus Minucius, who argued for an immediate pitched battle.[17]


Both Washington and Fabius were also attuned to the populace.  The one occasion when Washington risked a decisive engagement with British forces was at Brandywine in September 1777, because he appreciated the people dimension of Clausewitz’s trinity, and determined that he could not give up the nation’s capitol without a fight.  Earlier in 1776, Washington recognized that the American people were reluctant to continue the war.  New York had been a disaster, and the British blockage was beginning to have an effect on the American economy.  Washington knew that the people needed to see a success.  The daring Christmas raid across the Delaware against Trenton was intended to do just that.  The victory shifted public opinion back in favor of the Revolution.  The funding came in.  The government authorized Washington to “use every endeavor,” including bounties, to convince the troops to stay with the army.[18]  And, the army’s fighting ability was kept in tact – Truly an example of the dynamic nature of Clausewitz’s people, government and military trilogy.

Similarly, a main reason why Rome won the war against Hannibal was because Fabius, in most cases, was conciliatory to the Italian towns that had been terrified into cooperating with Hannibal.  Rather than punishing collaborators, Fabius opted to “reason with them sympathetically . . . without inquiring too closely into every case of doubtful loyalty or treating every suspected person harshly.”[19]


After Trenton, Congress told Washington what Rome had told Quintus Fabius Maxiumus two thousand years before – That he was “entrusted with the most unlimited power, and neither personal security, liberty, nor property be in the least degree endangered.”[20]  Washington’s answer to Congress was “I shall constantly bear in mind that as the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so it ought to be the first thing laid aside when those liberties are firmly established.”[21]  And at the end of the conflict, Washington did not need any coercion to lay down his sword.  Similarly, Quintus Fabius Maximus’s greatest hour was when the Carthaginian conflict had ended, and he willingly gave up his dictatorship in the name of democracy.  He was one of the last Roman dictators to do so.

Copyright Daniel T. Murphy 2012


David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).

John Adams to Abigail Adams, June 11, 1775, in Adams Family Correspondence (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1963).

The Life John Jay With Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers by His Son, William Jay in Two Volumes, 1833.

Plutarch, Fabius Maximus.

George Washington Letter to the President of Congress, January 31, 1777, Washington, George, 1732-1799. The writings of George Washington from the original manuscript sources.

Russell Weigley, The American Way of War (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973).

[1] David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 44.

[2] McCullough, 43.

[3] John Adams to Abigail Adams, June 11, 1775, in Adams Family Correspondence (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1963), 215.

[4] Plutarch, Fabius Maximus, 1.

[5] Russell Weigley, The American Way of War (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973), 12.

[6] Weigley, 14.

[7] Weigley, 12.

[8] Weigley, 14.

[9] George Washington Letter to the President of Congress, January 31, 1777, Washington, George, 1732-1799. The writings of George Washington from the original manuscript sources: Volume 7, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library, ttp://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=WasFi07.xml&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=78&division=div1 (accessed April 3, 2012).

[10] Plutarch, 2.

[11] Plutarch, 2.

[12] Plutarch, 5.

[13] Plutarch, 6.

[14] Plutarch, 5.

[15] McCullough, 207.

[16] George Washington to John Jay, May 10, 1779, in The Life John Jay With Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers. by His Son, William Jay in Two Volumes. Vol. II., 1833, http://www.familytales.org/dbDisplay.php?id=ltr_gwa4003&person=gwa (accessed April 3, 2012).

[17] Plutarch, 8.

[18] McCullough, 286.

[19] Plutarch, 20.

[20] McCullough, 286.

[21] McCullough, 286.

If Howe, Clinton and Cornwallis had COIN: Applying the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual to the American Revolution

Authored by: Gregory Wright and Daniel T. Murphy

Britain’s loss to American revolutionaries in 1781 has been attributed to a variety of explanations, including the American social and political landscape, blunders by field commanders, incompetence and corruption in London, London’s lack of understanding of American grievances and the collapse of British public support for the war.[1]  This paper will explore Britain’s effort in the American Revolution as a counterinsurgency effort, and discuss how the British sometimes followed, but largely failed to adhere to, the historical and contemporary principles of counterinsurgency doctrine, as we understand them today. 

If Generals Howe, Clinton and Cornwallis had utilized the principles in the Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24, the American Revolution may have turned out quite differently.  Two specific sections of the manual would have been of significant help to the British.  The first section is a discussion of principles based on a long history of counter-insurgency operations that have been conducted in the world.  The second section discusses principles derived from more recent COIN experiences.


The counterinsurgency manual describes historical principles for counterinsurgency that have been largely followed by U.S. forces in Operations Iraqi Freedom (though not necessarily initially) and Enduring Freedom, but only partially followed by the British during the American Revolutionary War. 

The COIN Field Manual says, “Legitimacy is the main objective.”[2]  Counterinsurgents achieve that objective via the balanced application of both military and non-military means.  “Legitimate” governments rule through the consent of the governed.  In Western societies, governments derive their legitimacy by looking out for the welfare of the people, and they exercise authority by regulating social relationships, extracting resources, and taking actions in the peoples name. 

In colonial America, the British had allowed a very high level of government autonomy at the municipal and colonial (state) level.  In many modern day revolutionary situations, an insurgency grows organically from the population, and matures to the point where it can challenge the government.  The situation in Colonial America was the opposite.  The British mistakenly thought that they had legitimacy.  Even General Gage, who used relatively soft language in describing how he would deal with the insurgency, promised to “ram the policy of the government down the American throats.”[3]

However, the colonies and municipalities had operated autonomously from the crown for so many years that they saw themselves as being the legitimate party.  In Afghanistan, the NATO challenge has been to set up new government institutions, and create legitimacy for those institutions by showing that they can deliver basic goods and services (e.g., electricity) to the people.  In contrast, British forces in America sought to wrench legitimacy away from the colonies.  For the most part, in the eyes of the colonists, the British failed the Counterinsurgency Field Manual’s six indicators of legitimacy: 

1.  The ability to provide security for the populace –Other than minor threats on the western frontiers, the colonies did not need protection by British forces from internal or external threats.  On the contrary, after the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, colonists in Massachusetts increasingly looked at the British forces as a threat to internal security. 

2.  Selection of leaders at a frequency and in a manner considered just and fair by a substantial majority of the populace – This was a major failure.  The colonists increasingly grew to feel that they were not justly represented in the British Parliament.

3.  A high level of popular participation in or support for political processes – As described above, colonists felt they were administered (and taxed) by Parliament without having any representation in Parliament.  At the same time, the high level of popular political participation that they did have was at the local level.  This reinforced the legitimacy of the local governments over the British government, which was thousands of miles away.

4.  A culturally acceptable level of corruption – The regulations and taxes imposed on the colonists via the Stamp Act, Navigation Acts and Townshend Acts likely caused a level of dissatisfaction amongst the populace similar to a corrupt government.

5.  An acceptable level and rate of political, economic, and social development – This indicator worked only partially in London’s favor.  According to John Shy, “Revolutionary America may have been a middle-class society, happier and more prosperous than any other in its time, but it contained a large and growing number of fairly poor people, and many of the them did much of the actual fighting and suffering between 1775 and 1783.”[4]   

6.  A high level of regime acceptance by major social institutions – This was the second positive indicator for the British.  Colonial governments, businesses, churches, and other institutions generally accepted the legitimacy of the crown.  The crown had established many of these institutions, and most had been allowed to flourish under the crown.[5]

The COIN Manual emphasizes that “unity of effort is essential”[6] at every echelon of a COIN operation. In today’s COIN environments, military leadership works in liaison with a wide variety of nonmilitary agencies, including members of the State Department to counter an insurgency.  Early in the conflict, British General Thomas Gage, the military governor of Massachusetts, did initially function as a unified commander, and he did exercise a DIME combination of diplomatic, informational (newsletters), military (Bunker Hills, Concord and Lexington, etc.) and economic (blockade) effects to counter the insurgency. The British government approached the conflict as a military policing operation vice a multi-agency perspective/effort, as we would today.  

Unity of effort was further degraded when British operations split into two separate efforts.  One British force remained in the north, where “as late as 1780, twice as many (British) troops remained in and around New York” under Sir Henry Clinton,” with the intention to bring Washington’s main army to a decisive battle in New Jersey or New York. [7]  Other British forces were sent to South Carolina with the very different mission of “encouraging, protecting, and organizing Loyalists, while not discouraging Americans who might be inclined to support royal authority.”[8] British forces in the South, beginning in Charleston, ultimately did behave in a way that discouraged Americans from supporting royal authority, and stirred up a bitter conflict between Loyalists and patriots.  In the words of John Shy, “These men were numerous and, having been driven from their homes, they had no intention of letting peace return to the province until the guilty had been punished.”[9]

After having fanned, rather than extinguished, the flames of insurgency in the South, British forces chased American forces northward, and ultimately found themselves cornered on the Yorktown peninsula.  If the British had maintained unity of command, forces in the north under Clinton could have marched to the south, or could have been transported southward by sea to open up a second front against Washington’s forces in Virginia.  Ultimately, Clinton focused on his own operations in the north, while Cornwallis fought an entirely disconnected war in the south. Cornwallis was left with no relief, and no alternative but surrender to Washington.

The COIN Manual emphasizes that “Counterinsurgents must understand the environment” and that “intelligence drives operations.”[10]  British forces demonstrated that they clearly did not understand their environment and did not recognize the principle of intelligence driven operations.  Britain’s strategy in the South was a good example.  Shy emphasizes the “belief, repeated frequently by those British officials and supporters with most direct knowledge of the South, that Georgia, the Carolinas, and even the Chesapeake were hotbeds of Loyalist, ready to support royal authority whenever it appeared in sufficient force.”[11]  The British also mistakenly counted on the loyalty of the Indian tribes located along the southern border and the “explosive potential of black slaves concentrated in the southern tidewater” area. [12]   In the final months of the war, “calls for Loyalist support, even for information, went unanswered.”[13]  As Cornwallis advanced northward, “supposedly pacified areas in his rear crumbled back into rebellion.”[14]

Finally, the Manual describes the principle that “Insurgents must be isolated from their cause and support.”[15]  Throughout the conflict, the British sought to separate the northern colonies from the southern colonies.  According to Shy, a key objective of the southern strategy was to cause the northern colonies to be “deprived of south resources.”  As a result, the insurgency “would become weak and demoralized in the middle provinces and eventually could be isolated and dealt with in New England, where it had begun.”[16]  


As David Galula reminds us, there is an automatic asymmetry in “revolutionary warfare” due to the typical disparity in strength between insurgent and counterinsurgent, as well as fundamental differences in “assets and liabilities.”[17]  As with the historical principles, the contemporary imperatives seek to empower the counterinsurgent to leverage this asymmetry and succeed, with a bent toward current-day operations. 

The first imperative to manage information and expectations of the population, or Information Operations (IO) and subsets such as Psychological Operations and Civil-Military Operations, are key to success in this arena.  State of technology and infrastructure (basic services) in the Revolutionary War timeframe must be accounted for in the discussion. The colonists most likely had very low expectations regarding the provision of basic services (power, water, etc.) given the fact that these necessities were met in a different manner. 

Additionally, the delay in communications and the potential for misunderstanding in the era, created much difficulty for both sides.[18]  However, the British given their long Lines of Communication (LOC) with their political leadership, would be at a distinct disadvantage to the colonists.  Even if one assumed instantaneous communications, the British still failed to grasp the fundamental nature of what the Manual describes as “convincing the populace that their life will be better under the HN (British) government than under an insurgent regime.”[19] The British did publish articles in local colonial newspapers and subsequently generated pamphlets for distribution to colonists. However, these efforts were not nested under any over-arching IO approach and message tailored to each distinguishable audience across the colonies (regional, ethnicity, trade/profession).

The appropriate use of force is another key element to successful COIN operations, as evidenced by the maxim “sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is.” [20]   The British absolutely failed to recognize that more is not always better. Their brutal tactics in the Southern campaign actually served to endear many previous Loyalist or undecided colonists, to the insurgent cause. The most infamous example of British brutality can be seen in “Tarelton’s Quarters,” where LtCol Tarleton continued to engage and kill colonial militia after the white flag of surrender had been flown (including wounded).  This single event became a focal point in the insurgent colonial IO message to recruit previously uncommitted persons and convert Loyalists.[21]

Additionally, British actions in the Southern Campaign to mobilize the “Loyalist base” led to brutal reprisals and smaller civil wars between Loyalist and insurgent forces. British efforts to appease various ethnic groups (Germans, Scotch-Irish, Native American) led to increased violence between these groups and reprisals as British troops moved out of areas and insurgent forces re-took them.[22]  These policy actions, by default, imposed significant violence without restraint or proportionality on the populace, leading to increased alignment with the American cause.

The British, in some ways, could have been called a learning organization, but not as a whole.  The British did recognize the need to “pacify” the Southern region, however, this was only within the calculus of supporting conventional operations in the North.  The British pacification initiative was too little, too late, and failed to understand the strategic environment in the colonies, especially the South.  The British, at the time, were arguably the premier fighting force in the world, and were considerably arrogant about it.  The British officers quipped that the colonial army was “but a contemptible band of vagrants, deserters and thieves.”[23]  Given this opinion, it is plausible that the British thought much less of the guerilla forces in the Southern region. This would be the “speck in the eye” of the British, coloring all subsequent views on the conduct of the war in the colonies. This would also prevent the British from seeing the need to adapt or learn from previous experience.

Today’s military (U.S.) precept of centralized command and de-centralized execution is critical to deal with complex conflicts involving different variables, players, motives from block to block, much less state to state or region to region.  “Commander’s Intent” and the issuance of general guiding principles and endstates, with detail of execution left to the local commander (even a NCO), was a foreign concept to the British.  Numerous factors present in that time, to include social demographics, education and established Napoleonic tactics, precluded the British from adopting this advanced concept. However, if they had employed this concept, they would have been able to tailor operational approaches to different geographies and people-groups to reach a common endstate of pacification


            The British war effort in the colonies failed to properly assess the strategic environment, formulate appropriate strategic and operational approaches and implement those approaches. Had the British understood and employed, at the very least the historical imperatives of COIN, the outcome of the Revolutionary War could have been very different (possibly not even occurring).  At the core, if the British had foreseen the implications of years of colonial independent and austere living, they would have paid more attention to governance and influence in America in the period leading up to the Revolution.  At the very least, a proper assessment at the outset could have led the British to adjust political and economic policies to pacify the population and avoid conflict altogether.  Instead, Britain treated the colonies as an insignificant annoyance that could be snuffed out with superior military might in conventional warfare. Had the British focused on the population at the outset, then Washington’s army would have been rendered irrelevant and the colonies would have gone bankrupt trying to pay the standing army and lost popular support for the rebellion. If the British had possessed the COIN Field Manual, and had the humility to apply it’s precepts, then the result might have been very different indeed.


Galula, David. Counter-Insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.  New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964.

Middlekauf, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Montanus, Paul. “A Failed Counterinsurgency Strategy: The British Southern Campaign – 1780-1781  Are There Lessons for Today?” USAWC Strategy Research Project, U.S. Army War College, 2005. 

Shy, John. A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence.  Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990.

U.S. Department of the Army. U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual,

U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3-24, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication No. 3-33.5. Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Department of the Army, 2006. 

Wood, Gordon S. The American Revolution: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2003.

Copyright Gregory Wright and Daniel T. Murphy 2013.

[1] John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), 17.

[2] U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3-24, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication No. 3-33.5, (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Department of the Army, 2006), 1:21.  

[3] John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), 197.

[4] Ibid., 173. 

[5] U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3-24, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication No. 3-33.5, (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Department of the Army, 2006), 1:21. 

[6] Ibid., 1:22.

[7] John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), 197.

[8] Ibid., 206. 

[9] Ibid., 207. 

[10] U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3-24, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication No. 3-33.5, (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Department of the Army, 2006), 1:22-23. 

[11] John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), 199. 

[12] Ibid. 

[13] Ibid., 211.

[14] Ibid.

[15] U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3-24, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication No. 3-33.5, (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Department of the Army, 2006),1:23.

[16] John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), 199. 

[17]David Galula, Counter-Insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, (New York:Frederick A. Praeger, 1964), 5.

[18] Robert Middlekauf, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 8.

[19] U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3-24, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication No. 3-33.5, (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Department of the Army, 2006),1:25.

[20]  Ibid., 1:27.

[21]Paul Montanus, “A Failed Counterinsurgency Strategy: The British Southern Campaign – 1780-1781  Are There Lessons for Today?” (USAWC Strategy Research Project, U.S. Army War College, 2005), 14.

[22] John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), 121.

[23]Gordon S. Wood, The American Revolution: A History, (New York: Modern Library, 2003), 77.