Professional Readings

Reading #155

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  • Sunday, October 1, 2017

Adapting to Strategic Change: Organizational Change and Adaptation in the US Army


One of our most important duties as Army professionals is to think clearly about future armed conflict. That is because our vision of the future must drive change to ensure that our Army is prepared to prevent conflict, shape the security environment, and win wars. Since the Army cannot predict who and where it will fight it must anticipate changes in the character of warfare and adapt quickly to these changes to ensure that Army forces are manned, trained, and equipped to overmatch future enemies and potential adversaries. Adaptation is responding to new needs or changes without a loss of functionality. Because the acceleration of technological change is outpacing the ability of DOD acquisition systems to develop and field capabilities, the Army must ensure that it is capable of developing materiel solutions much faster than in the past in order to provide the foundational capabilities that enable the Joint Force to prevent conflict. Ultimately, the Army must adapt and innovate faster than enemies and potential adversaries.

The CSA’s announcement at the AUSA national meeting that Acting Secretary McCarthy “approved the concept of a new modernization or futures command, to consolidate the processes…and put them all under one roof,” signifies that the Army is no longer willing to accept the status quo. As Secretary McCarthy and General Milley highlight in their 3 October 2017 message to the force titled, “Army Modernization Priorities” the status quo is adherence to a modernization process that is “an Industrial Age model, staff-centric and stove-piped, overly bureaucratic and slow, and not organized to deliver modern, critical capabilities to Soldiers quickly.” History is replete with military organizations that maintained the status quo but failed to recognize that their inability, reticence, or failure to adapt led to defeat on the battlefield. This week’s professional reading offers a timely typology of the factors that influence organizational change. To successfully implement change, it is essential to not only understand the underlying factors that influence change but also its implications.

In this week’s professional reading, “Adapting to Strategic Change: Organizational Change and Adaptation in the US Army,” LTC J.P. Clark examines a conceptual framework that explains why organizational changes occur then applies the framework to today’s Army to explore whether significant changes remain in the distant future or if a shift is already underway. After examining the scholarship on military adaptation Clark posits that the current scholarship tends to focus on deliberate attempts by military organizations to adapt themselves. This literature identifies three main models for such change: external direction overcomes military conservatism; a visionary leader provides internal direction; and the Army as an institution reacts to an external shock such as defeat in war. Clark contends these existing explanations tend to work best when used to understand short-term, discrete instances of change, such as an institutional reorganization or update to doctrine.

Clark argues that something additional is needed to understand more fundamental, long-term shifts in professional norms. He proposes that such seismic changes are typically the product of a generational shift arising from a combination of three broad categories of influence: institutions, experiences, and culture. When combined, Clark contends, they satisfactorily explain discrete instances of change, such as an institutional reorganization. Observing that transformational change is the result of a series of generational shifts, Clark demonstrates that the impetus for large shifts in professional norms can be grouped into three broad categories of influence: institutions, experiences, and culture. Institutions refer to the mechanisms by which a military deliberately attempts to shape its profession such as the curricula of military schools or policies governing the selection of officers. Experiences encompass all elements of military service that shape perceptions but remain external to institutional control. Culture includes everything else: the values, concepts, and outlooks inherited from civilian society. The institutions-experiences-culture framework enables military practitioners to better describe the inputs into the profession and discern deliberate efforts to change from those that happened in response to external forces.

Clark concludes his essay with recommendations on how organizations can handle adaptation:

1) Acknowledge the nature and intractability of generational differences. Generational conflict occurs when an organization contains groups that have undergone significantly dissimilar formative experiences and so consequently operate in accord with different sets of core beliefs. Compromise might be reached upon ancillary matters but not on the kind of fundamental issues that define generations.

2) Use training and education to complement experience. Training and education are the most direct means of shaping the profession, but they are not all powerful. If training and education are to impart a broader perspective, schools and training centers must first crack that shell of certainty by challenging individuals to reassess strongly held beliefs.

3) Guard against identical backgrounds. The Army that stakes its future upon a narrow set of skills and attributes risks disaster when the character of warfare renders that core less relevant, or even obsolete.

4) Encourage diverse experiences. Personnel policies, another important tool of institutional control, foster adaptation by making use of the broad base of experience already resident within the institution.

5) Communicate assumptions. Whatever the issue at stake in any generational conflict, senior leaders should articulate the assumptions that frame their views while seeking to understand the foundation of the younger generation’s perspective.

6) Practice prudence and humility. Prudence and humility are ultimately the greatest keys to adaptation. This week’s essay reminds us that change is difficult. “The need to change will ever be with us,” noted General Starry “But that in no way ensures either that change will occur or that it will be an easy, orderly process.” While members of Congress appear to support the Army’s effort, the greatest resistance is likely to originate from within the ranks. Antagonists will resist change due to various reasons: historical experience, conservatism, an inability to evaluate new ideas, and in some cases, the desire by some to preserve the status quo out of fear of losing personal or professional power or prestige. But as Clark points out, those who are accustomed to the status quo and “regard the change as one for the worse, a betrayal of what they hold dear” will be replaced by a new generation who “cannot fathom how their predecessors could have been so backward.”

As you read the article, consider the impacts on the following Army Warfighting Challenges:
#1 Develop Situational Understanding:

How to develop and sustain a high degree of situational understanding while operating in complex environments against determined, adaptive enemy organizations.

#2/3 Shape the Security Environment:

How the Army influences the security environment and engages key actors and local/regional forces in order to consolidate gains and achieve sustainable security outcomes in support of Geographic Combatant Commands and Joint requirements.

#3 Shape the Security Environment (2/3):

How the Army influences the security environment and engages key actors and local/regional forces in order to consolidate gains and achieve sustainable security outcomes in support of Geographic Combatant Commands and Joint requirements.

#4 Adapt the Institutional Army and Innovate:

How to improve the rate of innovation to drive capability development and deliver DOTMLPF-P solutions to the warfighter at a pace that meets operational demand within the existing constraints of the acquisition and budgeting processes.

#8 Enhance Realistic Training:

How to train Soldiers, leaders and units to ensure they are prepared to accomplish the mission across the range of military operations while operating in complex environments against determined, adaptive enemy organizations.

#9 Improve Soldier, Leader, and Team Performance:

How to develop resilient Soldiers, adaptive leaders, and cohesive teams committed to the Army professional ethic that are capable of accomplishing the mission in environments of uncertainty and persistent danger.

#10 Develop Agile and Adaptive Leaders:

How to develop agile, adaptive, and innovative leaders who thrive in conditions of uncertainty and chaos and are capable of visualizing, describing, directing, and leading and assessing operations in complex environments and against adaptive enemies.

#14 Ensure Interoperability and Operate in Joint, Inter-organizational, Multinational Environment:

How to integrate joint, inter-organizational, and multi-national partner capabilities and campaigns to ensure unity of effort and accomplish missions across the range of military operations.

#15 Conduct Cross-Domain Maneuver:

How Army forces, operating as part of a joint, interorganizational, and multinational force, train, organize, equip, and posture sufficiently to deter or defeat highly capable peer threats in the degraded, contested, lethal, and complex future operational environment.

#19 Exercise Mission Command:

How to understand, visualize, describe, and direct operations consistent with the philosophy of mission command to seize the initiative over the enemy and accomplish the mission across the range of military operations.

#20 Develop Capable Formations:

How to design Army formations capable of rapidly deploying and conducting operations for ample duration and in sufficient scale to accomplish the mission.

Continuous feedback, collaboration, and teamwork are keys to the success of the Campaign of Learning and driving innovation in the Army. Please use the Army Warfighting Challenges as the framework to contribute your ideas and recommendations with respect to this topic to improve our ability to innovate as we develop the current and future force.

The Army Warfighting Challenges (AWFC) framework may be accessed here:

For previous weekly readings go to: ARCIC Professional Readings

  1. Army Operating Concept, TRADOC Pam 525-3-1, 30 October 2014
  2. Multi-Domain Battle

All the best,