The realities of logistics and strategic leadership – ‘2018 edition’

By David Beaumont.

In late 2017 I published a post of anecdotes, observations and lessons given by senior officers contacted through the course of academic research. These insights were given by logisticians, but not always, and pointed at many of the issues transforming Defence logistics over a period of nearly thirty years. The conversations continued throughout 2018 and continued to highlight significant, strategic, challenges which define Defence organisations even today, and point at the transition leaders must make as they ‘stare, mid-career, at their future in Defence bureaucracy, into an environment where the definition achieved in operational planning is not possible, and where institutional functions and logistics processes are completely integrated through the span of the strategic level’.

The disclaimer provided in 2017 applies:

This post is a collation of pertinent points imparted through these conversations. They are general in nature, raw in content, deliberately unattributed and paraphrased. Although discussed in the context of strategic logistics they are broadly applicable, and many are clearly relevant to effective strategic leadership. This reflects the inseparability of logistics from the institutional activity which defines the strategic level of defence forces. Moreover, the factors and issues described here deal with the complexity of generating institutional strategy (as distinct from a military or operational strategy) and leadership within a complex environment.

Logisticians and the ‘spirit of the age’

Defence logistics has been in a paradigm shift for the last thirty years. These times are difficult because of the pace of change, the absence of an equilibrium, people get ‘lost’ and do not know how to proceed. Outdated ideas become a refuge.

The ‘age’ is defined by the mobility of people and knowledge, dispersal of production, changing customer expectations, technological bypasses for conventional processes, short product (capability) cycles that are used for strategic advantage, cross-functional and networked organisations, alliances in shared efforts.

Trends of this ‘age’ include the move from strategic planning to strategic thinking, structure to process, physical assets to the integration and use of knowledge, single to multi-skilling, and hierarchy to networks.

The behaviours required for success in this age are cooperation rather than confrontation, cross-functional versus functional, integrated opposed to aligned, and collaborative rather than autonomic.

Success in logistics, as in any venture in this time, requires Defence to be able to take information stored passively in people’s heads and to make it accessible, actionable, useful and explicit. This applies to human and organisational knowledge.

Logistics in the Defence context:

The logistics viewpoint is essentially that of the commander, not of technical specialists.

The cardinal sin of logistics is over-insurance.

Defence financial management is a major limiting factor on progress in all areas, especially logistics. Poor standards of management and inappropriate accountability will compromise preparedness.

Defence is a command economy where resources are allocated, and capabilities are developed, in an environment distinctly different from the corporate environment. There are no market forces, no profit imperative, no capital market test, and consequently, surpluses and deficiencies are inevitable.

The single-most important relationship (human or not) in Defence is between the capital and operating (sustainment and discretionary) budget. Strategic transformation orbits this relationship, as does force structure, capability and preparedness.

Defence logistics activity is, for the reasons above, not a high-performance activity. Areas of excellence are discrete, and often temporary.

Many logistics managers do not realise they are running a business. Many leaders do not provide these managers with the skills to do so.

The concept of a ‘core organisation’ is foreign to a military culture that often links ownership with capability. In the tactical environment, this plays out in approaches to command and control. In the strategic environment, this plays out in organisational fragmentation. In the logistics environment, this plays out in how logistics managers perform as a body of essential staff, surrounded by contractors and others.

Longstanding logistics knowledge shortfalls exist in supply chain management, financial management, performance management, quality management, technical configuration management, risk management, competitive tendering and contracting. A lack of knowledge in systems engineering exacerbates logistics inefficiencies and other knowledge deficiencies.

Logistics, and the management of Defence

Senior officers are prepared to manage training and operational activities, but are rarely prepared to manage militaries as large, public-sector, institutions. Not only have they been ill-prepared in terms of managerial competencies, but they are often saddled with outdated management systems.

Because of the upbringing of military officers, there can be a tendency of some to consider senior management and logistics as a peripheral task. The problem is that at its foundations, Defence is a business like any other.

Most senior officers are not developed with an understanding of logistics other than how it applies to the combat force. Defence has never really settled on the question, ‘how much should they really know?’

Culture and change

The Defence strategic ‘sub-cultures’ which impact on performance could be summarised through the terms ‘warrior’, ‘policy’, ‘technology’ and ‘management’. Each can be categorised further in Services, Groups and organisations at all levels. Successful change requires leaders to actively avoid destroying sub-cultures, instead harnessing them through common goals and aligned objectives. Furthermore, it requires the diversity in thinking by ensuring teams are built on a span of ‘sub-cultures’.

In the context of Defence culture, external ideas – though completely appropriate – might be impossible to realistically implement. For this reason, it is important that ideas are ‘adapted’, not ‘adopted’.

Successful reforms in Defence logistics have been brought about through culture building (the difficult part), process and structure design (the easy part), and competency development (the forgotten part).

The objective of change in logistics should be to resolve excessive and sustained pressure on people, gaps in workforce competencies and to overcome highly decentralised decision making more than any other reason.

Senior leaders have a choice when embarking upon their agenda – do they conduct a brutal, sweeping, transformation or do they strive for continuous improvement? Transformation is pursued through a grand plan, initiated with a ‘big bang’, and usually aimed at a reduction in costs. Continuous improvement initiates experimentation and evolution but can include consolidation and the development of competencies.

The fact that transformation in logistics, and in other areas of Defence, is often imposed is revealing. Long term change in logistics, however, should be continuous in nature.

The difference between ‘brutal’ transformations and continuous improvement can be seen in the implementation. Transformation is led through direction, adjustments to process and structure and external advice is used to provide solutions (consultants and others). Continuous improvement is defined by a participative approach, building new cultures, and is supported by external agents.

The key to success in delivering change in Defence organisations is action. Too many have been taught to talk, too few have been taught to act.

The ‘knowing-doing gap’ is a result of:

  • Not knowing what the problem is. This is a consequence of poor strategic communication, but also a willingness to listen.
  • Perceptions of disempowerment, whether this be real or not. Disempowerment can be bred or defeated through leadership and example.
  • Change is difficult and frightening, and the effort costs individuals.
  • The propensity to compromise progress with talk; long and loud, ridden with platitudes and cliché. Language and engagement can be used to delay.

‘Smart-talk’ is negative and destructive. Be cautious of when pessimism sounds profound, and optimism sounds superficial.

Complex language is never better than simple words. Fashionable terms that no one really understands, or ill-defined questions, make progress difficult. However, never confuse ease of comprehension with ease of implementation.

Emotional intelligence is critical for organisational success. It is defined by self-awareness, self-control and the ability to suspend judgement, empathy, motivation and social skills. Credible leaders:

  • Face up to their personal strengths and inadequacies, beliefs and prejudices.
  • Reflect on their own reasoning (self-awareness).
  • Explore the reasoning of others (empathy).
  • Make their own reasoning visible through communication in all forms (social skills).

One emotionally unintelligent person among a group of competent individuals can lead to incompetent group performance.

Conclusion

Logistics might be nine-tenths of the business of war, but it is virtually all the business of peace. Defence logisticians must recognise who and why they are, and what they need to become. Yet, as described above, logistics is a command perspective – and not a technical viewpoint. It is defined by approaches to leadership, to change, and by the vagaries of human behaviour.  My conversations confirmed that many senior leaders had wished they had known more about organisations or thought of logistics differently. It was evident that most problems they encountered related to organisational management more than they did to stewarding the logistics capabilities and organisations under their care. In fact, many of the issues which burned in contention among the junior and mid-ranking staff, issues including force-structure, organisational design and policy, were only smouldering in the minds of senior staff and commanders. Solutions came from commanders and logisticians thinking about how technical, specialised, functions could be effectively combined, and the way in which processed and organisation could be bent through changes to culture.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer. The thoughts are his own, and he takes responsibility for what he borrows!

Surviving your time as a military logistician

by Hayden Marshall.

Ed. – With the Australian & New Zealand Defence Logistics Conference in one week, LIW will revisit several recent posts on logistics at the strategic (and enterprise) level, or within joint organisations. 

It is no wonder that logisticians are regarded as a humourless bunch for they have spent many years living in fear of Alexander the Great’s wrath (and his successors) that famously declared that the logisticians would be the first to be slain if the campaign fails. The prospect of a slaying often has the ability to sharpen one’s focus at the expense of missing the bigger picture. Our success as military logisticians rests directly with our ability to quickly and decisively understand the needs and requirements of our commanders. This can also prove to be challenging at times as commanders sometimes communicate in a manner or language that differs from our own and at times, under less than ideal conditions. Nevertheless, one must persevere and perhaps the best way for the logistician to regain the right trajectory is to adopt a couple of logistics mantras.

The inane value of a mantra is that it can be extremely flexible in its application and its pithiness can often be the key to capturing the understanding of a diverse, and sometimes, eclectic audience. This collection of logistics related mantras (which are my own) is offered for entertainment, debate and to perhaps to help lift the shroud that sometimes confuses how we apply our trade.

Logistics mantra #1: It depends.

This is not meant to be a cop-out, but rather an important recognition that variables make an incredible difference in the world of logistics. Accordingly, it is very important to ensure that the full extent of the situation is clearly understood. If not, the potential for a dissatisfied commander and a confused logistician is high, which will only lead to tears and an interesting conversation about future career options. To successfully address this mantra requires tact, diplomacy and sometimes the ability to read minds to support the development of feasible options. The military logistician must also clearly identify risks and threats to ensure that orders/instructions are made on an informed basis. Experience over many campaigns (successes and failures) will help to prepare one to recognise where more initial planning effort is required.

Logistics mantra #2: Are you sure?

The delivery of military logistics support is not achieved without the expenditure of resources – time, people, money, etc. Getting something for nothing does not ring true in any significant military activities, so before any reasonable amount of logistics resources are committed to a course of action, it is worth checking that commanders are aware of the full extent of impending liabilities. Importantly, this is not meant to suggest that one questions or attempts to second guess the authority of the commander, but rather recognises that it is not uncommon to have competing demands for scare resources. Therefore, effective prioritisation is required to ensure that scarce resources are applied in a manner that generates the best outcome. Gifted as some commanders are, they may likely require some additional assistance to understand logistics capabilities and capacity limitations to help to avoid an ugly outcome. Careful examination of requirements and discussion with the commander is important to get the right balance against the classic trade-offs of time, quality and cost.

Logistics mantra #3: It’s never simple; there’s always complexity.

If military logistics was simple, then everybody would be doing it and I could have spent the umpteen years I studied logistics doing something else. Simplicity is a principle of war to ensure the application of clear logic and skills to ensure that concepts, plans and instructions are presented in a manner that avoids confusion. Military logistics problems that appear to be simple often quickly spin into major dramas before you know it. This is largely due to the reality that the successful delivery of logistics solutions requires collaboration and coordination across multiple entities, many of which will be outside of your direct control. Giving a problem appropriate respect will allow the military logistician to project an image of calmness, whilst working furiously in the background to leverage from an extensive professional network to deliver results. People may think that Sun Tzu was thinking about combatants when he contended – keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. I suggest that he had been closely observing his logisticians and the manner in which they skillfully applied their trade.

Logistics mantra #4: Logisticians should laugh.

This has absolutely nothing to do with logistics and draws directly on an effective appreciation of psychology. The disarming effects of laughter (at an appropriate juncture!) can remove tension in a group and help to improve interaction. All being well, this should lead to better outcomes. A little bit of humour can also assist to reinforce the notion that perhaps the current concept being considered does not have a snowball’s chance of success from a logistics perspective. Humour also has the innate ability to encourage other parties to join the discussion and offer valuable input, where previously they were potentially intimidated or afraid to offer a view. In other words, humour can be an important leveler and bring key issues back to a more sensible perspective. Plus it also makes the work environment a bit more enjoyable.

Since the time of the Romans, and perhaps beforehand, the application of logistics has been a challenge for all concerned. The essential nature of military logistics and the need for skilled professionals to support the execution of successful military operations is rarely questioned. However,  it is sometimes necessary to remind folks to not take logistics for granted. The skillful use of a mantra (or two) has the ability to focus the attention of logisticians and commanders to maintain effective lines of communication to avoid confusion, misunderstanding and incorrect assumptions, all of which could lead to professional embarrassment or more adverse consequences. The occasional laugh helps to put things into perspective and while not in keeping with Alexander the Great’s description of his logisticians, the injection of humour at the right time can break the tension and help all parties get to the essence of the problem.

Do you have a mantra (or two) that you find helpful in the successful application of logistics?

Hayden Marshall is a Logistics Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, with considerable experience as a tactical, operational and strategic logistics commander and planner. He prepared this article while Deputy Commander, Joint Logistics Command, Australian Defence Force.

Every logistician must write

By David Beaumont.

Logistics in War has been online for nearly one and a half years. This post, shared with the Australian Army’s ‘Cove’, gives three reasons why military professionals should write. It is based upon experiences learned from those eighteen months. The three reasons to write apply to logisticians in particular, for if logisticians are to be taken seriously, they must come, seriously, to the debate. Writing is valuable, and valued.

Major-General Chris Field recently wrote of his two reasons to write; education and humility. His insights were based on a view that ‘standard officer training, education and experience’ was not enough and that ‘doing more was a personal responsibility’. He regards ‘humility’ as coming from the recognition you do not know as much as you think you know, and that writing and learning lessens the gap between the two. I have read many articles on why, as a member of the profession of arms, it is important that we write. To be frank, I have felt that more people have been recently writing about writing and emphasising the importance self-paced professional military education than engaging in debate and discussion within military circles. However, I found Major-General Field’s comments articulated the two fundamental reasons I write, but probably more importantly, allude to the importance of self-research and self-education. I would like to offer some additional points for you to consider.

Before I do, and at the risk of self-indulgence, it is worth understanding where I have come from as a writer. Like Major-General Field, I have written extensively on my chosen topic area – military logistics – through blogs, journal articles and academic-level papers. While I get personal satisfaction in developing a deep understanding for the subject area, I have also found the writing has been professionally important to raise and discuss issues that may otherwise have remained cloistered away in an obscure logistics-oriented conference. I think the introduction to Logistics in War says it enough:

‘The conclusion is irresistible that the military themselves know next to nothing about logistics’.– United States Marine Corps Colonel George C Thorpe, Pure Logistics, 1917.

Logistics In War’ seeks to instigate and inspire, continue and create, a professional discussion on military logistics that is sorely lacking. Furthermore, ‘Logistics In War’ supports the development of an international community of military logisticians that can share ideas, concepts and useful material in an insightful, courteous and professional manner reflective of the values of the militaries and Defence organisations that its readers may serve in.

The act of writing, and my experiences that have followed, have absolutely confirmed to me that Army and Defence wants to read. It wants to learn, and where it might not have the capacity to innovate or alleviate systemic problems, it wants to understand where risks lie. Sometimes Army just wants to know what the question should be! This is especially relevant to the topic of logistics which has the real potential to destroy our operational plans, disrupt tactical execution and challenge Army’s sustainment budget if we fail to give it the attention it deserves. Although individuals may not see the value in writing, at an organisational level, I have found nothing but support from the Service and in Defence more broadly. With this in mind, I would like to introduce three ideas as reasons to professionally write.

It brings greater understanding, and from understanding, professional relevance

The importance of researching and writing as an activity of personal professional military has been described ad nauseum. It fills the gaping hole in our professional knowledge that the individual and collective training on offer can never overcome. Army will try to offer us all experiences as a compensation for the inability to prepare people any other way as they assume particular appointments, or ascend to higher ranks. However, this is usually not enough. The research and writing process, as Major-General Field describes, comes a substantial part of the way to identify gaps in knowledge, enabling us to respond to those gaps accordingly.

It is to your own personal benefit that you write. You will gain authority and respect for eloquent and literate debate on issues, demonstrating your competence in the most public of ways. Occasionally you will get a personal email of support, or contacted by a distinguished reader who offers you an encouraging word. Army desires writers from within the profession of arms, and has been quite active in recent years in facilitating constructive and considerate debate on a variety of topics. It is therefore a great time to contribute. Writing can be your opportunity to leave a mark on the Army, and a way in which you will be recognised for a permanent contribution to the profession of arms.

To write is to convince and influence

Another important reason to write is to influence and to convince others to see your point of view. In this regard there is a place for contemporary short form articles (blogs) just as there is for much longer and detailed papers and books. I believe we are in a time where both are required to balance quality and depth of content with the accessibility. If you seek to engage with, and ultimately convince, as broad an audience as possible, be prepared to do both. However, there is little doubt that a well-researched paper creates a greater gravity, and its contents considered with greater seriousness.

Don’t worry yourself with a fear that your work is not being read. I have had many conversations with people who contend that papers rarely get read, and that we should instead focus on making writing more accessible. The recent explosion of blogs including my own Logistics in War, professional military education sites such as The Cove, and other forms of ‘accessible’ writing are all part of this trend. Even then, there is always a niggling doubt as to whether material is being read, including in those times when social media analytics reinforces your concerns as to whether your work may be popular or not.

The ‘accessibility’ of your writing, however, is only partially relevant. What matters is who reads it, and the way in which your writing convinces. Reliability, quality and depth of information is often more important to an audience, especially if that audience is testing your credibility. Furthermore, it may matter more to convince and influence others and the organisation if greater effort is applied to your research and writing. If you are trying to improve your own ability, practice with short articles and work towards the long-term goal of producing a more substantial work. Writing, like most things, is a skill that you can improve.

It is part of organisational renewal

Writing for yourself is important for your own education. Writing to improve that of others is contributing to your profession. We are raised, and often measured, as officers by our ability to convince others through inspiration and engaging with our soldiers at a personal level. This is an essential aspect of command, which is rightly and irrevocably about people. Although memories and reputation follow us all through our military careers, the improvement of the profession of arms requires something more permanent. There is nothing more permanent than words when it comes to communication, especially when those words synthesise problems through research and lead to alternative points of view than the normal. Rather than convincing individuals, your team, even your formation, with writing you are contributing to something much larger.

If we no longer take the time to research and write, our understanding of war will diminish, history’s lessons forgotten, and our exploration of the future will be left to others. Army would be in a state of decline, bereft of intellectual debate or direction, and unable to break the hold of myopic ideas and outdated concepts. The Chief of Army recently challenged Army’s senior leaders (and by extension, all in Army) to consider what Army’s next ‘big idea’ should be. Discussion may be important, but the debate must be manifested on paper and by electrons if it is to encourage a broad-based renewal and stimulate collective involvement and critique. Many of Army’s senior leaders have already contributed to public discussion and support those that write. Take that as a hint that there is no better time than the present to contribute to blogs, journals or larger research papers which can influence, even if only in a small way, the future of Army.

David Beaumont is a serving Army officer. The thoughts here are his own.

The realities of logistics and strategic leadership: lessons from the ADF’s senior-most logisticians

By David Beaumont.

Through researching the way in which the ADF has prepared and mobilised its logistics capabilities at the strategic level, I have been extremely fortunate to interview a range of senior military officers and public servants. These officials were responsible for key decisions with respect to the transformation of logistics as it applied to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Department of Defence during a period of major transformation lasting twenty years. Through anecdotes, insights and the narration of history valuable lessons were given by these leaders with respect to a wide variety of strategic issues in Defence logistics. Moreover, these conversations and interviews confirm the real transition that military personnel face as they stare, mid-career, at their future in Defence bureaucracy, into an environment where the definition achieved in operational planning is not possible, and where institutional functions and logistics processes are completely integrated through the span of the strategic level.

This post is a collation of pertinent points imparted through these conversations. They are general in nature, raw in content, deliberately unattributed and paraphrased. Although discussed in the context of strategic logistics they are broadly applicable, and many are clearly relevant to effective strategic leadership. This reflects the inseparability of logistics from the institutional activity which defines the strategic level of defence forces. Moreover, the factors and issues described here deal with the complexity of generating institutional strategy (as distinct from a military or operational strategy) and leadership within a complex environment.

Strategy

  • Strategy is a concept of relating means to end; it is complex and subtle and is about thinking, vision, learning as opposed to planning. It involves choices and trade-offs and consequently is much about decision what not to do as deciding what to do.
  • Realised strategy is usually a combination of what was intended and what was learned along the way.
  • The key to understanding policy, strategy and concepts is to be found in knowing who the formulator is and what he or she is about.

Strategic failure

  • Strategic failures emerge when ‘thinkers’ are separated from ‘doers’, ‘strategists’ from ‘planners’ and ‘soft data’ from ‘hard data’. It occurs when strategy is neither understood nor communicated effectively, organisational capabilities and resources are not linked to strategy, and people’s competencies do not reflect strategy. This is often the case with respect to logistics.
  • Strategic failure occurs when there are poor linkages between strategy, goals, budgets and performance measures. The quality of linkages can often be seen in the substance of logistics activities and processes. Similarly, strategic failure can occur when circumstances change but strategy and plans do not.
  • The risk of strategic failure exists when excessively complex implementation plans are developed which emphasise control rather than personal accountability, and are issued ‘fire-and-forget’.
  • Cultural clashes, Service and departmental rivalries, and internal institutional politicking increase the risk of strategic failures and prevent the resolution of many strategic problems.

The strategic basis for capability

  • The basis for capability is enshrined in Government endorsed strategic policy but will change because of changed strategic circumstances, technological enhancements, doctrinal leaps, the planned withdrawal date of equipment, and the availability of replacements.
  • The introduction of capability has traditionally been influenced by a number of intellectual capital shortfalls including conceptual and analytical skills, policy writing skills bureaucratic skills, systems engineering, financial management and corporate risk management.

The realities of capability development and sustainment of materiel and capability

  • All logistics processes at the strategic level are joint; moreover they require military and public service input
  • Military advice is always tested and compared with the views of others. Contestability is at the core of decision making, and decisions which emanate from the military aren’t always trusted.
  • All strategic processes must observe probity, transparency and efficiency in dealing with public money.
  • Institutional decision making is primarily concerned with financial management and the balance of competing demands for limited investment and sustainment funds.
  • It is highly dependant upon multi-functional teams and effective committee work.
  • Effective processes relevant to the generation and sustainment of capability must reflect a Defence perspective rather than parochial – usually Service – interests.
  • The protagonists (Services and the Department) have diverse and sometimes irreconcilable cultural backgrounds. This is the reality of a large organisation with many competing requirements imposed upon it. Mutual understanding, however, can be achieved and should always be aspired to.
  • Symbols are prolific, and much of what happens is ‘theatre’ that gives legitimacy to logistics and capability processes, as well as other decisions.
  • Rather than using intuition to inform decisions, people often retreat behind analysis to avoid choosing between difficult options. This is especially the case with logistics. Even if analysis is used to inform judgements, decisions at the highest level will tend to be intuitive and influenced by a range of factors.
  • The control of logistics resources, especially in capability development, is influenced significantly by the desire to attain and exercise power within the institution. Logistics processes can be highly adversarial and mutually destructive – especially in the context of readiness – or highly cooperative and constructive although not without the need to resolve ‘creative conflict’.
  • Changes in financial guidance are an especially ‘capricious influence’.
  • Opinions always outnumber facts.

The nature of public service involvement

  • Public servants have an institutional memory and know how to work both the official and unofficial bureaucratic organisation.
  • They are analytical rather than doctrinal, and possess good policy skills.
  • Public servants know ‘words are bullets’ and can bring a broader perspective to any logistic process and a capacity to look at things with a ‘fresh eye’.

The nature of military involvement

  • Military staff are, in general, not well prepared for operating within an institutional bureaucracy. There are few, if any, other roles in society where the mental attitudes cultivated for operations are so different from those required for long term policy making.
  • In order to present the ‘military’ view of a problem in a judicious and ultimately successful manner, military professionals must understand the total concerns of the problem. Many of these concerns are not ‘military’ in their origin, or consideration.
  • Military staff must be more dispassionate about their work, especially when it is criticised.
  • Officers do not have good conflict resolution, lobbying or negotiating skills. This is the biggest source of success or failure for military officers operating at the most senior levels of defence organisations.

The expansive nature of logistics, as a process that straddles activity from the acquisition and sustainment organisations operating at the strategic level of militaries to the tactical units deployed on operations, often means that logisticians encounter the problems of strategic leadership early in their careers. Many of the issues they face are inseparable with the general functioning of a military prior to its operational use; as such, they must be understood. As cited by Nicholas Jans in the excellent study The Chiefs, ‘if they [strategic leaders] do not clearly understand the nature of the entity they are to lead, how can they possibly lead wisely?’[1] The collected thoughts summarised here provide a brief insight to revelations achieved after years of Service, in circumstances where logistics leaders have been required to embrace radical transformations to the way in which logistics process occur. However, I argue, they are unequivocally timeless and should be held in high regard by those who aspire to any success at the strategic level, and as a logistician more broadly.

David Beaumont is a serving Australian Army officer and these thoughts are his own. This article was originally posted in November 2017.

[1] Leonard Wong and Don Sider cited in Nicholas Jans, The Chiefs: a study of strategic leadership, Commonwealth of Australia, 2013, p 90 [http://www.defence.gov.au/ADC/Publications/Chiefs/TheChiefs.pdf]

The realities of logistics and strategic leadership: lessons from the ADF’s senior-most logisticians

By David Beaumont.

Through the course of 2017, and because of my academic research, I have been extremely fortunate to interview a range of senior military officers and public servants. These officials were responsible for key decisions with respect to the transformation of logistics as it applied to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Department of Defence during a period of major transformation lasting twenty years. Through anecdotes, insights and the narration of history valuable lessons were given by these leaders with respect to a wide variety of strategic issues in Defence logistics. Moreover, these conversations and interviews confirm the real transition that military personnel face as they stare, mid-career, at their future in Defence bureaucracy, into an environment where the definition achieved in operational planning is not possible, and where institutional functions and logistics processes are completely integrated through the span of the strategic level.

This post is a collation of pertinent points imparted through these conversations. They are general in nature, raw in content, deliberately unattributed and paraphrased. Although discussed in the context of strategic logistics they are broadly applicable, and many are clearly relevant to effective strategic leadership. This reflects the inseparability of logistics from the institutional activity which defines the strategic level of defence forces. Moreover, the factors and issues described here deal with the complexity of generating institutional strategy (as distinct from a military or operational strategy) and leadership within a complex environment.

Strategy

  • Strategy is a concept of relating means to end; it is complex and subtle and is about thinking, vision, learning as opposed to planning. It involves choices and trade-offs and consequently is much about decision what not to do as deciding what to do.
  • Realised strategy is usually a combination of what was intended and what was learned along the way.
  • The key to understanding policy, strategy and concepts is to be found in knowing who the formulator is and what he or she is about.

Strategic failure

  • Strategic failures emerge when ‘thinkers’ are separated from ‘doers’, ‘strategists’ from ‘planners’ and ‘soft data’ from ‘hard data’. It occurs when strategy is neither understood nor communicated effectively, organisational capabilities and resources are not linked to strategy, and people’s competencies do not reflect strategy. This is often the case with respect to logistics.
  • Strategic failure occurs when there are poor linkages between strategy, goals, budgets and performance measures. The quality of linkages can often be seen in the substance of logistics activities and processes. Similarly, strategic failure can occur when circumstances change but strategy and plans do not.
  • The risk of strategic failure exists when excessively complex implementation plans are developed which emphasise control rather than personal accountability, and are issued ‘fire-and-forget’.
  • Cultural clashes, Service and departmental rivalries, and internal institutional politicking increase the risk of strategic failures and prevent the resolution of many strategic problems.

The strategic basis for capability

  • The basis for capability is enshrined in Government endorsed strategic policy but will change because of changed strategic circumstances, technological enhancements, doctrinal leaps, the planned withdrawal date of equipment, and the availability of replacements.
  • The introduction of capability has traditionally been influenced by a number of intellectual capital shortfalls including conceptual and analytical skills, policy writing skills bureaucratic skills, systems engineering, financial management and corporate risk management.

The realities of capability development and sustainment of materiel and capability

  • All logistics processes at the strategic level are joint; moreover they require military and public service input
  • Military advice is always tested and compared with the views of others. Contestability is at the core of decision making, and decisions which emanate from the military aren’t always trusted.
  • All strategic processes must observe probity, transparency and efficiency in dealing with public money.
  • Institutional decision making is primarily concerned with financial management and the balance of competing demands for limited investment and sustainment funds.
  • It is highly dependant upon multi-functional teams and effective committee work.
  • Effective processes relevant to the generation and sustainment of capability must reflect a Defence perspective rather than parochial – usually Service – interests.
  • The protagonists (Services and the Department) have diverse and sometimes irreconcilable cultural backgrounds. This is the reality of a large organisation with many competing requirements imposed upon it. Mutual understanding, however, can be achieved and should always be aspired to.
  • Symbols are prolific, and much of what happens is ‘theatre’ that gives legitimacy to logistics and capability processes, as well as other decisions.
  • Rather than using intuition to inform decisions, people often retreat behind analysis to avoid choosing between difficult options. This is especially the case with logistics. Even if analysis is used to inform judgements, decisions at the highest level will tend to be intuitive and influenced by a range of factors.
  • The control of logistics resources, especially in capability development, is influenced significantly by the desire to attain and exercise power within the institution. Logistics processes can be highly adversarial and mutually destructive – especially in the context of readiness – or highly cooperative and constructive although not without the need to resolve ‘creative conflict’.
  • Changes in financial guidance are an especially ‘capricious influence’.
  • Opinions always outnumber facts.

The nature of public service involvement

  • Public servants have an institutional memory and know how to work both the official and unofficial bureaucratic organisation.
  • They are analytical rather than doctrinal, and possess good policy skills.
  • Public servants know ‘words are bullets’ and can bring a broader perspective to any logistic process and a capacity to look at things with a ‘fresh eye’.

The nature of military involvement

  • Military staff are, in general, not well prepared for operating within an institutional bureaucracy. There are few, if any, other roles in society where the mental attitudes cultivated for operations are so different from those required for long term policy making.
  • In order to present the ‘military’ view of a problem in a judicious and ultimately successful manner, military professionals must understand the total concerns of the problem. Many of these concerns are not ‘military’ in their origin, or consideration.
  • Military staff must be more dispassionate about their work, especially when it is criticised.
  • Officers do not have good conflict resolution, lobbying or negotiating skills. This is the biggest source of success or failure for military officers operating at the most senior levels of defence organisations.

The expansive nature of logistics, as a process that straddles activity from the acquisition and sustainment organisations operating at the strategic level of militaries to the tactical units deployed on operations, often means that logisticians encounter the problems of strategic leadership early in their careers. Many of the issues they face are inseparable with the general functioning of a military prior to its operational use; as such, they must be understood. As cited by Nicholas Jans in the excellent study The Chiefs, ‘if they [strategic leaders] do not clearly understand the nature of the entity they are to lead, how can they possibly lead wisely?’[1] The collected thoughts summarised here provide a brief insight to revelations achieved after years of Service, in circumstances where logistics leaders have been required to embrace radical transformations to the way in which logistics process occur. However, I argue, they are unequivocally timeless and should be held in high regard by those who aspire to any success at the strategic level, and as a logistician more broadly.

[1] Leonard Wong and Don Sider cited in Nicholas Jans, The Chiefs: a study of strategic leadership, Commonwealth of Australia, 2013, p 90 [http://www.defence.gov.au/ADC/Publications/Chiefs/TheChiefs.pdf]

Surviving your time as a military logistician

by Hayden Marshall

It is no wonder that logisticians are regarded as a humourless bunch for they have spent many years living in fear of Alexander the Great’s wrath (and his successors) that famously declared that the logisticians would be the first to be slain if the campaign fails. The prospect of a slaying often has the ability to sharpen one’s focus at the expense of missing the bigger picture. Our success as military logisticians rests directly with our ability to quickly and decisively understand the needs and requirements of our commanders. This can also prove to be challenging at times as commanders sometimes communicate in a manner or language that differs from our own and at times, under less than ideal conditions. Nevertheless, one must persevere and perhaps the best way for the logistician to regain the right trajectory is to adopt a couple of logistics mantras.

The inane value of a mantra is that it can be extremely flexible in its application and its pithiness can often be the key to capturing the understanding of a diverse, and sometimes, eclectic audience. This collection of logistics related mantras (which are my own) is offered for entertainment, debate and to perhaps to help lift the shroud that sometimes confuses how we apply our trade.

Logistics mantra #1: It depends.

This is not meant to be a cop-out, but rather an important recognition that variables make an incredible difference in the world of logistics. Accordingly, it is very important to ensure that the full extent of the situation is clearly understood. If not, the potential for a dissatisfied commander and a confused logistician is high, which will only lead to tears and an interesting conversation about future career options. To successfully address this mantra requires tact, diplomacy and sometimes the ability to read minds to support the development of feasible options. The military logistician must also clearly identify risks and threats to ensure that orders/instructions are made on an informed basis. Experience over many campaigns (successes and failures) will help to prepare one to recognise where more initial planning effort is required.

Logistics mantra #2: Are you sure?

The delivery of military logistics support is not achieved without the expenditure of resources – time, people, money, etc. Getting something for nothing does not ring true in any significant military activities, so before any reasonable amount of logistics resources are committed to a course of action, it is worth checking that commanders are aware of the full extent of impending liabilities. Importantly, this is not meant to suggest that one questions or attempts to second guess the authority of the commander, but rather recognises that it is not uncommon to have competing demands for scare resources. Therefore, effective prioritisation is required to ensure that scarce resources are applied in a manner that generates the best outcome. Gifted as some commanders are, they may likely require some additional assistance to understand logistics capabilities and capacity limitations to help to avoid an ugly outcome. Careful examination of requirements and discussion with the commander is important to get the right balance against the classic trade-offs of time, quality and cost.

Logistics mantra #3: It’s never simple, there’s always complexity.

If military logistics was simple, then everybody would be doing it and I could have spent the umpteen years I studied logistics doing something else. Simplicity is a principle of war to ensure the application of clear logic and skills to ensure that concepts, plans and instructions are presented in a manner that avoids confusion. Military logistics problems that appear to be simple often quickly spin into major dramas before you know it. This is largely due to the reality that the successful delivery of logistics solutions requires collaboration and coordination across multiple entities, many of which will be outside of your direct control. Giving a problem appropriate respect will allow the military logistician to project an image of calmness, whilst working furiously in the background to leverage from an extensive professional network to deliver results. People may think that Sun Tzu was thinking about combatants when he contended – keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. I suggest that he had been closely observing his logisticians and the manner in which they skillfully applied their trade.

Logistics mantra #4: Logisticians should laugh.

This has absolutely nothing to do with logistics and draws directly on an effective appreciation of psychology. The disarming effects of laughter (at an appropriate juncture!) can remove tension in a group and help to improve interaction. All being well, this should lead to better outcomes. A little bit of humour can also assist to reinforce the notion that perhaps the current concept being considered does not have a snowball’s chance of success from a logistics perspective. Humour also has the innate ability to encourage other parties to join the discussion and offer valuable input, where previously they were potentially intimidated or afraid to offer a view. In other words, humour can be an important leveler and bring key issues back to a more sensible perspective. Plus it also makes the work environment a bit more enjoyable.

Since the time of the Romans, and perhaps beforehand, the application of logistics has been a challenge for all concerned. The essential nature of military logistics and the need for skilled professionals to support the execution of successful military operations is rarely questioned. However,  it is sometimes necessary to remind folks to not take logistics for granted. The skillful use of a mantra (or two) has the ability to focus the attention of logisticians and commanders to maintain effective lines of communication to avoid confusion, misunderstanding and incorrect assumptions, all of which could lead to professional embarrassment or more adverse consequences. The occasional laugh helps to put things into perspective and while not in keeping with Alexander the Great’s description of his logisticians, the injection of humour at the right time can break the tension and help all parties get to the essence of the problem.

Do you have a mantra (or two) that you find helpful in the successful application of logistics?

Hayden Marshall is a Logistics Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, with considerable experience as a tactical, operational and strategic logistics commander and planner. He is currently posted to Joint Logistics Command.

The trust deficit – why do we expect logistics to fail us?

By Gabrielle M. Follett.

Trust. The willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability of the ability to monitor or control that other party[1].

In a recent post in ‘From the Green Notebook’ David Beaumont noted that, for the sustainment of decisive action to be effective, logistics must be characterised by ‘trust between commanders, combat forces and logisticians’.  Almost every military logistician – and no doubt the majority of our combat arms brethren – would agree.

If we accept that trust between all parties is essential to effective military logistics, why then do tactical commanders in the Australian Army generally adopt a policy of self-reliance when it comes to combat service support? At every level of the Combat Brigade supply chain – from the F Echelon through to the logistic battalion – we assume that the logistic system is almost certainly going to fail us. Moreover, as we reach back to third line logistics and beyond to the National Support Base, the decline in trust is almost proportional to the increasing geographic and C2 ‘distances’ between the elements who are supported and those supporting.

As a result, at the tactical level we deploy with a stockholding based on ‘everything we can fit in’ rather than the science of logistic planning. The repercussions are self-fulfilling: we take so much equipment and stores on our training exercises that we don’t test the logistic continuum, failing to find where it breaks and thus missing the opportunity to fix it. The lack of trust in logistic units and the supply chain is reflected in wasteful activities, hoarding of limited resources and failure to accept prudent risk. In terms of collective capability, we lose the opportunity to actually train combat and combat service support elements together, failing to build mutual understanding or respect and never affording ourselves the fortuity to be pleasantly surprised when the logistic system delivers. The result is a cultural bias that is deeply ingrained, perpetuating an often unfounded belief that our combat service support units can’t or won’t deliver what the combat arms need.

Ammo distribution

Photo by 3rd Combat Service Support Battalion, Australian Army

As logisticians, the lack of faith in the ability and skills of our logistic continuum and those of us charged with providing the support feels like enduring ‘trust deficit’. While it is generally accepted that the success or failure of combat action is dependent on a range of factors – including acceptance that the ‘enemy gets a vote’ – we approach support operations in an entirely different way.  When combat operations fail, it’s because we missed information requirement X or factor Y was not available. When resupply or battlefield repair fails, it is inevitably chalked up to the perceived incompetence of the logistic unit or the inbuilt inflexibility of the system. Trust – a subjective, transactional emotion – in military logistics at the tactical level is at least partly founded on group-based stereotypes rather than heuristic experience.

In our tactical commanders there is a clear approach of ‘trust is good, but control is better’ manifesting itself in a desire not to depend on the next level of support. This has been brought to the fore in the Australian Army’s tactical combat service support restructure[2], which in January 2017 shifted part of the combat service support personnel establishment from units into the second line logistic battalion. The premise behind the new apportionment of logistic resource is that the Army cannot afford to have all of the logistic personnel it thinks it needs, and that concentrating them at Brigade level enables prioritisation and technical efficiencies for formation operations. This disposition is analogous to how mobility support and indirect fires have been managed for decades, an arrangement that comes with apparent acceptance and trust from battle group and combat team commanders. Combat commanders are comfortable – and trust that – they will receive indirect fires when they need it and if the Brigade’s apportionment of the assets is in their favour. Yet the same command and control arrangements applied to combat service support have been met with skepticism, distrust and fear.

 

It is not just our combat brethren that perpetuate the expectation that the military logistic system is, more than likely, going to fail its dependencies. As logisticians in first line units we promote a lack of reliance on the next level of support. We focus on ensuring our own efforts support our unit so that we mitigate any deficiencies further up the distribution or repair chain. This facet of distrust in the system stems in part from the tribal nature of our Army. The same corps and unit identities that we develop as a component of morale and combat effectiveness lead us to distrust those who are not like us. The fact that combat service support personnel in combat units give way to a form of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and agree wholeheartedly that units can only depend on the logistics that they own and control means we are doing little to assuage or defeat the lack of trust in the complete logistic continuum. The same approach is perpetuated in second line logistic units, where cynicism about the reliability of third line support abounds.

Compounding our ingrained cultural skepticism is a lack of proof that our logistic system can deliver the goods.  We talk of exercising our logistic systems and ‘pushing them to breaking point’.  Yet in our major field training activities we prioritise objectives more tangibly linked with joint land combat at the expense of actually testing our combat service support. Instead of considering the ‘four Ds’[3] during exercise design, we can rarely afford the funding to position our third line logistics at the distance needed to generate realistic lines of communication, meaning that the force support and brigade support elements end up in close proximity to each other. The exercise duration– driven by concern about how long we are away from home locations – is short and finite, inevitably supporting a self-sufficient approach. Our ‘destinations’ are well known to us through the geography of well-trodden training areas, meanwhile ‘demand’ is shaped by the finite nature of the activity and set training objectives. But it’s a false economy; the fact is the cost of not training with realistic lines of supply, reasonable demand and extended duration will be felt when Australia is next required to lead an expeditionary multinational force in our region. What we don’t learn now in training will be painfully apparent on operations when the consequences are much higher.

 

Image 1

Photo by 3rd Combat Service Support Battalion, Australian Army

Trust is a belief in the reliability or ability of something and is the measure of the quality of a relationship. We work hard at unit and formation levels to build these relationships, training and planning together. Within a combat brigade, the relationships between commanding officers are almost universally very strong. As a logistic battalion commander, I often receive emails and calls from peers who tell me how professional and capable my soldiers are. Some of these calls carry a genuine (and perhaps concerning) tone of surprise, but all of them speak to the understanding that these commanders have of the importance of logistics. Likewise, our senior leaders frequently highlight how, as they become more senior, they increasingly spend more time focusing on logistics. Yet despite this leadership, emphasis and quality of relationships between commanders, our organisational belief in the reliability and ability of the logistic continuum remains low.

Why haven’t we built this trust? Firstly, trust must be based on demonstrated competence. As previously noted, we aren’t generating collective opportunities that enable combat service support units to demonstrate competence, or to quantifiably expose the shortfalls so we can win resources to fix them. This requires more than simply limiting what each unit deploys with on – it necessitates acceptance that if we do expose logistic shortfalls they may degrade or prevent the achievement of combat arms training objectives. While we collectively believe that our logistic resources are inadequate, we do not have the organisational maturity to accept that training to expose such shortfalls may be necessary to prove the requirement for resources to fix it.

At an individual level, we wait too long to teach our junior commanders that combat service support is a crucial part of the combined arms team, equal to the other components. The Australian Army Logistic Officers Intermediate Course and Combat Officers Advanced Course come together for a short period to conduct a staff planning activity. Although badged as combined training, the lead up lessons remain separate, the problem sets are not actually constrained by logistic culminating points and the simulation system does not consume logistic effort beyond a rudimentary level. Without a mature individual training framework that treats the combat and logistic elements of the problem equally, our combat arms officers walk away with the perception that logistics is a sideshow of limited consequence.

To address the trust deficit we would do well to note that the United Kingdom’s doctrine lists the first principle of logistics as ‘collective responsibility’[4].  As logisticians, the onus is on us to communicate the imperative and the risks and to create opportunities to show what combat service support elements can actually do. We must recognise that trust is reciprocal, transactional and based on demonstrated competence. We have to get past our own arrogance and believe that when a battle group demands for something at short notice, they have good reason for doing so. We are as guilty of distrusting our dependencies as they are of distrusting us. As the supporting arm, combat service support units must accept that inevitably and rightly, the dependency defines success.

Our collective challenge is to build trust in unpredictable environments, where we are part of a continuum in which we are not always the number one priority and definitely aren’t pulling all of the levers. Transparent honesty is essential to build trust so that when we truly do require lead times or genuinely can’t meet a requirement, our relationship with our dependencies is robust enough to accept that some things truly aren’t possible. Trust must be earned and earned quickly, as the cost of not demonstrating competence or exposing logistic capability shortfalls so they can be addressed could, without exaggeration, be counted in lives.

Gabrielle Follett is an Australian Army officer and a current logistic battalion commander in the 3rd Brigade. She has served in command appointments and staff appointments at formation and force level, as an instructor at the Royal Military College – Duntroon, and at the strategic level in Army Headquarters and Australian Defence Headquarters. She has operational experience as a combat service support team commander, operations officer, Joint Task Force J5, and as a task group S4 in Tarin Kot, Afghanistan.

Follow us at Twitter: @logisticsinwar and Facebook : @logisticsinwar. Share to grow the network and continue the discussion.

[1] Mayer, R.C., Davis, J.H., Schooman, F.D. An integrative model of organisational trust, The Academy of Management Review Vol 20, No 3 (July), 1995, pp 709-734

[2] Known as the ‘Combat Service Support Concept of Operations’ or ‘CSS CONOPs’.

[3] Australian land warfare doctrine describes logistic planning factors known as the ‘four Ds’ – destination, demand, distance and duration.  Developing doctrine expands this to ‘five Ds’ with the addition of ‘dependency’.

[4] UK Army Doctrine Publication Land Operations, Chapter 10 – Sustaining Operations