Who says elephants can't dance?
By Col. Jeffrey Fraser, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published April 21, 2007
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Within our Air Force family, we often hear and talk about the culture of the Air Force. If you ask people what comes to mind when they think about the Air Force, they would say airplanes, fighter pilots, technology freaks, regimental, conservative, reliable, professional, etc. It's funny that many of those attributes refer not to what Airmen do, but a description of the type of people we are.
That is why the culture of our Air and Space Expeditionary Force is important. It requires everyone to understand that the day-to-day operation of the Air Force is absolutely set to the rhythm of deploying AEF personnel and packages.We must also understand that the natural state of Air Force operations is no longer home station operations, but deployed operations.
In his book, "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance," Mr. Louis Gerstner wrote about culture when he described his time as the new CEO of IBM brought in when the company was near collapse. "I came to see that culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game. An organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people."
Once you enter a successful culture, you feel it immediately. You see people who are committed to the success of the organization and your products and services are first rate. Further, your strategies are both believable and executable.
Many organizations say their culture is about the same thing - outstanding customer support, excellence, teamwork, responsible behavior, and integrity. The key to success is integrating those values into the behavior of an organization.
Vision, strategy, marketing, and financial management are all essential elements for any successful organization. But it's not just a matter of displaying signs stating what you believe.
It must be reflected in your rewards and achievement programs and in education and training programs. By doing that, you create institutional learning, have effective transfers of knowledge, and understand how that develops into a clear sense of "how we do things."
You can quickly figure out what a culture encourages and discourages, as well as what it rewards and punishes. Does it reward individual achievement or team effort? Does it value risk taking or consensus building? Successful organizations develop strong cultures that reinforce the elements that make them great institutions. In other words, they reflect the environment from which they emerge.
But when that environment shifts, it can be very hard for the culture to change appropriately. For example, in our pursuit to ensure we obtain excellence, we cannot let the development of technology or processes become ingrained to the point that we fail to recognize the environment where we strive for perfection ceases to exist.
Over the last few years, our organizations have recognized that we need to make cultural changes to maintain organizational excellence. In many ways we are pursuing cultural changes that will help us remain the most powerful and capable Air Force in the world.
Changing attitudes and behavior of people is very, very hard. You can't lead it from behind a desk or within the office. You can't just talk about it in speeches or write a new vision statement.
To change the culture you must create the conditions for transformation. Ultimately, a cultural change occurs because of the people in the organization. They see how things have changed. They see the profit line is no longer where it was.
They see the need to develop and establish new ways to win our nations wars. You can be assured there are people looking for ways to exploit any asymmetric vulnerability we have. And, holding on to old ways and using only tried and true methodology creates vulnerabilities.
And so in DOD, the Air Force, and the 379th AEW we continue to deal with change. The concept of transformation is not an event, it is not a new weapon system, but it is an on going process. Here in the 379th we continually deal with change. Whether it is AFSO21, organization changes, or mission changes there is not doubt we are committed to being the best. The best AF, best wingman, best Airman. We have that commitment because of our culture.