Air Force members grow with change

by Lt. Col. John Hansen 86th Comptroller Squadron commander

Over many decades, the Air Force has emphasized continuous process improvement. In the beginning of my career, the process was called Total Quality Management. Then it transformed to Lean Six Sigma before finally changing into Air Force Smart Operations in the 21st century. Process improvement is always with us.

Process improvement comes to us in many ways, but I would like to concentrate on process improvement starting from the ground up, which should happen when new personnel enter into a group or organization. Many times when a member transitions into an organization, they start on a position which is new to them. They may have done something similar earlier in their career, or they may remember being trained in that area during technical school or other functional training, but at that time and in that place they have never performed that job.

For example, in the financial management world, a staff sergeant may have worked in financial services during his or her entire career. Now they will move to Ramstein Air Base to work in financial analysis (budget). They had some budget training in technical school, but now they have to learn the ropes from either a military or civilian financial analyst.

Process improvement should begin here. The sergeant should try to take in as much information as possible from this training, but he or she has a responsibility to fully understand and challenge the person training them. In order to do the job to the best of their ability, they need to thoroughly conceptualize what they are doing and how their job fits into the bigger picture. They must constantly ask their trainer and supervisor why they are doing the job a certain way. If it is different from what they learned previously, ask the supervisor why. If it does not make sense, ask. It is up to the trainer or supervisor to find the best answer to those questions. If that is not possible, then the supervisor needs to find the answer or the process may need to be changed.

In the 86th Comptroller Squadron, we rotate military members in and out of different positions during their tour here. Part of this stems from a desire to create a balance in their careers between financial analysis and financial services and for exposure to all aspects of each of those flights. However, we also do this in order to encourage process improvement. We want their job knowledge to be fresh and for them to challenge the way we do business. We do not want processes to be stale but to have continued relevance to the mission and goals for our organization.

This process should be the same for a member changing jobs within the squadron as it is for people coming to the squadron from technical school or a different base. Personnel new to their job must use their previous experience and education, whatever that happens to be, to provide that exchange of information and ideas to improve processes.

Transitioning personnel from one job to the other serves to professionally develop members of the unit. Not only are processes getting challenged and improved, but members of the unit are getting exposure to and gaining mastery of different aspects of the operation and their career field. Airmen are getting developed for the benefit of the unit, the career field and the Air Force.

In summary, organizations should be completely open to suggestions by members of all ranks from the Airman basic to the field grade officer; from the civilian to the contractor. Commanders and directors have a responsibility to create an environment where suggestions flourish.

Process improvement starts from the ground up, and with an atmosphere conducive to suggestions, Airmen have a responsibility to make their suggestions and make their office, organization, unit and Air Force stronger.