Posted: May 17, 2016 5:45 PM

Roundtable Discusses ‘Counter-cultural’ Change of High-Velocity Learning

By EVAMARIE SOCHA, Seapower Special Correspondent

Culture change, particularly at the top, is at the heart of any success to be come from “high-velocity learning,” some panel members said May 17 during a roundtable on the chief of naval operations’ proposed initiative to improve learning through the service.

“If you’re asking people to behave wildly counter to culture, you can’t expect it to bubble up from the bottom,” said Steven Spear, a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and Engineering Systems Division. “It needs to be covered from the top down.”

Spear, a recognized expert on how organizations adopt broad improvement and innovation plans, was among six panelists at the roundtable, “Achieving High-Velocity Learning at Every Level,” at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition.

Spear said learning is “the secret sauce” to converting everyone in an organization. And high-velocity learning “is so outrageously counter-cultural” to standard Navy procedure. “There is an advantage here to figuring it out.”

In January, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson released his directive for faster and more effective learning in the Navy. Improved use of technology would play a key role in achieving his learning goals, as would replacing thick volumes of manuals and learning materials with tablets, for instance. Expanded use of simulators, online gaming and analytics to improve training also play a part.

All this will lead to faster decision making as well as “getting inside our opponents’ decision cycle,” reinforcing a combat advantage that Richardson sees as eroding, said Vice Adm. Robert Thomas Jr., director of Navy Staff, who led the discussion.

Changes in their respective branches and divisions were discussed by Maj. Gen. Jim Lukeman, leader of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command; Navy Rear Adm. Frank Morneau, the Expeditionary Combat commander; and Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, commander of the Naval Surface War Center.

But Spear, who has studied organizational operations at large corporations, said Navy leadership needs an incentive to change.

“Accept things that are questioned and what you have discovered that does not work,” he said.

Fellow panelist Eric Thompson, vice president and director of Strategic Studies at the Center for Naval Analysis, echoed Spear’s feeling of a culture change and said there are “broad inhibitors” to the Navy realizing this goal, mainly the service’s “lanes in the road” approach to leadership and order.

“There is zero tolerance for mistakes,” Thompson said. It would be best to honor the strengths within Navy culture and focus on a few critical shifts of behavior, he said.

“Measure and monitor this cultural evolution,” he said

Thompson said the Navy will have “people who really try to embrace” high-velocity learning; those who do everything but adopt the language; and those who keep doing what they do, thus setting up a barrier to sharing information across organizations.

A culture requires a common language, said panelist James Newman, acting provost of the Naval Postgraduate School, and a change such as this one may take years.

“High velocity does not mean overnight,” he said.

An attitude change will be needed as well, Newman said, and a process that allows for mistakes to happen.

Senior and “very junior” people buy in to changes such as high-velocity learning, Selby said. But “there is a clay layer in the middle that is stuck at change.”

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