This is a position paper that discusses the transformation of an Air Force aviation squadron through the use of performance measurement. This should illustrate ways that performance measurement techniques and tools can be applied to increase efficiency and effectiveness in completing the squadron’s mission. Comprehending the diverse mission set of an Air Force squadron with tasks ranging from peacetime humanitarian aid to direct combat action as well as the skill sets that complement each of these roles and the crew complement required to fulfill them can be a bit intimidating. Being ready to fill these roles is the number one priority of any squadrons command team. Using accurate and effective performance measures to ready and hone their mission effectiveness in an environment that could literally change from saving lives to taking lives overnight has never been more critical.
This paper will use performance measurements as it pertains to transforming an Air Force aviation unit with a diverse mission set ranging from peacetime stateside and international humanitarian aid to supporting overseas contingency operations. This wide range of tasks obviously requires different skill sets and even specialized crew make up. The metrics and measurements that are currently used are routinely recognized as being inadequate, outdated, and the data is sometimes categorized as being collected for no purpose at all. Many of these organizations do not use performance measurements to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness that they could to increase mission success. Collecting meaningful data and applying it correctly through the use of balanced scorecards and other performance measurement matrix could help an Air Force aviation unit by providing an understanding of how these are value added. Once adjustments are made, and correct measurements are in place leaders of the aviation unit can then decide what changes should be made to move them closer to the desired readiness levels.
Measurement and the subsequent collection of data for the use of measurement have become so pervasive in our everyday lives that people do not even realize that it is happening. On the one hand, this is useful because the data ends up being unfiltered and unbiased. On the other hand, it is tough to create an organizational culture that is focused on performance measurement and the appropriate use of trade tools unless the leaders and decision-makers of that organization are aware. For performance measurement to indeed become transformative, the measures and processes should be simple, not daunting, and clearly focused on improvement leaving no place for judgment. In the book Transforming Performance Measurement the author, Dr. Spitzer states that “one thing is certain: in order to be transformational, the purpose of measurement must be separated as much as possible from judgment – especially from performance appraisal.” (Spitzer 2007).
When it comes to leadership in the Air Force, and especially in Air Force aviation units, there seems to be an aversion to change. Somehow maintaining the status quo has become the picture of success. Becoming more lethal, effective, and efficient can be viewed as risky because for years the culture has been that strategic level decisions are made at headquarters level functions and dictated to the line units and there is an aversion to trying to change this process from the bottom up. The exciting thing about all of this is that senior leaders like the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force have recognized this issue and launched an initiative to revitalize the Air Force basic unit known as the Squadron.
General guidelines have been given to push decisions down to the lowest possible level and to reshape how the basic Air Force squadron is governed. One of the ways they intend to do this is by scrubbing overly restricted Air Force instructions and updating organizational models to more align with the National Defense Strategy (Barnett, 2018). For this, to work, the squadrons are going to have to develop meaningful measurements and take an active role in incorporating the results and outcomes at their levels to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.
Although an Air Force flying squadron can be viewed as a single functioning unit to provide some sort of support to national defense, it is actually quite a bit more complicated than that. Each squadron has multiple functions within it such as scheduling, training standards and evaluations, etc. that must all be managed and measured in their own right but the unit as a whole could benefit from having a system of measurement that integrates all of these needs. The use of both vertical and horizontal measurements would be useful in this case.
“Vertical integration involves the connection between strategy measures up and down through the organization. Horizontal integration is the connection of measures across organizational functions and processes.” (Spitzer, 2007) Establishing a system of balanced scorecards that work in both directions across the Air Force squadron will ensure that the unit’s measurements are integrated eliminating chances that section heads are able to pursue their own departmental interests instead of those of the squadron as a whole. A scorecard is an excellent tool for this task because it puts strategy and vision, not control at the center of the effort.
Senior leaders may understand what the desired results look like, but they cannot dictate precisely how to achieve the desired results if for no other reason than the conditions of how and where its members operate are always changing (Kaplan & Norton 1992). It is, however, important to realize that the scorecard is not magic and merely collecting data will not make a difference in achieving the desired results. The intent is that the scorecard not just measure data points after the fact but to be used as a vehicle to handle the articulation and implementation of the squadron’s strategy (Spitzer, 2007).
Enacting this new way of doing business would, of course, require some education so that unit members would not only understand the process but see the value and feel a need for the process. This would also help eliminate some of the stigmas that currently exists with measurement and hopefully create a more positive context for measurement. After the individual section heads and their followers genuinely understand the process, we would want to align our measurement systems and scorecards so that they work together and allow for modifications when feedback is acquired.
At this point the name of the game is collaboration. When a reliable system of performance measurement is enacted, and all members are rowing in the same direction the effectiveness and efficiencies are going to be exceptional. It is stated in Spitzer’s book Transforming Performance Measurement that overall; the main idea is to create and maintain a simple system that cannot only show you where you are but help you get wherever your organization needs to be through the use of strategy and proven performance measurement tools (Spitzer, 2007). Ultimately transforming the Air Force aviation squadron, and preserving its lethality and mission accomplishment as it adapts to the next generation of needs.
Understanding the need for transformation in an Air Force aviation squadron and using effective performance measurements to make the unit better can be a very formidable undertaking. If the unit expects to have mission success on the future battlefield or in humanitarian relief anywhere around the world, then this undertaking is definitely worth the work. The Air Force aviation squadron is a very dynamic unit, supporting a wide range of operations from combat to humanitarian support. In some cases, a unit like this could be doing any combination of these mission sets simultaneously. The moving parts and systems required to make this happen effectively and efficiently must include performance measurements.
Simple tools in the performance measurement realm such as balanced scorecards and techniques such as horizontal and vertical integration can be super helpful in the transformation of an organization. Using measures such as these not only helps transform the organization, but also helps to mold the attitudes of squadron members to change negative perceptions about performance measurement while allowing ownership of the process by the people who touch it most. Empowering squadron members while implementing effective performance measurements will yield final results that push the Air Force aviation squadron closer to its desired end state of the most effective and efficient mission accomplishment possible.