In the military the lowest of all ranks is 2nd Lieutenant. As a 2nd Lt. you are given every crappy project that no one else wants to do. But sometimes in these assignments you learn something that is so significant it provides the foundation for every success in your career.
While I was a 2nd Lt. I was assigned to train our Civil Engineering team for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Missile Competition. To the base leadership, this competition was a huge deal. Within my squadron it was considered a pure waste of time. Out of all the yearly assignments, this was considered the worst of the worst.
Our squadron’s task for the competition was to tear down, inspect, maintain and repair the starter for a Minuteman missile’s backup diesel generator.
Did I know anything about a generator starter?
No! I was relying on my team and their extensive knowledge!
Aaahhh my team….with my squadron’s attitude do you think I got the best technicians in the shop? Heck no!! I got the two most inexperienced airmen – they just met the minimum requirement to compete the previous month! And they had never worked on or even seen the generator starter.
Our demographics were even more profound – a 23 year old female 2nd Lt. leading a 22 year old male airman and a 21 year old female airman. Given the standards of the early 80’s, we had “Losers” written all over us.
We were in serious trouble. We fumbled around for about a month. To make it worse we had to “train” for 2 hours every afternoon and we were mocked as we left our regular duties to train. It was demoralizing.
Then I had a brainstorm. SAC is about as anal retentive as an organization can be. They have a checklist for everything. We had a library of Technical Orders “TO’s” that told you how to do every conceivable task a Civil Engineering squadron could ever do. I found the TO for our diesel generator starter and read it.
From there I wrote a flow chart of steps for our task. For each step I had decision trees of what parts to inspect, in what order to inspect the parts, when and how to do maintenance on the parts, how to decide if a repair was needed and the steps for repair.
For each step and sub-step I listed what tools to use.
The trick to the competition was to have the correct process. And there was only 1 correct process.
If any steps were missed or done out of order, they lost points. If they used the wrong tool, they lost points. If they missed a maintenance step or failed to repair a part, they lost points. If they didn’t finish in the allotted time, they lost points.
I saw it as a test in being anal retentive!! There were hundreds of details to think about and get exactly right.
The competition logic was, that each process produced specific results. If you change the process, you change the results. If you act randomly you won’t catch everything. The goal was to optimize the process to get the best results and I thought I figured it out.
After two months of really good and productive training my team went off to the competition.
They were laughed at and mocked for being talked about. They were 12 years younger than their next most junior competitor. Most of their competitors had 16 years more experience. Oh, and one of my team members was competing against his tech school instructor!!
The night of the awards ceremony, the base held a dinner and a party. I was the ONLY person from my squadron in attendance. That pretty much sums up the total, complete and absolute lack of support we had.
As the results were phoned in, there was disappointment as the other teams from the base lost. Finally it was time for the Civil Engineering award. My team scored 194 points out of 200. First Place!!
All anyone could hear in the stunned dead silence was me jumping to me feet and yelling “YEAH” at the top of my lungs. Wow! Incredible! They blew away the competition.
By the time I arrived at work the next day, everyone knew we won. It felt great! (You can probably figure out what I was really thinking all day!)
My status on base changed. Every Colonel knew me and I could walk into their offices without an appointment. They all wanted to mentor me and did. I eventually worked directly for the Vice-Wing Commander.
That was all pretty cool but what I really took away from the experience was one thing:
The importance of having the right process.
I never again cared that I didn’t have “the best and the brightest.” Experience means very little if you are working through the wrong process or in a random manner. But have the right process and even the greenest, least experienced employee can excel. Just train them in the process. When they start getting positive results they will keep using the process – positive results make them feel good about themselves!
From that point forward, every time I went to a new job the first thing I wanted to know was: What processes are we using to perform our work??
(That is where You need to start too!)
The empowered woman can create great achievements!
If you want to subscribe or unsubscribe to my articles, just send me an email.