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NEWS | July 12, 2017

NAVSEA adopting its own High Velocity Edge

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson outlined high velocity learning as one of four lines of effort in the 2016 Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. 

Since then, the concept, coined by Dr. Steven Spear in his 2009 book “The High-Velocity Edge” has been a leading call to action by leaders across the Navy, including Naval Sea Systems Command. 

Last month, Spear spent three days at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard hosting workshops to show employees how to overcome challenges through accelerated learning and apply it directly to their work.

During his June 6-8 visit, Spear said overcoming issues through accelerated learning may sound like a special technique but it is not; nor is it a theory, program or tool.

“We are talking about a set of behaviors--and the assumptions that underline them,” he said. 

Spear said an organization must create a culture where they see, raise and solve problems in real-time, every day. They do this by listening to all employees, removing barriers, tapping into their expertise, opinions and experience. It is no different than the American core value, “all are created equal.” 

In recent testimony to Congress, Richardson said for the first time in 25 years, there is competition for control of the seas. 
“From the sea floor to space, from deep water to the shoreline, and in the information domain, things are accelerating. The global information system has become pervasive and has changed the way we all do business, including at sea.” 

According to Richardson, technology is being introduced at an unprecedented rate, and is being adopted by society just as fast. And finally, a new set of competitors are moving quickly to use these forces to their advantage, and for the first time in 25 years, the U.S. is facing a return to great power competition.” 

Spear explained that the enemy only has to be successful one time, somewhere and they win. The military has to be right everywhere all the time. That level of agility requires the speed of understanding situations quickly. From the employees’ perspective, it’s simply asking the question, “is there a better, more efficient way of doing this?”

“Catastrophic issues are typically a result of the little things that have added up over time, those things that directly affect the people doing the work and are often a cause for aggravation, typically these issues are so low level they don’t get much attention,” he said.

To avoid this, organizations must nurture a culture of “committed time.”  This means all employees aggressively seek out problems and take the time to do something restorative to the situation –whether small or temporary, to reduce the burden, said Spear. But he also warns against only using think tanks, committees, special departments or limiting it to leadership, according to Spear. 

“If you have 15 people who work six hours a day for three days to solve problems—you have 270 hours of committed time,” he said. “But if you have 10,000 people who work 15 minutes a day at problem solving, now you have 2,500 hours of committed time.”

Spear said that from a leadership perspective, granting authority and autonomy where the information is frees up time. Historically, organizations like NNSY follow a traditional, directional leadership model. However, this can often generate barriers to organizational learning.

“Traditionally in industrial organizations, it’s broadly understood there are those who do the thinking and planning and those who perform the execution,” he said.

Rather, he said, an organization must turn that thinking around and consider all employees as knowledge seekers. If an organization has issues, barriers or risks, it is simply because the situation is not understood well enough. Those dealing with the issue, barrier or risk must speak out while those with the authority to make the necessary changes must be sure to hear the employee out and immediately facilitate the necessary changes. Removing issues, barriers and risks often result in innovations, new processes, clearer paperwork, and a reduction in wasted time to name a few.

One such example was a systems panel, identified during the NNSY Piping workshop which had more than 300 joints, said John Tuthill, NNSY Piping Group Superintendent.

“Our job in prefab is to verify that systems don’t leak; we watched a mechanic tighten and retighten joints for up to two hours,” said Tuthill. 

The department also used up a lot of liquid leak detector. When the system was complete it received verification stickers then placed on a truck, where it was bounced around and given back to the customer.

“By simply welding most of the joints, the system ended up with only four in points which eliminated unnecessary time and resources and provided a better end product to the customer,” said Tuthill.

In order to learn quickly the CNO encourages every member of the Navy to be more aggressive in seeing things that aren’t working and fix them immediately, The norm, said Spear, should be to fix problems not learn to deal with them.

“Rather than having an attitude of ‘I will just work with it’ or ‘I will cope with or absorb it,’ recognize if it’s not working then it represents a vulnerability—that if addressed can be turned into a source of strength,” he said.