NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
2020 has been a whirlwind of a year for many. When COVID-19 hit the United States, Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) had to make some changes in order to protect its workforce and minimize the spread. This meant physical distancing where it was applicable, less travel, and more. Moreover, for the Executive Development Program (EDP) Cadre 9 team members, this meant adjusting their loaded schedule to best service the shipyard and their professional goals while following the new safety policies and procedures. Nevertheless, they persevered and dove into this leadership experience head-on, ready to meet whatever challenge stood in their way.
NNSY’s Cadre 9 welcomed four team members for 2020 - Code 2370 Nuclear Engineering and Planning Department (NEPD) Training Branch Head Matt DeLong, General Arrangements Branch (Code 254) Naval Architect Rachel Yarasavich, Code 105.2 Radiological Engineer Sasha Norfleet, and Code 361 Nuclear Zone Manager Aaron Jarman. As part of their ongoing professional development, the group was split into teams of two to divide and conquer in their goals for enlightenment. Cadre 9’s Self-Proclaimed Team Tattoo - Yarasavich and Jarman – first stepped into their roles in the EDP ready to learn from leaders throughout the shipyard and across the enterprise. Branching out from their comfort zones, they began working with mentors to see what senior leaders work towards each day in service to the fleet.
“It was a little unsettling at first being introduced in meetings surrounded by a room of GS-14s and GS-15s,” shared Jarman. “However, all the senior managers were excited to see us and were very welcoming. They shared valued information with us and answered questions we had.”
“They are all very encouraging and helped me take on the challenge of expanding my horizons at the shipyard,” said Yarasavich. “This overall experience has exceeded my expectations. There is no value that you can place on the experiences that we’ve had – from attending high-level meetings to shadowing and conversing with senior leaders. It has allowed us a ‘peek behind the curtain’ to see just what it takes to keep the organization functioning effectively.”
Jarman added, “It’s been an invaluable experience to see the interworking of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and how decisions are made and how much effort is put into implementing changes.”
The cadre members had opportunities to meet with various mentors in senior leadership, including Quality Assurance Director (Code 130) George Fitzgerald, Engineering Planning Manager (Code 200) Mike Zydron, Nuclear Business Manager (Code 1200N) Gail Coulson, then Operations Officer (Code 300) Capt. Jip Mosman, Nuclear Production Manager (Code 300N) Jim Crunden, Supply Officer (Code 500) Capt. Mark Garrigus, and more. In addition, they each were able to spend a day one-on-one with Shipyard Commander, Capt. Kai Torkelson.
As the program progressed, the team quickly learned that this would not be a normal year of the EDP when COVID-19 became a priority for NNSY. With traveling plans put on an indefinite hold and needs rising up with the approaching virus, Cadre 9 stepped up to the plate.
“At the onset of COVID-19, we were placed on situational telework for 10 days. We used this time to continue our leadership learning through daily online training as well as reading assignments from the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell,” said Yarasavich. “We also had daily discussions via video conferencing. We were fully immersed in experiencing the ‘new normal’ that the shipyard workforce, as well as the entire nation, had to acclimate to.”
Jarman added, “At the end of March, we returned back to the shipyard under the direction of EDP Senior Executive Sponsor Zydron. This was in an effort to aid senior leaders and management with the shipyard-wide COVID-19 initiative to provide a safe working environment for the workforce. Because we were here at the shipyard experiencing the dynamic nature of the pandemic, we were able to be a part of the frontline effort to modify the work environment to be COVID-19 friendly. This allowed us to continue in the program, when the other corporate shipyards ended up cancelling their respective EDPs due to the pandemic.”
“We were designated as the single point of contact for fielding COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) distribution requests for the various shops, codes, projects and NNSY detachments,” said Yarasavich. “This allowed us to not only serve our shipyard family, but also to lighten the load on Code 300 and Code 500 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also gave us the opportunity to network with many folks in a short amount of time while working as an effective team.”
As the team continues to march towards graduation, taking on the challenges of a “new normal” at NNSY, they look back on what they have accomplished so far fondly.
“I had several goals upon entering the program,” said Yarasavich. “My three stand-out goals for the program were: gain a better self-awareness, obtain a broader understanding of shipyard operations, and learn various ways to motivate and engage others towards a shared vision. I have effectively taken a big chunk out of all three of these goals by interviewing and observing senior leaders here at NNSY.”
Jarman stated, “I wanted to develop my interpersonal skills and build collaborative partnerships with other departments within America’s Shipyard. I believe I have definitely laid the foundation for partnership with many codes I would not have been in contact with if it was not for the program.”
When asked what was one of the most important pieces of knowledge they’ve received during their time in the program, Team Tattoo members are aligned on what they feel is most important.
“The most important piece of knowledge we have learned is leadership is about people,” said Yarasavich. “Getting to know your people is key to being an effective leader. Respecting your people will allow you to have an effective team that will intrinsically get the job done. We as leaders must also understand that people are not perfect. Human relations by default is complex. Being a great leader entails seeing past flaws, loving your people for who they are and motivating them to do great things. This is the sole legacy that I wish to leave at America’s shipyard.”
So, what’s left for Cadre 9? Yarasavich and Jarman both said that they’re looking forward to every moment they can get within the program.
“My chief goal is personal mastery. I have learned so much about myself through conversing and shadowing others. It is paramount to be self-aware to fully understand the human condition to be an effective leader,” said Yarasavich. “This is of course an evolving process throughout life, but I do believe that EDP has given me a great head start on becoming the person that I want to be.”
“As mentioned before, I really desire to fully understand the how and why of the multiple facets of NNSY to allow me to gain a better understanding of the day to day operations in conjunction with the work we do planning for the future of America’s shipyard,” added Jarman.
As Cadre 9 begins to wind down, it’s important to note that the application process will begin for Cadre 10 in the near future.
“If you’re interested in taking the next step in your career, I say go for it and apply for this or other leadership programs within the shipyard,” said Jarman. “This is an amazing opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and learn both shipyard processes and leadership from a vast array of people with varying backgrounds. It may be intimidating at first, but never leaving your comfort zone will not allow you to grow.”
Yarasavich added, “I would fully support and challenge folks to take the next step in their career and apply for the EDP. The program affords you a rare opportunity to ‘pick the brains’ of the most senior leaders in this industry. I am so very grateful to those who supported me in applying and would pay it forward to anyone that shows initiative to want to ‘be the change’ here at America’s shipyard.”