Simple Steps to Improve Your Command Climate

You’ve got a problem, Commander. You are receiving subtle or overt indications that your productivity, cohesion, and morale are either declining or non-existent. The bottom line is that your command is suffering and you need to fix your command climate, fast! While turning around your climate is not necessarily a quick fix with overnight results, there are definitive steps that you can take to reverse a negative trend and gain momentum. The following are concrete steps you can take immediately to start you on the road to increased organizational effectiveness.

Start with a Command Climate Survey

Your first step is to immediately conduct a Command Climate Survey as directed by Army Command Policy (AR 600-20). The survey is a fantastic tool that enables you as the Commander the ability to see your organization from the inside out because it derives its data directly from the source…your Soldiers! Initially, work with your Equal Opportunity Representative (EOR) to develop specific questions that address what you think the problem areas in your unit might be. These “free response” questions are going to provide you with the best indication of where your problems lie because they are designed to get your Soldiers to anonymously tell you exactly what they’re thinking be it good, bad, or indifferent. The free response content of the survey is the most important aspect of the survey for you as the Commander. Spend time and effort developing good questions for that section and you’ll gain tremendous insight into the heart of your organization’s issues.

Analyze the Results and Develop a Plan

Your survey is complete and the results are back. What’s your next step? First, analyze the survey results with your EOR. He is specifically trained on reading and understanding the results. (Any “red flag” issues will be very apparent, i.e. sexual harassment, gender/racial/religious discrimination, etc. and must be corrected immediately!) You may have a red flag issues, if not, you should be able to decipher a pattern in the “free response” comments of your Soldiers. Try your best to isolate “branch issues” from “root problems.” A branch issue might be that your Soldiers express dissatisfaction in their current position. The root issue may be a “toxic leader” that’s making their lives a living hell! Utilize your subject matter experts, and don’t hesitate to visit your XO or S3 for some experienced perspective if you’re having difficulties in identifying the root problems.

Conduct a Sensing Session

OK, you’ve analyzed the results and identified what you think are the root problems. Your next (and arguably most productive) action is to conduct a sensing session with your subordinates. There are many different ways to conduct sensing sessions, so I’ll save that topic for a later discussion, but a BLUF recommendation is to separate your subordinates into cohort groups (junior Soldiers, NCOs, and Officers). By conducting a sensing session with your Solders, you satisfy the regulatory requirement to conduct an outbrief of the survey results. More importantly, you demonstrate to your subordinates that you care about them and their (valid or invalid) concerns, and are at least willing to listen. After all AR 600-20 states that, “If leaders consider their Soldier’s needs and care for their well-being, and if they demonstrate genuine concern, these leaders build a positive command climate.” Pretty straightforward, right? So what’s your last and most important step in the process?

Take Action!

To recap, you’ve sat down with your Soldiers and briefed them on the results of the survey and confirmed your assessment of the root problems that exist in your unit. Now for he really difficult part. Take action! Fire toxic leaders, counsel and discipline offending Soldiers, remove offensive materials or whatever it takes to rectify your root problem(s). Your Soldiers will look for you to take action after their grievances are identified, so formulate a plan with your green tab leaders (and probably your Boss) and then execute it!

It Works!

Ideally, through this article I have provided you with a starting point for improving your command climate. I can tell you from my own experience that if you follow through with the above steps you will see results. My Company’s climate was suffering tremendously and I couldn’t exactly place my finger on why. I implemented the steps that I described above, and through the process identified a toxic leader that needed to go. I worked with my Boss to develop a plan and then executed it. Let me tell you, the difference was night and day in my unit. I certainly won’t claim that my unit was perfect after that because I still had ongoing issues to deal with in my organization (yet more articles for another time) but after I took action the momentum for positive change was palpable!

Next Steps

Changing your command climate is a multifaceted and difficult problem, so I encourage you to explore more resources on the topic (to include your own subject matter experts and chain of command) and check back often for more real-world solutions to your Command problems.

This article is my own opinion and does not constitute an endorsement, opinion, or official position of the Department of Defense or of the U.S. Army.