Details of the South African Air Force Values
CREATING A CULTURE OF AIR POWER EXCELLENCE
– SA Air Force new values the vehicle to excellence
“The survival of mankind
will depend to a large extent
on the ability of people
who think differently
to act together”
The truth of this fact finds no better application than in the South African context. A better understanding of the invisible cultural differences found amongst members of the SA community is an issue occupying the attention of most managers looking to improve their company’s performance. The SA Air Force is no exception and its leadership, in realizing the importance of aligning the organization with environmental changes and demands, has subsequently embarked on a full-scale long term intervention of transforming the organization’s culture to one reflecting the values of all its people.
The intent with this article is (1) to describe the planned process for transforming the SAAF’s culture, (2) to explain the need for analysing, aligning and restructuring its set of core values and (3) to present the new SAAF Values and associated supporting behaviours.
The well known vision of the SAAF top leadership is to establish an organisation of Air Power Excellence. To be able to achieve this, especially within a turbulent, ever changing environment, a supporting organisational culture needs to be in place. In this regard the Air Force Board has already decided on a three course route namely (1) the transformation of organisational structures and processes and (2) the transformation of human resources through (3) effective, dynamic strategic leadership. Transforming human resources implies changing the organizational culture.
what is culture?
When looking at the relevant literature one finds that the angle from which the subject is discussed, determines the definition thereof and therefore a variety of definitions are found. However some common thoughts do exist. Organisational culture refers to those values and behaviours that distinguish one organisation from the next. It answers the question of “what is making us unique?” and could therefore be seen as the “personality” of an organisation. Culture does not have to be seen (as it often is) as an abstract, fluffy concept. When everything is taken into account, organisational culture could be seen as a reflection of “how we do things around here”. It refers to those commonly agreed upon behaviours that are characteristic of our organisation.
“To act together” (collective behaviour) therefore forms the core of what we refer to as organisational culture. It is a construct that is being vigorously studied and researched, not only in South Africa, but throughout the world. More and more emphasis is put on the importance of effective human behaviour (especially teamwork) on organisational success.
It is a well known fact that for any organisation to be successful and to survive in its changing environment, it has to adapt to these changes and demands as quickly as possible while staying focused on its future vision. Based on the PDSC strategic issue list and in support of the SAAF’s vision of air power excellence, the Air Force Board developed a strategic objective, namely to align the SAAF culture with individual employee needs as well as the principles of business excellence. Furthermore it is also required of all public service departments to analyse their business- and HR policies and in doing so move away from inhibiting, rule bound practices and approaches towards a value driven culture, one being characterised by participating practices, innovation, continuous improvement and the acknowledgement of the inherent competence and creative potential of all employees. The Air Force is serious in setting an example of how this can be achieved in the military environment too.
doing a culture measure-ment
In order to be able to effectively assess the existing culture of the SAAF the “Organisation Culture Analysis” (OCA) was used for data collection. This instrument in addition to providing actual culture data, also gave the added benefit of a clear picture of the future desired SAAF culture as seen by all members participating in the survey. The OCA feedback is given in terms of those conditions that need to be in place for people to be competent – it analyses these conditions (collaboration, commitment and creativity) in terms of actual and desired situations.
The OCA is based on the theory of competence, which has as its basic premise (or point of departure) the fact that people can and want to do what needs to be done provided that the correct conditions exist within the organisation. The results of the OCA are given as an indication of the extent to which the nine so-called “supporting conditions for competence” are evident and exist in the organisation. The Air Force senior leadership acknowledges the fact that the establishment of an organisation of Air Power Excellence (its vision) will only be possible through people and is therefore dependant on the extent to which these condition under which people can excel are created in the work place. To be able to do this it was necessary to create a clear picture of the existing conditions as well as an indication of how people throughout the SAAF would like to see them as part of the desired future organisation culture. A 10% sample of the organisation was drawn after which the actual survey was done during November 2001, including all bases/units as well as the Air Command and the Air Force Office. Just more than a 1000 members eventually participated in the survey. This sample was representative in terms of rank, ethnic group and gender.
a case for change
Although an OCA report was prepared for each base on its own, the overall SAAF results clearly show that the predominant culture of the organisation is still characterised by non-flexibility, tight procedural and regulatory control, a high resistance to change and people practices which do not encourage collaboration, commitment and creativity.
Results furthermore show that there is a significant gap between the actual and desired scores. It is only through closing this gap that the organisation will move to a culture of strong enthusiasm and commitment, one that is thriving on the inherent talent, creativity and competence of its people, thus allowing the SAAF to adapt to change quickly and smoothly.
SAAF OCA Results
It is important not to interpret the actual picture negatively. It does not indicate that we do “right or wrong” things, only that there are more effective ways of going about doing our business. In following the principles of the competence process, we now know where to focus our attention as leaders to ensure that our people perform to the best of their ability.
the change process
Directorate Management and Renewal Services (DM&RS) at the Air Command was requested to facilitate the change process and to present a proposed action plan for transforming the SAAF’s culture over the next few years and to align it with the organisations 2012 vision. After studying the OCA results thoroughly and through following the proven principles of a full-scale culture change intervention, DM&RS developed a unique change process for the SAAF. The Air Force Board not only approved the process but has also confirmed their full commitment.
The process, consisting of a series of six steps, should not be seen as a short term intervention, but rather as a continuous guideline for changing/aligning all our practices, policies and procedures to eventually reflect the characteristics of our desired culture. It has far reaching implications for leaders in all areas of business and the eventual success will predominantly be determined by Officers Commanding, Directors and their leadership teams taking full ownership and responsibility for implementing the new principles.
SAAF Culture Change Process
For any change of culture in an organisation a prerequisite for success is the unconditional commitment of top management to the process. The Air Force Board not only recognised this important fact but has already practically demonstrated their full commitment through various actions. All senior leaders were requested to be sensitised around the principles of the new full range leadership program. This program was updated to include the essential elements of the organisation’s culture change approach.
The members of the Air Force Board were the first to attend the new program. During the program a list of core focus areas for immediate attention was drawn up, which will continuously be addressed on AF Board work sessions. They will also be the first to be presented with the Models for Leadership, which is the process to be followed to address the all important conditions for competence (ie to close the diagnosed culture gap).
a clear end state – the role of values
Before a change process of any nature could be initiated and implemented one has to have a clear picture of where the organisation is heading. What is this new culture all about? What is wrong with the existing one? What will guide our way of “doing things” in future? The answer lies in a description of our values, what we believe and what we stand for. If we do not have clarity on these, we have nothing to measure the “rightness” of our direction.
What are values? We can define an organisations core values as the constant, passionate beliefs that drive the behavior of its people. For us they communicate what is important, they influence overall behaviour and they inspire people into action. Values can never be a vision in itself. While the SA Air Force is vision-focused it’s behaviour is value-driven. They drive the things we seek to accomplish and describe the things we will and will not do, the behaviours we reward and those we condemn.
Values therefore have the following importance in organizations:
Knowing what our common (core) values are is not enough – they also have to be understood by all people involved in the process. Furthermore, awareness of these values is worth no more than the paper they are printed on, if people are not committed to making them part of the practical day-to-day workplace. This will be the most important challenge for leaders throughout the process.
Why new values? Since 1994 we became used to the PROUD-value system, the first officially implemented set of values for the Air Force. We also know that these values have been changed in the late 1990’s. The question may rightfully be asked: “Why change them again?”
No value system is cast in concrete and can ever be seen as suitable and applicable forever. Values are always coupled to the organisations vision of what it wants to achieve. As a first step in the culture change process of the SAAF, clarity on its set of core values had become important. Although we did have an official set of values, there were a number of other value related inputs (value drivers) calling for the revision of these drivers. DM&RS was requested to analyse and restructure all these value inputs and to rework the existing values so that they can reflect the true nature of our future desired SAAF-culture. What were these drivers?
1. Fundamental principles of excellence. Through analysing our future culture, it becomes clear that the Air Force wants to
establish a culture of excellence and competence. We therefore cannot ignore the fundamental principles of the excellence approach, which the Air Force has also accepted as an internal tool for self-assessment. The excellence model or approach is built around eight principles, of which the central theme is continuous improvement. If we subscribe to an organisational philosophy of sustainable improvement on a continuous basis, it has to be taken up in the organization’s core values.
2. The conditions for competence. The proper conditions for people to be competent and to perform to the best of their potential were already referred to earlier. Core values should guide the behaviours of leaders towards creating these conditions.
3. Senior management values. During a work session early in 2002 the Air Force Board reached consensus on how they as the senior leadership would like to see the future organisational culture. These inputs consisted of values, behaviours, ethics, approaches and important focus areas. This information was reworked into a structured document and most of the important issues culminated in the formulation of value 1.
4. The “Value Hierarchy”. Although it may not be seen as a pure value driver in itself we know that values manifest at three levels in the organisation – we therefore had to ensure that the core values addressed all three levels. On the individual level we find the more personal values, beliefs and convictions that you as an individual holds as important ie honesty, integrity, etc. The intermediate level is where team values influence the nature of interaction between people. Here they determine how we solve problems in a team, how we make decisions, how we communicate. The highest level of values is referred to as the so-called organisational or performance values and could include important principles/concepts such as performance excellence, continuous improvement or customer care. Keeping these four value drivers in mind it is clear that the previous value set of the Air Force was not applicable anymore and that it had to be brought in line with the requirements of the future culture and the work related needs of all employees. The elements of these four areas were thoroughly analysed and finally formulated in a set of four values comprehensively representing all the important requirements.
the new SAAF Values
The new set of (four) values for the Air Force indicates what we regard as important for our conduct. It gives a distinct Air Force flavour to all that we do.
Communication of values, important as it may be, is not the end of the story. Something else should happen to make the values really functional and trustworthy: clarity on what the best practices and behaviours are that we associate with the organisations core values. Each of the four values is therefore supported by a clear belief statement that the leader must uphold together with a set of behaviours highlighting the nature and intent of the value. These behaviours must be seen as guidelines to live out and practice these values on a daily basis. For example discipline problem is a result of a lack of own accountability and responsibility that is driven through a persons values.
Following is a brief discussion of each of the four new core values. It should be kept in mind that these values attempt to describe our desired culture and not necessarily what we are currently doing. It is what we strive for and serve as the benchmark against which the performance of leaders will be measured.
The four SAAF Values are:
SAAF Core Value 1
Valuing credible, competent and effective (transformational) leadership.
In the most practical terms integrity implies doing the right things even if nobody is watching over you. It is based on the corner stone of trust an element of leadership that is fundamental to air operations and is embedded in the four I’s of transformational leadership. In practice we have already proven that the more participative approach of engaging the work force is the only truly effective style of leadership. It is also important to note that there is no deviation from the DOD Code of Conduct, and that our values fully support this code.
SAAF Core Value 2
Valuing the inherent competence of our people and believing that future excellence lies in the hands of all our people – our most precious asset.
The behaviours associated with this value reflect how leaders create the conditions in the workplace for their followers to do what needs to be done and to develop to the highest level of their own potential. Only through maximising this individual potential, will the SAAF be able to reach optimal levels of effective air operations.
People will (and will always be) the most important resource in any organisation. Our senior leaders acknowledge this and are convinced that without people we cannot strive towards a Center for Air Power Excellence. These behaviours do not only refer to the relationship between leaders and followers. They indicate how we should approach each other.
SAAF Core Value 3
Valuing continuous learning and improvement
Continuous improvement is directly linked to our vision of being an organisation of excellence. Knowing that we find ourselves in a turbulent and ever changing environment, we have no other choice than to continuously and proactively position ourselves for the next change or challenge.
People are creative and to be able to face the demands of “doing more with less” in an organisation with increasingly advanced technology, we will have to focus on unleashing the full innovative potential of everyone involved.
SAAF Core Value 4
Valuing our SAAF uniqueness.
Looking at this value reflects the unique Air Force “way of doing things”. These are the things that bind us together and that create that all important sense of belonging namely a “calling and not just another job”. It reflect each airmen’s commitment towards the SAAF’s mission readiness. NOTE: The term “airmen” is rank- and gender free.
The SAAF recognises the fact that our leaders’ actions are instrumental in maximising all employees’ selfless and committed efforts towards air operations successes.
the role of leadership
A distinct difference between world class and unsuccessful companies was found to be the fact that for the former their values were clear, they were adhered to by management and they were understood down to the lowest levels in the organisation. In these companies the good leader is seen as someone that is knowledgeable in promoting and protecting the values. Nowadays people even refer to a so-called MBV-process (Management by Values) When we talk about the transformation of organisation culture, we see that there is one element running like a golden thread throughout the process. Leadership. Culture goes about what we do and how we do it. Followers react on what their leaders do and eventually do like they do. Through either reinforcing or disapproving certain behaviours they determine future behaviour. Any effort towards change in company culture is therefore largely dependant on the committed and wholehearted participation of leaders at all levels. These commitments is summarized by the following leadership responsibilities:
Institutionalisation of values
The institutionalisation of these new values has also been singled out as the most important challenge within the cultural change intervention. During the AFB Worksession of 3 – 5 March 2004 it was decided and minnuted (CAF/C/522/4/2-1 dd 15 March 2004) that the communication of these values need to be conceptualised and visualised by our people through the behavioural patterns of eagles. It was decided that this personalised approach will enhance the internalisation of our values in support of our new envisage SAAF culture.
Therefore a professional and good quality communication medium in the form of a visual assimilation was developed of eagles in action, demonstrating the four approved values of the SAAF. A CD/DVD of the values together with posters and key rings have been included as marketing material to communicate these values on each base and unit. An example of these posters:
During the month of October 2004 CAF and a selected team, communicated these values throughout the SAAF. Officer Commanding’s must therefore use every possible opportunity such as OC communication forums and “full blues day” to communicate these values on their basses and units.
Further more the operationalisation of these values should be done through a process of socialisation, integration, and recognition.
Socialisation: The fit between the new candidate and the required culture through induction and in-post training.
Integration: The process of incorporating the values within existing practices such as SAEM, business plans and policies and procedures.
Recognition:¨The process of reaffirming appropriate behaviours through rewarding correct behaviours and correcting unwanted behaviours.
conclusion – the road ahead
The new envisioned culture of the Air Force poses a huge challenge to each and every leader, manager and supervisor involved. One thing is for sure: if nothing changes in the organizations procedures, policies, processes and day-to-day activities, or in the attitudes and approaches of its leaders, employee attitudes and behaviours will not change either. It is a well-researched fact that employee attitudes are largely a product of the environment in which they work.
All leaders and supervisors need to be involved right from the start especially through examining their own processes, policies and behaviours. Breaking with the past and old (ineffective) approaches will not be easy. The first step is to realise that this is not just another fad or flavour of the year, but a permanent change of era. There will be no turning back. The process will require commitment, dedication, hard work, determination and endurance. It takes time and patience.
Only then will we succeed in transforming our organisation and its people into a workforce of engaged, committed and creative employees.
We must therefore strive to uphold these values throughout the Air Force in our cockpits, crew-rooms, offices and workstations.