Discussion in 'Officers' started by Vegetius, Jan 11, 2006.

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  1. Was having conversation with fairly senior boss at work the other day. We were talking about the best way to use specialist staff in our organisation. As he's a senior bod, and by inference a generalist (our rank structure generally makes it quite difficult for specialists to make senior management team rank), his view was that specialists were a mixed blessing. Then again, he'd never been one. My view was that when you need them to get you out of a hole, they're worth their weight in gold.

    Generally speaking, in an army environment, do officers think that it's best to:

    (A) Have a bigger pool of reasonably trained personnel who you can "brigade" to do specialist tasks, and suck up the extra training/ org burden as and when? How do you mitigate against the risk of having not enough trained and experienced personnel for the task?

    (B) Maintain a cadre of dedicated staff and risk "skills fade" in mainstream competencies and "world's oldest corporal" syndrome? Specialist units can become "self-perpetuating oligarchies" (a criticism of SF I've heard from a few army officers), how do you avoid that?

    The "patrols platoon" thread in the inf forum was useful to a certain extent, but I'd be interested to see what officers who have to make informed decisions about deployments within Brigades/ Divisions etc. think.


  2. Veg
    It depends on how specialist you actually want people to be, e.g. underwater hang-gliding demolitions and skateboarding technician I suppose. It also depends how much the degree of quality in specialisation revolves around experience or around training. In reality it seems that real specialists as opposed to highly experienced technicians are the product of very special-to-task training. The boom in C4ISTAR in recent years has exposed the myth of experience versus training on a number of levels and blown the gaff on cap-badge driven specialisation too as a by-product.

    The oligarchy question is a good one and the SAS of twenty years ago certainly suffered from that image/reality. The answer is, I suppose, (short) cross postings for broadening/development and to break up career paths which look suspiciously like dead men's shoes affairs. If "specialists" can't cut it outside their comfort zone however one is then faced with the redund or not to redund conundrum! Still, as long as you can whisk them back at Glasgow's whim then that isn't a problem except for the "specialist" and their employer, family, pets...
  3. I must admit, it always seemed a bit odd to me that all the army's most senior G4 "specialists" are generally from a G3 background. You wouldn't ask an operations manager to run the engineering department of a manufacturing firm, would you?

    Is it due to the relative quality recruited into different areas of the army, or is it just cap-badge nepotism.

    I'm not for a second arguing that it is either of the above, merely suggesting the arguments.
  4. There are a few other possibilities. Loggies promotion structure tends to stop at the 1* level. If you want the future 2, 3 and 4* commanders to understand logistics, you have to expose them to the realities of it at some time. The quality thing does sometimes apply: if you select the best officers for a number of posts, there are strong chances that some teeth arm types will end up running a desk at the PE. Don't forget that the Black Buttoned 1* running an IPT (for example) will have a raft of SME below him, doing the detailed stuff...... ahhh, stuff it, I've tried to be balanced and adult. No! its all soooo unfair that the Charles and the Anthonys get all the plum jobs in the loggy world and the poor, deserving and all so talented logisticians get leapfrogged......... mind you <with a sideways look and a bit of a snigger> there are quite a few loggies doing G/J/C3 jobs.........
  5. mysteron

    mysteron LE Book Reviewer

    This leads into the argument that ahs been bandied around for ages of having battlegrouped regiments. In other words, a single cap badge that holds all branches of the Army within. (Almost single cap badge mini brigades if you must, but not quite.)

    To do this would expose people, who specialise in one area (let's take an example - armour) but are exposed to the other areas of making things happen right from G1 to G9. As they work in these large organisations they can do some of these jobs in other areas returning to their specialisation. Good for education, unity and Chain of Command issues. These soldiers could be recruited from one area of the UK (continuing the example - the West County Regiment).

    This negates the G3 versus the world divide, provides a greater awareness, makes super garrisons a reality with a real and effective Chain of Command whilst maintaining the Regimental system.

    Is this feasible, yes on the condition that the Army is willing to change.

    Is this going to help the issue of specialists, in my view, I believe that it will allieviate some of this problem.

    I wait for the tirade.....
  6. A Civ Div view here. I work for an international engineering company, and in our business we have a formal set of what are actually called cap-badged skills, eg project management, controls design engineers, performance design engineers, manufacturing engineers, procurement engineers etc. We also have a parallel generalist and specialist career structure. Specialists tend to operate in consultancy roles.

    Generalist managers and supervisors do get moved around - we get a better product that way. Re the quote above, to put the operations manager in charge of the engineering department (and assuming operations are on the receiving end of engineering design) would mean a better understanding of operations requirements and capabilities at the beginning of the design process.

    Think of it in football terms - the successful manager does not have to be an expert striker, midfielder, defender and goalkeeper - he just has to seek the right advice, listen, consider/balance and make the right decision.

    Usually we choose to follow either a generalist or specialist career path, in the knowledge that one is a lot more 'open' than the other. The trick is to have enough generalists capable of making what prove to be correct decisions, based upon the advice from other generalists and an adequate number of specialists covering the full spectrum. Difficult to achieve.

    People must be allowed to make mistakes, as long as they learn from them. Mistakes in a hostile environment can cost lives and assets. This is where the quality of specialist advice comes in - most decisions usually have a bigger picture associated with them; specialists can not be reasonably expected to 'see' beyond their specialism, so leave operational decisions to generalists - maybe this leads to always having generalists in charge of specialists? Punishing (as opposed to bollocking) people for making wrong decisions (as opposed to negligence) just results in people becoming reluctant to make a decision. Not what is required.

    Just read this through, and now not sure where it is going. My message, I think, is that you must always have enough specialists covering the depth of your business, with enough generalists running the business who are capable of assimilating (ie not always knowing, but able to be rapidly brought up to speed) enough knowledge to make the correct judgement call. Common sense, perhaps, but there's nothing as uncommon as common sense!
  7. In my experience the problem occurs when the (Generalist) manager/ senior officer wants outcome "A" but the Specialist tells him that it isn't feasible within the parameters provided (which are usually resources and/ or time. In my job legislative/ procedural issues that the generalists aren't familiar with are sometimes problematic).

    Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth as Generalist accuses Specialist of being inflexible/ bloody-minded/ jobsworth. Furthemore, the Generalist usually outranks the Specialist and the Specialist's boss.

    It could be a training issue, but having been on a course recently where these fairly senior managers are pretty unreceptive to being told, in essence, that they're wrong I'll not hold up too much hope. I wish that we could find a way to familiarise senior officers with specialisms as they go along, unfortunately they are usually too busy (which is structural and not necessarily their fault).

    The risk aversion that impacts on Generalists deploying Specialists is another (big) issue, I wonder if that impacts on the army as much?
  8. Veg,
    The Service equivalent was perfectly exemplified a goodly number of years ago when I was allowed to sit in with the grown ups at a Div planning session. The GOC announced his intention to do something rather cheeky to the opposition following a night move over huge distances. The DCOS leant forward and said (rather untactfully but very honestly) that it couldn't be done. He muttered something about executing a rolling divisional replem or something equally non-G3. There was a marvellously profound silence before the GOC announced, in a tone that would freeze water "when I say it is to be done, it is to be done". Thankfully, as this was a CPX, it was magically done and, at first light, the Div lead elements broke through on the enemy's far right flank, catching him totally unawares ( a result of an overnight move by super sized, deadly secret, silent helecopter lift or something.......)