Getting to yes

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Ross M. Bullock
  • 45th Reconnaissance Squadron commander
If there is one thing certain in today's military environment, it's that there are plenty of problems to solve, taskers continue, augmentees and volunteers are needed and resources ebb and flow.

As we experience dwindling resources, leaders need to ensure our organizations have the proper starting point to support decision-making. That starting point is a positive focus with a clear identification of the risk to other efforts.

To support decision-making and to always be poised to execute our nation's bidding, we must set the tone of "getting to yes" (GTY) when we are queried by superiors. Please realize that GTY is much different from being a "yes man" or a lackey.

As we GTY, we strive to eliminate emotion in our response and avoid the question "why us?" Instead, we unemotionally analyze the requirements needed to execute the task and identify risk associated with implementation.

An example: The major command asks if a unit can deploy an aircraft to a new location. Admittedly, basic requirements such as runway characteristics or security issues may make one location unsuitable, but there is usually an alternative way to execute the mission.

Senior leaders aren't simply asking if the field will work, staffers can look into that on their own. They are really asking for an assessment of the risk associated with a possible decision, or course of action.

In this case, the MAJCOM expects the unit to look objectively at security requirements, bed down, classified storage, work areas, effects to other missions and training, and every other factor. Ultimately, the answer should provide all of this data, and any other critical information, to allow leadership a clear picture of the risk in order to accept, mitigate, or reject the proposal.

"The unit CAN meet the tasking in the proposed timeline, but will require X amount of admin workspace, Y amount of supplies and or equipment, Z amount of security requirements and the action will/won't affect other tasked missions in specifically listed ways."

Sometimes the data is less tangible, "ACC requests unit LIMFACS associated with deploying X additional personnel". These taskers can frustrate a commander. Knowing the unit is already in high demand, answering the task becomes especially daunting if the duties are outside normal responsibilities.

Here is where a commander benefits the most from GTY by looking closely at the process and reporting what it will take to execute. Unemotionally, the commander accurately explains the shortfall, identifies the cost to meet the request, and lets senior leaders weigh the risk in order to make the decision.

"The unit CAN deploy this AFSC, but critical training and force provision risk. The unit is currently manned at 65% (21 out of 32 authorized). Seven are currently deployed, an additional seven are preparing to rotate out, and twelve are needed for CTS staffing, already creating a critical shortfall of five individuals. Unit will require prioritization of tasking A, B, and C to reduce deployed personnel to meet this level of effort and requires X number of days to prepare the force. "

The concept of GTY seems like a basic trust in senior leaders to make the proper decision. True, but the purpose is beyond that. GTY helps facilitate decision-making by providing our leadership with ALL the information to come to a logical conclusion. With that, there is one very important part of GTY that separates a good response from a bad one - a commander's knowledge of the process and understanding of the task's effects. The data our senior leaders need often is often difficult to discern. This requires trust in subordinates to provide their input and a purposeful effort for the commander to interpret future impact. Additionally, a commander must contend with a range of optimists and pessimists among their key personnel, each with their own interpretation of the task and the results. In order to provide actionable and accurate information up echelon, commanders and their key personnel must be able to recognize and interpret this bias, forecast risk to familiar areas, and strive to understand second and third order effects. Essentially, GTY requires a commander to understand his processes, resource availability, manage bias of those around them, and ultimately interpret how all inputs relate to the task.

In the end, what does "getting to yes" bring? At first glance, it sounds like more work to an individual unit, but it is actually the opposite. First, consider an entire wing "getting to yes" (thousands of people identifying shortfalls with the right resources at the right time being tasked). Overall, it is a more equitable, or at least a more efficient, use of our limited assets. Second is the fact that senior leaders do not have to assume, guess, or "fill in the blanks" which means decisions are made quickly and with less unexpected outcomes. Last-minute taskers become less frequent, duties are shared when applicable, and ultimately the system becomes efficient.

So leaders, the next time that the unexpected Friday afternoon tasker drops, remember this. Every second wasted on emotion, on defense, or on anything other than analyzing the effects and passing objective answers unemotionally to senior leaders, merely clouds the decision-making process. "Getting to yes" reduces that friction. We need to demand a GTY attitude from ourselves and our key personnel; from there a mindset of success, combined with more effective decision-making will eventually permeate all levels of leadership.