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Improving Accountability for Effective Command Climate: A Strategic Imperative

Authored by COL Steven M. Jones. | September 2003

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Beyond new organizations and technologies, the Army Transformation process and end-state will entail a new cultural mindset. More than ever before, organizational (command) climate will become an increasingly significant prerequisite for unit effectiveness and combat readiness. Today?s organizational- and individual-level systems, however, are insufficient to ensure that positive command climate is universally established and sustained across the U.S. Army. While many Army units enjoy positive command climate, too many do not. Several adverse trends in command climate have persisted in the Army for nearly 30 years, perhaps because, in practice, the officer culture emphasizes short-term mission accomplishment more than long-term organizational growth, or because Army systems reinforce individual performance rather than organizational effectiveness. Either emphasis, if true, detracts from combat readiness. Compounding the problem, Army leaders are not taught how to assess or improve command climate nor rewarded when they do so. Army organizations, officers, and soldiers deserve better. Cultural norms and counterproductive evaluation, leader development, and accountability systems are at the root of the U.S. Army?s problems regarding organizational (command) climate. Absent a shift in cultural emphasis and adjustment of systems to reinforce the change, command climate will continue to suffer; and unit effectiveness, morale and trust, retention, and commitment will continue to be significantly degraded. This monograph explores the nature of command climate in the U.S. Army, its antecedents, and its consequences. Remedies relating to unit climate assessment, leader development, performance appraisal, and accountability systems are proposed.


Transformation of the U.S. Army in the 21st century cannot occur without a command climate that ensures Army organizations are as effective as they can be. Effective command climate will not take root until effective measures and accountability are imposed. Much attention has been drawn to the need for a cultural transformation to facilitate the Army?s transformation; however, it is merely rhetoric if real change does not transform the mindset of leaders at every level.

More than ever before, the Army needs to train the soldier, develop the leader, and build the team?now. The essential dynamic of combat power will be competent, confident leaders and soldiers operating in cohesive and highly effective teams. Preparing to fight the network-centric wars of this century will be easy relative to the real leadership challenge of developing soldiers and officers ?who not only can adapt month to month to different cultures but also can continually adjust and readjust their reflexes.?235

Without a doubt, the perception of climates within organizations is essential to understanding team members? job satisfaction, which leads to learning and development, and affects commitment and retention. ?If senior leaders begin to focus more on the welfare of their own organizations, a whole hostof desirable behaviors [will] result.?236 The officer corps must be driven to truly establish the Army as a learning organization, and in doing so reprioritize self, superiors, subordinates, and unit.

As noted recently in the 2001 CSIS Report, Army transformation depends on leaders who will develop organizational and command climates that encourage loyalty, initiative, and risk-taking. Senior leaders who model transformational behaviors and create the conditions to foster a learning organization represent only the first part of the change mandate. Equally important are the adjustments to strategic systems which are needed to reinforce change: adjusting the focus of performance appraisals to put organizations first; expanding the levels of organizations routinely using climate surveys; establishing coaching as a means for safely interpreting feedback and developing response measures; imposing requirements for action planning to ensure accountability for change; and renewing emphasis on leader development for all ranks.

As former Secretary of the Army White appropriately emphasized, Army transformation will entail getting the most from people and organizations through a new cultural mindset. True to Secretary White?s vision, the proposed systems adjustments combined with effective leadership will directly contribute to successfully enabling Army transformation in the 21st century.


235 Smith, p. 208.

236 Ulmer, ?Notes on Leadership for the 1980s,? p. 77.