"Command Climate, Culture, and Appreciation"

An article for submission to The Naval Institute's PROCEEDINGS

MMCS(SS) Brad Green


Thanks to my teacher, mentor, and on-target editor; Dr. Rudy Williams. Doc, I've learned a lot - thank you. I also thank those mentioned by name for allowing me to share my part of their stories. Each of you had a positive and lasting impact on me. Special thanks to retired Senior Chief Jack Reese for the use of his uncle's story, and to MMCM(SS)(Ret.) Greg Peterman of goatlocker.org for putting the story out there for me to find.


At World War II's end towns and cities across the country were looking for hometown boys who had "made good" to celebrate the victory with. Los Angeles chose to honor Admiral Halsey, whom it was rumored had done quite well. The ceremony was held on the steps of the LA county courthouse. At the end of the ceremony Halsey passed through the traditional line of side boys. These side boys were active duty and retired Chief Petty Officers who had been brought in from all over the country. My uncle walked apace the Admiral as he passed through the ranks. When Halsey approached one old CPO, who my uncle described as "being older than God", my uncle saw them wink at each other. Later my uncle had the opportunity to chat with the great Admiral. He commented on the wink between Halsey and this old Chief, and asked Halsey if he would mind explaining it. Halsey looked at my uncle very seriously and said, "That man was my Chief when I was an Ensign, and no one before or after taught me as much about ships or men as he did. You civilians don't understand. You go down to Long Beach, and you see those battleships sitting there, and you think that they float on the water, don't you?"…"You are wrong, they are carried to sea on the backs of those Chief Petty Officers!"

As told by ATCS(AC) Jack Reese. His uncle, John Reese, was a WW2 journalist and novelist. (Adapted from MMCM(SS)(Ret.) Greg Peterman's goatlocker.org)


This story is one of my favorites. It encapsulates much of what we Chief Petty Officers believe about ourselves and the standard we strive to live up to. Such stories reveal clear undeniable potent truth. They tell us how we got to where we are now. The latent power and truth in our organizations revealed by these stories can be used to forge new links in the anchor chain of Navy leadership stretching back for more than two hundred years. .

Our Navy Core Values of Honor, Courage and Commitment aren't just about technical compliance, procedural exactitude, or superb mechanical performance. Honor, courage and commitment are about heart and soul - they are the inspiring, life generating words we have agreed to live our lives by. That is exactly why they are powerful and supremely important. These values are essential to our culture, and should be kept constantly in mind as we intentionally develop and communicate what culture means in our Navy.

This article will examine the power of intentionally focusing on our Navy's positive core values by using a widely applied method called Appreciative Inquiry, or AI (Cooperrider, Sorensen, Whitney & Yaeger, 2000). Appreciative Inquiry is a life-theory that equips us to handle the challenges all organizations face. But let's first consider the climate or culture in which we demonstrate our values.

COMMAND CLIMATE (Navy-speak for "culture")

It may seem that the command climate on your ship or station is as beyond understanding as the weather itself. But, in reality, cultures are created by those who live in them as we interact and then talk about what we do and how we do it. We build a set of shared values, habits, models, and norms that work in our group whether we mean to or not. Sometimes we do this in an intentional and productive way. Appreciative Inquiry does this by focusing on the strengths and capabilities of our people and organizations and then on what might be even better.

Imagine concentrating on what is going well at your command instead of focusing on problems. How much time could you save if you could get on to the business of getting better and better instead of repetitively fixing the same problem you fixed in the organization six months ago?

In the Navy, we technically focused engineering types rely on procedures, systems, and total compliance with approved methods to ensure repeatable positive results. Relying on these tools everyday to ensure the safe and effective operation of our ships, submarines, and aircraft is a necessary way of life. When unusual conditions arise with "out of specification" conditions, we ruthlessly search out the cause and fix the problem. The down side is that we apply this process to everything. We tend to look for failures in our people in the same way, and hone in on them as if they are problems to eliminate. This means we sometimes - without meaning too - treat people problems in the same way we treat abnormal readings in our machines. Instead of building crews, we think we can simply keep them "within specifications". This mechanistic, technical, style of management isn't unique to the military. It is common wherever leaders and managers are accustomed to applying established procedures and controls to their environment. But, does excessive reliance on technical methods serve our people adequately?

The real source of any success we enjoy in our commands and our Navy is our people - NOT our machines, systems, or the perfect execution of procedures. Ships and planes are our tools, but men and women are our Navy. We know this. This philosophy is important - we lose if we treat human systems as technical problems to be solved. Focusing on negative issues as our primary method of leadership is not the best way to keep the system healthy. Appreciation is much more powerful.

Here are a few examples of positive, appreciative cultures in our Navy as I have experienced them.

USS ARCHERFISH (SSN 678), 1993~1995:

ARCHERFISH was a 637-class fast attack submarine equipped with a Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) for underwater, covert delivery of combat swimmers and Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV). Think of the DDS as a floodable, pressure-tight garage attached to the back of the sub, and the SDV as the mini-sub the SEAL (Sea Air and Land) Teams parked in it. We laughingly called the ARCHERFISH the "Seal Delivery Vehicle - Delivery Vehicle". The special nature of our mission gave us all an important sense of purpose and worth. When we were at mission depth with divers on deck outside the sub doing our job as a team, every watchstander had a critical role that kept those divers safe and delivered them to their target. It was vital, exciting, and demanding work.

During my check-in, everyone - from my new Chief and leading first, MMC(SS) Jim Crudden and then MM1 (now MMCM/SS) Dow Rogers, up to the Captain (then CDR, now CAPT Bob Holland) talked about this. They told me how special an organization I was a part of. More importantly, they told me why. We performed a critical task better than anyone else in the Navy. We believed it, and it was true (ARCHERFISH won Battle Efficiency and Navy Unit Commendations during my short tour aboard). There was value in what we did, and doing it well was important and contributed directly to the welfare of the country. From the E1 to O5, everyone aboard ARCHERFISH knew these things. From Puerto Rico to the Mediterranean, we performed our mission with pride and dedication.

This deserved pride and bone-deep dedication flourished in an arduous deployment rotation 1/3 shorter than that of most fast-attacks. ARCHERFISH was more crowded with gear, people, and equipment than other already tightly arranged submarines of her class. Every E5 and below, and some E6's hot-bunked. The work was hard, the mission was technically more difficult than the already-demanding norm, the hours were long, but it was more than worthwhile - it was awesome!

USS OHIO (SSBN 726), Blue Crew, 1997~1999:

OHIO - the "First and Finest" of the Trident Class submarines was a great place to be. The Commanding Officer, CAPT Howard F. Trost, did things in positive, unique and interesting ways. For example, he utilized the half-hour after GMT to brief the crew on the details of the command's mission, the tactical picture, and the reasoning behind his decisions in light of tasking and environment. Every member of the crew saw and understood what we were doing an why. This provided a context and sense of purpose that is often missing at the deck plate.

CAPT Trost also had a refreshing take on external inspection teams. I once heard him say, "This inspection is important because it is the yardstick we are measured by. Doing well means we don't need help. But, it is not all-important. You guys know how to do your jobs better than anyone else. We don't need anyone to tell us how - we know how to do our job and how to do it well. Doing our job to our high standards is what is important."

In addition, the Chief of the Boat, now CMDCM(SS) Robert Jones, took pride in the fact that his Chiefs ran the ship. This freed the CO and his Wardroom to fight the ship. As Chiefs in OHIO we were trusted - I was free to take care of my people, my portion of the mission, and my equipment in the way I decided best. It was what I had been trained to do, and had worked toward doing for years. Everyone was encouraged "to take ownership" of everything around them. This resulted in a mutual and complimentary effort that was greater than any of us could have achieved alone.

When we use AI, we intentionally create command cultures like these that support and spawn independent positive effort. Inclusion of everyone in the process gains us their buy-in; we earn their commitment and dedicated service, not just their compliance.

Culture of Appreciation

Formal AI efforts use a four-step process (the "4-D Cycle") to tap into the power and creativity present in an organization. The 4-D's are Dream, Discover, Design, and Destiny. OHIO was ripe for the application of a full blown Appreciative Inquiry (AI) effort. Captain Trost and his chain of command had many of the basics already in place. They had an appreciative attitude; they knew that the right answers were already in the people.

Appreciative Inquiry presents a doable means of establishing a dynamic and intentionally positive command climate. As you read about each phase of the process, envision it as a command-wide effort that includes everyone. Involvement of everyone promotes buy-in, and personal dedication to the command's goals becomes more of a reality.


AI's first step in building and sustaining the culture we desire is to "DISCOVER" the best of what is here already, value it for what it has done for us (Cooperrider et. al, p. 126) and tell stories that express why it is so meaningful. Rather than seeking problems to fix, we discover, or reveal, "the best that is". AI in the business world uses interviews of hundreds of people to compile a history of the successes and strengths of the company. The authors of this methodology have good data that supports that this focus on the positive core of an organization is much more productive than viewing an organization as a problem to be solved.

One simple way that we as a Navy can discover "the best of what is" is through remembering and talking about our history and traditions. Aboard OHIO stories of our World War II submarine heroes were read aloud during the pinning of "Dolphins," our community's warfare pin. Similarly, the CPO community continues to increase its focus on our historic role in the Navy, and naval history in general, as a method of helping selectees transition. Newly selected Chief Petty Officers are asked to research famous heroes and incidents, focusing on CPO's and their leadership role in the Navy. Intentionally discovering the "best of what is" gives us a starting point in our roles as leaders in today's Navy.

In our divisions, departments, and commands, we can do this very simply by asking, "What are we doing really well?" or "What do you like the very best about the way we do things?" Make sure you listen closely. Then, circulate and share these stories of division and team successes throughout the command. Making these core successes part of how we communicate is important. These stories begin to make the "positive core" visible within the organization. Captain Holland, aboard ARCHERFISH, did this by presenting "Behind-the-Scenes" awards. While not unique, this simple act helped perpetuate individual initiative such as that found in the command's top performers.

Captain Trost actively involved OHIO sailors in building the collective story. He talked to people at every level in the chain of command about what they were doing, how they were doing, and why things were working well. The stories he found made him aware of positive factors that otherwise might not have come to his attention. Telling these stories publicly built a public narrative of appreciation and success that set the example. Looking for, talking about, and anticipating successes soon became the norm.

This may not seem like a big deal. But, when we drag success stories into the open and share them, it's like an archeologist digging a scroll from the sands. Sociologists call such stories "cultural artifacts." Like an artifact left behind by time, stories tell the truth about us. They do so better than any procedure or inspection report ever can. Taking steps to put these stories to work is where AI continues.


After gathering these success stories, AI uses them constructively and purposefully by asking, "What is called for now?" or "What would be even better?" Input is gathered from around the command. This begins the process of building an appreciative and coherent vision and sense of mission. Most importantly, this is done out of the stories and traditions discovered before. They are the launching pad. It is not one person's vision stamped onto the entire command. Rather, the new effort taps into a core of personal empowerment and initiative that is much more effective than just trying to fix problems.

Ask your people to imagine what the ideal organization would be. What would the organization look like if we were able to maximize and enlarge the past successes and positive attributes? Communicating stories of success begins a process of forming new ways of looking at the group. Cooperrider calls this "Dreaming" because it is here we realize the power in the organization by talking about going beyond the things we "Discovered." This process is intuitive and highly effective. Concentrate on ideas of the perfect future - the ideal. Any problem can be addressed. Nothing is too touchy or too hard. OHIO did this very easily asissues of every sort were brought forward from members all around the command and discussed.

Captain Trost did this by talking about the future in light of past successes. But, a concrete and concerted effort to gather everyone's vision in their part of the command was never his goal. When you do this successfully, you do more than begin to think outside the box - you blow the lid off it completely.


AI's classic design efforts involve talking about the best of what is and the dreams of what could be even better and then designing new organizational forms. While our command structure may not be subject to complete restructuring, we can alter the way we operate within our Chain of Command. For example, we might shift responsibility to the lowest possible level, and empower the authors of the best practices and core strengths discovered earlier. If the Discovery and Dream phases have been fully explored, this next step of actually agreeing to and enacting new ways of doing things will come naturally. It is the next logical step. Our best of what is bridges the gap between today's reality and the ideal future we want to build.

Change accelerates from this point on - the energy and involvement required already exists if you've done things right. Make sure you capture the essence of what was important in your discovery phase; and the energy and possibilities of everyone's visions in the dream phase. Most change methods emphasize the need to communicate and form a critical mass. All you've done so far is ask some questions, shared the responses and the stories you found, and projected them into the future that is waiting for you. This takes care of many of the obstacles usually encountered in most change efforts. If you experience resistance from a particular slice of the command, they probably haven't told their stories of how they contribute to the core strengths of the organization.


Cooperrider's Destiny phase is used to make the realizations and vision discovered and built real in the organization. The power in the Discovery, Dream, and Design phases tend to produce true believers. People become empowered and excited. Men and women end up ready to give more than mere compliance; they are ready to invest themselves in the authentic and real work of the command. This is what we all hope for as leaders, right? Well once you have their hard-won dedication, how do you keep it?

The lasting change embodied in the Destiny phase "needs to look a lot more like an inspired movement than a neatly packaged or engineered product" (Cooperrider, pp. 14-15). Destiny is a communication and imbedding of the spirit of AI into the organization's fabric. If we allow the process of the 4-D's to inform how we operate daily, then we will create a norm of accepting improvement behaviors and ideas from anyone in the organization. We will have a "convergence zone for people to empower one another…(where) changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized when people constructively appropriate the power of the positive core and simply…let go of accounts of the negative" (Cooperrider, p. 16). AI's focus on the positive doesn't mean we ignore faults in our people and processes. Nor do we deny human failings. Instead, we acknowledge and put into practice a key tenant many of our best leaders know instinctively. We recognize, publicize, and standardize internal successes as a central part of our leadership efforts. As we intentionally focus on what we do well, we tap into positive productive core values, rather than rely on destructive "fix-it" routines. Human systems move toward positive visions of the future. If we believe what we are doing is worthwhile and say it forcefully and often, it will come to be. Cooperrider and his co-authors have yet to see it fail.

Churchill exemplified this when he spoke to the British people during WWII. He reminded them of their indomitable spirit in the face of adversity. He did not chronicle the losses to the latest German bombing raids; he spoke of the positive response of the British people and the inevitable future result. "We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!" (May 19, 1940, London). He praised his people and called on them to anticipate the inevitable victory even during the darkest days of the Battle of Britain. They believed him and persevered. Many of our Navy leaders understand this principle and put it into practice. They do so by talking about tradition, core values, and how even the newest seaman is a "fine American". There are no "out of specifications" people to them.


"Our Navy is the best in the history of the world", as our CNO loves to say. Incredibly complex and dangerous tasks are our business. Aboard our ships, submarines and aircraft rigid procedural compliance is necessary, but not sufficient. We also need to identify and magnify the positive core in each of our commands - the core that becomes visible when we intentionally discover the best of what is, dream of what could be even better, design improved ways of doing things, and apply them to achieve our destiny. We must remember that people are our real resource - our successes come from them. AI provides a proven methodology for accessing the power and strength already present in our people and organizations.

Now for the challenge. Ask yourself, "What do I like best about my Navy?" Then, "What would it look like if it were perfect; ideal in every way?" If you are honest with yourself, you will begin to see possibilities you haven't seen before. Carry this into your department, division, or command practices. Appreciate what is there, and then aggressively dream as you inquire (with your people) about what would make it even better. Talk about it, design it, and make it so. It really is that simple.