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Soundings Podcast: CNO Discusses Ownership in Naval Profession

Moderator: Welcome to Soundings, the official podcast of the Chief of Naval Operations. On this podcast we have discussed each of the four core attributes: accountability, initiative, integrity and toughness. Today, we talk with Adm. Richardson about ownership in our Navy.

Sir, let’s start by simply asking how you think about ownership as it applies to our naval profession.

Adm. Richardson: To me, ownership is absolutely critical to our business. No matter where you are in the Navy, no matter what your job, no matter what your seniority, we need 100 percent ownership of what we do, what we’re doing. We need to own our behaviors, we need to own our technical competence, we need to own our character.

U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Nov. 24, 2016) Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson inspects a sample fuel with Petty Officer 2nd Class Trenton Isabel in the fuel lab aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Rawad Madanat/Released)
U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Nov. 24, 2016) Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson inspects a sample fuel with Petty Officer 2nd Class Trenton Isabel in the fuel lab aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Rawad Madanat/Released)

 

So in my mind, ownership is composed of four different things. One is, you’ve got to have the right level of knowledge. You need to know what you’re doing, right? And this is this technical competence that we talk about in the leader development framework. If we don’t know what we’re doing, if we don’t know how to do our job, then we’re never going to know when things are going wrong, when to step in and intervene. And so there’s a really important role for just level of knowledge and knowing our business.

The second thing is that we’ve got to have responsibility for executing our jobs. You’ve got to be responsible for the mission that you’re given. You have to feel that responsibility to get that mission done. Not just to get it done, but to get it done properly and get it done consistently with the standards of the job and the standards of the Navy. So you’ve got to feel that responsibility.

BAB EL MANDEB STRAIT (Oct. 2, 2017) Operations Specialist 3rd Class Jasmine Chavis, assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), mans a radar terminal in the combat information center. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Vance Hand/Released)
BAB EL MANDEB STRAIT (Oct. 2, 2017) Operations Specialist 3rd Class Jasmine Chavis, assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), mans a radar terminal in the combat information center. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Vance Hand/Released)

Know that we have accountability for that mission. So in addition to feeling responsible, you have to know that we’ll all be held accountable for achieving that mission. Whatever that may be. It might be just a specific task, it might be to execute something much bigger, but at the end of the day we will be held accountable for executing and delivering what we needed to deliver.

And then finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must be given the authority to do what we need to do. It’s very frustrating for someone to be given a task and told hey, you’re going to be held accountable for that and you’re responsible for that, but you’re not given the authority to go and do it. Right? So they have to come back and ask permission or something.

This requires a careful discussion between a senior commander and a subordinate commander or the boss and the person given the job so that there’s a good understanding of exactly what is required. And then we can competently delegate, and delegate the authority to be able to execute that mission consistent with responsibility, consistent with accountability and relying on, you know, full technical knowledge of what needs to be done.

So that’s how I see ownership. It’s got four ingredients: technical knowledge, it’s got responsibility, it’s got accountability, and finally it has authority. If you don’t have all four of those things it’s impossible to fully own what we do.

Moderator: Sir, in talking about ownership, I know this is a concept that applies to every Sailor, whether they be an admiral or a seaman, but how would you explain that to encourage Sailors at any and every level in the Navy chain of command to take the concept of ownership on board?

ATLANTIC OCEAN (April 12, 2017) Aviation Machinist's Mate 3rd Class Addam Parker, from Virginia Beach, Va., conducts an inspection of an engine in the jet shop of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew J. Sneeringer/Released)
ATLANTIC OCEAN (April 12, 2017) Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Addam Parker, from Virginia Beach, Va., conducts an inspection of an engine in the jet shop of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew J. Sneeringer/Released)

Adm. Richardson: The thing that will make us as powerful a Navy as we can possibly be is not saying hey, you own it. This is something that belongs to you. But internalizing that we all have ownership. This is the difference between a globally powerful, a superior Navy and just, you know, any other Navy.

So to the degree that each one of us takes ownership and executes our mission, we become as a Navy much more powerful.

Imagine, if you will, if every Sailor came to work every day wanting to own and tackle their job. You combine this with some of the fast learning things. Hey, I want to improve the way I do my business every single day because I truly own this thing and I’m going to get better at it every single day. Imagine what our Navy could achieve if every one of our sailors and civilians came in with that attitude. Every single day on every single job.

Moderator: Well, Sir, how do you see the way forward for getting us to that point and instilling ownership in all our Sailors?

Adm. Richardson: That’s why we have these discussions. A lot of this has to come from inside. We can only go so far with an extrinsic or an outside motivating structure of reward and punishment or whatever. To truly achieve our theoretical limits of performance, it’s got to come from within each one of us. We have to identify and dedicate ourselves, push ourselves not to achieve the bare minimum, but to go well past that bare minimum and really try and maximize our performance.

ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 8, 2017) Sailors share a laugh on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in the Arabian Gulf while deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in this region, the ship and its carrier strike group conducted maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ian Kinkead/Released)
ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 8, 2017) Sailors share a laugh on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in the Arabian Gulf while deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in this region, the ship and its carrier strike group conducted maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ian Kinkead/Released)

 

No rule set is going to stimulate that. It’s got to come from within each one of us. And so I’d ask that everybody on the Navy team think about that motivation. Do you feel that fire in your belly to come in and do everything you can to own your job and do it better today than you’ve ever done it before? If not, why not? That’s a conversation that you can have with your leadership, but a very important part of that is the conversation we all need to have with ourselves.

Moderator: This has been Soundings, the official podcast of the CNO.

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