Keeping "why" in forefront

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Greg Touhill
  • 81st Training Wing commander
It is human nature to want to know why we are asked to do things. People typically perform better when they understand the "why" behind the task. We shouldn't accept, "that's the way we've always done things" or "because I said so" as the proper answers. 

Understanding the "whys" is a two-way street. Leaders have to communicate down through the organization and Airmen need to communicate up to ensure everyone knows why we do things and to make suggestions for improvement. I rely on every Airman (that's officers, enlisted and civilians) to make sure that they know the "why" behind an activity and, if it doesn't make sense, raise your hand to make sure we are in sync. Everyone on our team is smart and valued, so your feedback is essential! 

We have an awful lot of change going on at Keesler right now. For example, the A-76 transition is changing the way we deliver support services. Sometimes the rate and magnitude of change becomes daunting and intimidating and people lose touch with the "why" behind the change. 

Why do we outsource activities through the A-76 process? Did you know that President Eisenhower directed the A-76 process in the late 1950s? President Eisenhower looked across the federal government and saw a lot of activities being performed by government entities that could be better performed by American business. In essence, by keeping the activity in-house, the government was taking opportunity away from American business. The president directed that any activity that could be performed by the commercial sector should be and directed the Office of Management and Budget to create procedures to outsource appropriate tasks. The resulting government circular, entitled A-76, spells out those procedures. 

How about here at Keesler? There are many things going on and it is okay to ask "Why." For example, someone asked me why we are taking out the dock on the north end of the runway. The reason is simple, it is a threat to safety. Based on accidents at other bases, the Air Force is eliminating obstructions around its runways. Unfortunately, we've had several crew members die in accidents where aircraft left the runway only to strike immoveable obstacles that killed the crew when they otherwise would have lived. We want to keep our crews and families safe. As such, we moved the instrument landing system shelter earlier this year and are removing the dock. The good news is that the fishing is still great at the marina and on our other docks! 

It's important for all of us to know why we do things. Airmen at all levels need to be sensitive to how we have these discussions. Some supervisors might feel put off when they are asked "why?" because they feel it is a threat to their authority. Most folks, however, ask "why?" because they don't understand and want to. All of us need to foster open communication where Airmen feel comfortable asking "why." Don't think it is a debate though; once your supervisor makes a decision, you carry it forward like it was your own. 

If we don't understand why we're doing something, you and I both have a responsibility to ask "why?" so we can focus ourselves and our teams. We need to work as a team to understand the "why" and come prepared with recommendations on how to make things better. Sitting on the sidelines and asking "why" isn't good enough. We need your help to stay in the game, work together with others in the wing to understand the "whys" and continue to carry forth the winning attitude of making things better. Thanks for your continued great leadership!