Air University Review, September-October 1967
Colonel Peter J. Hoke
With its first-term re-enlistment rates dropping from 25.5 percent overall in FY 1965 to 19 percent in FY 19661 and apparently heading further downward in FY 1967, the Air Force is in need of some serious introspection. Among other actions, the situation calls for a few questions to ourselves about the quality of our management at the working group level. Are we finding ways to utilize the growing body of knowledge about what motivates people to greater production, to a desire to remain on board?
A prominent management treatise, Douglas McGregor’s The Human Side of
According to McGregor, man will always satisfy certain levels of need before he concerns himself with higher levels. He seeks food ahead of shelter. Shelter ahead of friends. Friends ahead of status. But once a need level is satisfied, he must be appealed to at a higher level of need if he is to be motivated positively. A satisfied need is not an important motivator.
Our thesis here is that if the Air Force can provide motivations at the necessary need levels, the airman will be less likely to seek motivations elsewhere. Consider these five need levels in terms of the young airman:
(1) Physiological needs
(2) Safety/security needs
(3) Social needs
(4) Ego needs:
(a) As he perceives how others see him
(b) As he sees himself
(5) Self-fulfillment needs.
Air Force retention efforts may be directed too much at the partially satisfied needs at levels one, two, and three.3 Lines are not always sharp, but food, clothing, salary, housing, entertainment, recreation, travel, and even training fall largely in the first three categories. Training, for example, may be thought of more as a matter of securing the future than satisfying the inner man.
The fifth and highest-level need, self-fulfillment, is not a problem for first-termers. They will rarely satisfy all need levels below number five. If they did, we would have few re-enlistment problems. This leaves the fourth level, ego. McGregor says that these are the needs of greatest significance to management and to man himself.
What is our problem? We must act more aggressively to accommodate the needs of the “inner man.” The most important key is his immediate working group and the satisfactions he gains there.4
In any work situation where the following questions can be answered with an unequivocal yes, we can expect more re-enlistments:
· Does the airman think that the other workers in his shop or office see him as an essential part of the team?
· Does the airman believe that he is an essential part of the team?
· Does the airman generally understand the larger effort and see the activities of his team as essential to it?
· Does the airman see compliance with his team’s objectives as helping to achieve his own objectives?
To achieve such positive orientation and satisfaction (i.e., topnotch management) throughout the Air Force, its managers, particularly at the working group level, must concentrate on the pulse and cohesiveness of the human organization. The problem is primarily one of instilling the sense-of-the-matter in all commanders and supervisors. This is a vast educational task and must not be oversimplified. But specific actions can help. Here are just a few suggestions that might move us toward higher re-enlistment rates by appealing to the inner man.5
(a) More visits and inspections by senior commander and senior functional chief, to include coverage of the support and menial activities as well as the hardcore ones. A commander’s best possible “feel” for the human situation and its environment in his command cannot always be obtained from others.6
(b) Selective use of qualified individuals, possibly from among chaplains and IG’s, to report on the status and sensitivities of the so-called informal organization.
(c) Provision of an easier way, a guaranteed reception, a warmer atmosphere for airmen who seek counseling or want to “unload”. Going to the IG smacks of the griper; going to the chaplain smacks of the weakling. We might consider the counselor system used in many high schools, as some of them are apparently filling similar needs very well. (This suggestion correlates directly with (b), since a counselor will be a key source of such information. Perhaps the counseling problem is not so much one of creating a new post as of redirecting present counseling capabilities toward understanding and using the newer research to the advantage of management.)
(d) Use of orientation programs and tests to insure that each member of a group or work center knows how his group’s work relates to the work of groups above and around him and how the larger organization fits into its environment. (When such briefings are hard to develop or when they ring false, look for other troubles!)
(e) The achievement of a better understanding by supervisors that “busy work,” conjured up as a camouflage for idleness, as well as idleness itself, depresses group ego. Airmen are not fooled. There must be a seriously supported policy of minimum essential yet adequate manning.
(f) And an obvious last suggestion: increased supervisory training in newer concepts of organization and management.
None of the suggestions are intended to de-emphasize the crucial importance of increased pay and other benefits, which must continue to be pursued vigorously. The suggestions hopefully would make these factors less persuasive in the career decision of the first-termer.
A wise, perceptive, and altruistic manager can probably achieve the desired working group conditions without outside help. Any manager with the inclination and aptitude should be able to acquire, through study and application, the skills necessary to achieve these conditions. However, this is a total problem. While isolated pockets of modem management in action will exist in the Air Force, this will not meet our needs. This kind of management must achieve name-of-the-game status throughout the whole if it is to link up and maintain its gains. “Future managers,” according to Dr. Ferraro, “will need a much greater understanding of human behavior and human motivation in order to handle effectively the many human problems that will confront them.”7
The Air Force must require of all aspirants to leadership that they practice a brand of management that actively seeks to meet the ego needs of the inner man. That is the way to increase productivity and one sure way to help keep our airmen re-enlisting.
Hq Air Defense Command
1. Air Force Times, 12 October 1966. p. 2.
3. This statement tends to be supported for officers and for industry by recent research, including the Air Force Officer Motivation Study, Project “New View,” These groups were at higher income levels and may not be comparable to first-term airmen. However, there is some opinion that similar studies of first-termers would produce similar findings.
4. The importance to management of working group cohesion and supportiveness is a primary theme of Rensis Likert in his widely read book, “New Patterns of Management (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961).
5. These suggestions are opinions of the writer believed to represent practical steps toward benefiting from modern management research. They do not necessarily represent opinions of the eminent experts quoted herein.
6. IBM’s Thomas J. Watson, Jr., says: “There is no suitable substitute for a great amount of travel on the part of the president of the company. He must constantly visit offices and factories and clearly and forcefully announce what he expects.” H. B. Maynard (ed.), Top Management Handbook (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960). p. 515.
7. Dr. Eugene T. Ferraro, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower, as quoted in an interview in The Airman, June 1967, p.18.
Colonel Peter J. Hoke (M. S.,
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this
document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression,
academic environment of
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