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Corps launches climate surveys as a tool for unit improvement

Jul. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Rating your command

Marine administrative message 316/13, released June 27, details the new survey Marines must complete to help commanders identify areas that need improvement within a unit.
Marines will respond to about 30 questions or statements tied to aspects of unit health. They can also write comments below each, if they choose. All responses are anonymous. Some examples:
■Individuals in my unit are comfortable approaching their leaders with issues.
■My unit provides a safe environment against sexual assault.
■Leaders in my unit care about my quality of life.
■What do you know about your unit that leadership does not know, but should?
■What are three things that your unit does well?
■What are three things that your unit could improve on?

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — Starting immediately, Marines will be tasked with completing mandatory command climate surveys at least once a year, or within a month of a new officer taking charge of their battalion or squadron.

The purpose: To give those in charge another way to identify and solve problems within their unit.

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos “wanted to give commanders a tool to know what is going on inside their units, to get at what some of us are referring to as blind spots — things you don’t know about because you’re too busy, you don’t have time to look or you’re not looking,” said Brig. Gen. William Mullen, the outgoing commanding general of Education Command, during a June 26 interview here.

Lieutenant colonels or colonels assuming command of a unit after June 30 will have about a month to initiate the new survey. Those currently in command and who will remain so through September will have until the end of that month to activate the survey.

When they do so, it will prompt an email to every Marine in the unit. The message will include a link to the survey, which they are required to complete, Mullen said. The surveys are anonymous and allow for Marines to provide commanders with their honest perception of the unit’s health on a host of topics, ranging from drug and alcohol abuse to accountability.

Marines already take other unit-wide surveys, but they are tied to specific areas of interest, like safety or discrimination in the workplace, Mullen said. None provided commanders with a true sense of overall unit health, he said.

The surveys were first discussed following a rash of commander firings by the commandant and several commanding generals. Some of those removals were tied to specific events, such as the death of eight Marines due to a mortar explosion at a training range in Hawthorne, Nev. The reasons behind others were less clear.

Soon after, Amos issued a servicewide letter to Marines stressing that leaders ultimately are accountable for anything that happens within their units. The close timing of the firings, the letter and the creation of the new survey has left some commanders uneasy, but it shouldn’t, Mullen said.

“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Should I be concerned?’ ” he said. “No. You go in there, you do the job to the best of your ability, you lead the way we know we’re supposed to lead, and use these tools — like this [survey] — to figure out what’s going on inside your unit.”

Commanders will be briefed on the results of their unit’s survey soon after they’re completed so they can learn how to understand the material. They will then be tasked with briefing their superior officer on the results.

Mullen emphasized that when commanders examine the results of the survey, they should leave their egos out of it.

“You’re going to get some disgruntled Marines that are going to use this as an opportunity to vent,” he said. “If you’re doing things right as a leader, some are going to be disgruntled because you’re holding them accountable and holding them to standard. Hey, get over it.”

Two key decisions were made to build trust in the command climate surveys, Mullen said. First, responses to the questions will remain anonymous. Second, Marine Corps leaders decided against sending survey results up the chain of command to the commandant or even the Inspector General’s Office, he said.

“You have to give the commander a chance to do something about it,” Mullen said. “First of all, they have to know [a problem exists], then they have to have the opportunity to do something about it before it festers to the point that it becomes a large problem.”

Some aggregated data may be compiled to identify servicewide trends, Mullen said, but none of the information will be identifiable by unit. It’s important that Marines taking the survey are confident there won’t be retribution if they are critical of their command, he said. And it’s just as important that Marines know their voices are being heard, he added.

While the commandant will continue to stress accountability, he understands commanders must be given the time and the opportunity to identify and fix problems. However, when that next survey goes out a year later, there will an expectation that commanders have addressed and fixed problems identified the year prior, Mullen said. If not, there are going to be questions about that, he said.

“There is ... concern about [whether] this will be used in fitness reports,” Mullen said. “I think at that point, it might start to get used a little bit if there are no changes. If you have the same negative type things going on and nothing’s really changed from one report to the next, you may have some challenges there.”

Commanders should view the surveys as their tool, he said.

“Trust that it’s going to work the way we say it’s going to work, and that it’s not going to be used against you,” he said. “Use the results to make your unit better.”

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