I-dont-careA mentor of mine once told me,  “personnel issues always boil down to either they don’t know or they don’t care and I can fix both.” Over the years I have learned this is true and most often the issues fall along the don’t know side of the house. In fact, I have met very few people who simply did not care and purposefully went out of their way to skirt a responsibility. I am not talking about the simple and trivial events, such as showing up to work late or missing a suspense. Rather, I am referring to when people make mistakes on the job.

When I was teaching tech school, I would ask the students about their uniforms. More specifically, I asked them if they were wearing it properly. They all gave me a very confident “yes.” Then I always followed that up with, “how do you know you are wearing it correctly?” Again, 100% of the time they responded because their MTI told them how to wear it. Not a single one was able to tell me the regulation that covered dress and appearance and their confidence began to waiver as I questioned specific items. “Basically, none of you can say for certain that you are dressed properly right now.”

This is a small example of the types of “don’t know” situations faced in the military. There are so many policies on how to do everything; people often just do what was passed on to them. To make matters worse, there are trainers who chastise others for asking questions. “You seriously don’t know how to do LeaveWeb…you should know that by now!” Then the person will simply try to stumble through it and enter whatever the system will accept. One day, they may even pass on this information to someone they are training. Thus, the don’t know cycle continues. Have you ever learned something you were taught was completely wrong? I know I have more than I would care to admit.

Think about the new Enlisted Evaluation System we are implementing. There are constantly new articles coming out about how commanders and supervisors are doing it incorrectly. This isn’t because the supervisors don’t care, it is because they don’t know and are basically making things up as they go. I am sure many asked clarifying questions only to be met with a “go read the reg” answer. They already did that and are clearly confused still.

The fix for this don’t know culture is two-fold. First, question the things you do daily. In the military, there are regulations for everything including how to create slides for a presentation (AFH 337, pg 118-120). Therefore, it is safe to assume there is some type of policy for how you are entering information into a database, preparing a decoration ceremony, preparation a torque wrench for usage, etc. Seek out these policies and read them. We can’t reinvent the wheel in a day, but take small bites and tackle one reg at a time. I promise you will eventually uncover something your unit has been doing wrong for years.

The second way to combat the don’t know culture is to not be a jerk when someone asks a question. Now that you are an expert on the regs after reading up on things from part one, coach others through what you have learned. I go out of my way to ensure to never make someone feel like they can’t ask me a question. Even if it is something they should know, I walk them through it. You will even get the “oh yeah, I remember that now” quite frequently. The way I look at it is if they are asking the question, clearly they don’t know. We don’t perform all the parts of our jobs on a routine basis and we get rusty in some areas. Realize others do the same.

It is up to us fix this don’t know epidemic spreading throughout the ranks and stop the disinformation from flowing. That is, unless you don’t care…

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