Embracing smart change

I can’t get some slogans out of my head; slogan’s like Nike’s “Just Do It,” KFC’s “Finger Lickin Good,” and M&M’s “Melts in your mouth not in your hands.” For decades, military services have also employed slogans in their attempt to lure the best young men and women into their ranks. Many slogans, like the “duty, honor, country,” and “It’s Not Just A Job, It’s An Adventure,” were extremely effective.

For 21 years, the Army had the highly successful slogan, “Be All That You Can Be.” It certainly got my attention during commercial breaks of M*A*S*H and inspired me to enter Army ROTC. However, in 2001 the Army felt the need for an “upgrade” and changed their slogan. I am not sure what prescription meds Army brass were on the day they made their final selection … “An Army of One” … you can’t be serious? However, many lessons can be learned from this change. 

Lesson No. 1: carefully consider the need for change, especially if what you are attempting to change is not broken.

To assist them in identifying a new slogan to represent their million plus soldiers, the Army did what most organizations do and hired private marketing and advertising firms. Although the firms were experts in their field, they were not Army soldiers and didn’t have experience in Army service. 

Lesson No. 2: the most important people to involve when considering change are the people closest and most vested in the process.

It would be an understatement to say the “An Army of One” slogan fell flat on its face. Although intended to express the individual physical, mental and emotional strength that resides within every Army soldier, it drew silly visions of a sole “super hero” soldier running across the desert heading alone into battle. Thankfully, it replaced jokes about the ridiculous Air Force “Aim High” slogan at USO comedy routines across the AOR; there may be no “I” in TEAM … but now there are an “M” and “E.”

Lesson No. 3: if you do choose to make a change, ensure the change adds real value. 

Regretfully for soldiers everywhere, it took Army brass a full five years to acknowledge their failure and course correct. It wasn’t until 2006 that they saw the light and converted to “Army Strong,” once again hitting a grand slam, capturing the warrior ethos. 

Lesson No. 4: when your change is a failure, don’t be too proud to admit it and try something else (or return to the pre-change status). 

The one fact I am absolutely confident about in the military is change. Change can be extremely effective and necessary for organizations to adapt, survive and flourish. Although often unpopular, change is a noble cause for real leaders, however, change just for the sake of change is not a strategy. Change should be data driven and evidence based and, most of all, change must add significant value. When the change is a failure, we must own our mistake, acknowledge the failure and provide a timely course correction. Are you ready to embrace smart change?