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The Last 72 Hours December 29, 2007

Posted by DPL in Business Professionals, Commitment, Courage, deckplate leadership, Honor, leadership, management, Navy, Time management, Values.

You only get one chance at first impressions. This is nothing new really. It’s no different for a someone checking into his or her new command than any other time in life when you need to make that first impression. A good first impression is regarded as the most important thing because it sets the tone for the member’s next 3+ years in that job.

In the Navy, both at the command level and on the deckplates, I’d say that the deckplate leaders generally do a pretty good job at covering what the Navy’s termed “the first 72 hours”, which is the most significant time for someone to get a feel for their new climate and an idea for what life will be like for them in the foreseeable future. The Navy even made a video about it and for a while made just about everybody in the Navy watch it a million times over. Sponsors are assigned, who contact their incoming Sailor to let them know they are there for any questions and set up anything that the incoming member needs established prior to their arrival. After the Sailor arrives, the sponsor then takes them around the command, shows them around the base, and escorts them through the check-in process. While escorting the member from place to place converstions begin, hopefully positive ones, discussing the organizational politics, opportunities…basically, showing the new person the ropes.

What about the last 72 hours?

I have had the opportunity to serve with all kinds of different military units all over the world and have witnessed brilliant send offs. On the flip side of that I’ve been able to witness bad, even horrible, send offs. The differences between the two were pretty simple. A grateful chain of command and a solid administrative department. When someone checks out and the senior leaders actually take a minute to say thanks and ask for advice and input before signing off the check out sheet instead of placing their mark while typing an email, the member actually feels like they’re thought of as a real person. When the chain spends time writing a quality transfer evaluation it shows and the Sailor pays attention. It’s the difference between feeling appreciated and being told “don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.”

Like I said earlier, the first 72 hours is not a new concept for the Navy or any other successful organization these days. But what I don’t hear enough talk about is the last 72 hours. Deckplate leaders have to understand that the send-off is really just as important and significant as the reception. While the first impression sets the tone for the time spent in a particular job or location, the last impression is what people will remember.

People are an investment….always.

The Navy is an organization that depends on the constant recruitment of personnel as well as steady retention rates. Not everybody that joins the Navy stays in for an entire career. In fact, according to the December 2007 release of the 2008 Stay Navy campaign guidance, just 46% of all first term Sailors with 0-6 years of service are re-enlisting. And that’s abnormally high! That means that while there are recruiters working long hours talking about all the great things that a Naval career can provide, over half of these first term Sailors are walking about the city streets and you can bet they’re sharing their Navy experience with potential recruits.

But also consider this…Everytime the Navy loses one Sailor the organization essentially loses hundreds of thousands of dollars after you factor in the costs to train, develop, house, and move them. How much money do you think would be saved if the Navy boosted retention rates just 10%? That’s just one out of 10 people.

Deckplate leaders not only have a huge impact on retention, but potential recruits too!

As I mentioned in my previous post, the deckplate leader has the most impact on the retention of quality people. But guess what? The deckplate leader has a huge impact on potential recruits too. The job of a deckplate leader is not only to grow the strong leaders of tomorow’s Navy or (substitute your organization here), but also strong leaders of tomorrow’s America. Not everyone will stick around. Life happens and everybody has their own mission in life. It is near impossible to achieve and sustain 100% retention rates. But how will you treat those who do decide to leave?

I had a conversation this past fall with a newly pinned Chief where he said that he considered folks leaving the Navy as “leaving the team” and didn’t think that spending any quality time with the departing Sailor was a good use of his time. Don’t get me wrong, this guy is an outstanding Chief who truly cares about his people, but the overriding theory at the time was “why spend time on this Sailor when none of this matters for them, whereas I can make better use of my time spending it with someone that is for sure staying in?”

Now, I would argue that with this approach the departing member may or may not get an end of tour award, their separation evaluation will be less than quality, and the Sailor ends up wondering why on Earth they worked as hard as they have over the past few years, leaving a rather negative opinion of the Navy. Who cares, right? They’re leaving and moving on. They don’t care about this stuff anymore, right? Wrong. Maybe that person will relay the good as well as the bad when talking about their Navy experience, but the likely scenario is that the message being transmitted outside of the Navy is “milk them for all their worth if you do join and get out as soon as possible because they don’t give a damn about what you do.”

Obviously, this is not true. The Navy and the nation are extremely grateful for one’s service, no matter the length. But are these the type of people you want joining your team? When someone already has that kind of negative prejudgment, the deckplate leader that does get that tainted recruit has to work that much harder. If you’re a company out there that has leaders who don’t focus on the last impression, people eventually just won’t even apply for the vacancy….Another thing to think about, what kind of signal does the bad send-off give the people who do stay? It will certainly make them think twice about the amount of effort they put into their work.

Think of this scenario…You have a Sailor that leaves the Navy and you didn’t spend time with them–whether it was because they were leaving the team or because you didn’t think they cared or needed you–and completely falls flat on their butt and fails. And now they have to rejoin the service not because they want to, but because they have to.

What would happen if you had spent time a little time with the Sailor before they separated? What if you had used your intrusive leadership skills and helped the Sailor develop a plan for life after the Navy?

Deckplate leaders set their people up for success regardless of where they decide to work. Hopefully, the person succeeds at what they want to do in life and doesn’t have to come back, but maybe, just maybe, they will decide that the grass wasn’t greener on the other side and then come back because they realized just how much they enjoyed life in the Navy.

Did you think that your position in middle-management didn’t have that much responsibility? How about now? 🙂

The way we treat people that leave the organization impacts the morale and effectiveness of the team members that stay, the team members that move on to other jobs within the organization, and the potential recruits or new hires. As a deckplate leader, one of your many jobs is purely to develop people and set them up for success. Just like you would do for your children, right?

Remember, the send-off, or the last 72 hours, is just as crucial as the reception, or the first 72 hours. Bad first impressions can be recovered from after hard work, but it is even more difficult to recover from a bad last impression. And just like you only get one shot at a first impression, you really only get one shot at a lasting impression.



1. New blogroll entry — https://deckplateleader.wordpress.com/ « Crossderry Blog - December 30, 2007

[…] A strong, practical-minded leadership blog…solid and actionable stuff.  Look at the “Last 72 Hours” entry as an […]

2. Annals of too-quiet blogs — Deckplate Leader « Crossderry Blog - October 8, 2008

[…] Annals of too-quiet blogs — Deckplate Leader Posted on October 8, 2008 by Paul Ritchie One of my first correspondents was the blogger Deckplate Leader (here).  It was a solid, no-nonsense blog on frontline leadership by who was associated — or at least in tune with – the Master Chief Petty Officer of the US Navy.  I wonder if the writer went through his/her Last 72 Hours? […]

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