How the RAAF is overhauling workforce management

The RAAF has changed its approach to leadership significantly in recent years

More autonomy for younger personnel, a greater focus on innovation and technology, and more decisive, self-purposeful leadership have been three keys to improving workforce capability within the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), according to its Director-General Personnel, Air Commodore Robert Rodgers.

“The Air Force is fundamentally a large technical regulatory organisation that uses high technology platforms to create airpower effects,” he said.

“This demands quick analysis and assimilation of information, rapid informed decision making, empowerment to act at the lowest level, fluidity and agility of mind to reposition based on new information and actions.”

The RAAF has changed its approach to leadership significantly in recent years, according to Air Commodore Rodgers, who said that today this is more about “collaboration around confidence” which provides lower ranking personnel with more authority and autonomy in certain situations.

“In our organisation, a most junior person can stop an operation if they see a technical or safety risk,” he said.

“Straight away, that implies a different kind of autonomy that a junior person has in our culture than you might have in others.

“We have an innate acceptance of situational or functional leadership modes based on technical and professional competence. Regardless of role, everyone knows what we are here for – to deliver airpower effect in support of national goals,” he said.

“A most junior person can stop an operation if they see a technical or safety risk”

Historically, the RAAF has had a stronger focus on command and control in higher ranking positions, according to Air Commodore Rodgers.

“We were, in the past, an organisation that saw the most senior leadership as an amalgam of personal charisma and technical competence,” he said.

“The Commander is now not just someone who is the loudest voice in the room that everyone listens to because he’s recognised as best at his job.”

Instead, the commander can be anyone, as long as they have professional and technical competency, and a good level of social mastery – which is fast becoming one of the most important skills to possess, Air Commodore Rodgers said.

Social mastery is “the ability to understand and adapt behaviours and styles to more effectively motivate and grow the people under their care”, he explained.

“Of course, this means an inherently better understanding of those people and how they are differentially motivated is also key. Social mastery is not only expected of senior leaders, but of every leader.”

“Social mastery is not only expected of senior leaders, but of every leader”

Another key shift for the RAAF in improving its approach to personnel management has been the shift from a population-based planning model to a productivity-based one, in which a more flowing approach is taken to workforce management.

“[A strict population basis is] completely blind to a whole range of factors that are really critical, such as what’s the competency level of people within that grouping? How’s it distributed across different kinds of employment?

“I can quite clearly say I would like pilots of X type to be in this kind of employment for a period of Y to create whatever effect I want.

“And then you design other parameters around that, so you’re maximising the capability effect. And what actually happens is you start to treat the workforce not as a population, but as a flow,” said Air Commodore Rodgers.

Another key shift in RAAF’s approach to personnel is based on changing equipment and technology, as a result of recent successive governments.

“We’re basically changing out our entire itinerary effectively over a 10 year period of capability, and of course, when you change equipment, it means you’ve actually got to reskill, repurpose and change your workforce,” he said.

Image source: RAAF