Leading across generations: Army’s changing approach

Keys to success in building capability in the Army are really about having a total employment offer in

Managing the expectations of different generations has become an increasingly important issue within the Australian Army, according to its Director General Personnel, who said a number of trends were impacting the Army’s approach to leadership and broader personnel management.

“We’ve always had different generations in the Army. We start at 18 and we finish at 55,” said Brigadier Peter Daniel.

“What we used to have, though, is those generations would be defined by rank. So traditionally, you would have private soldiers 18 to 25, corporals 25 to 32, sergeants 28 to 37, warrant officers 33 to 40, and so on.”

However, Brigadier Daniel said there was a more recent trend towards older generations looking to the Army as a second career, or their first career later in life.

“In the last decade, we’ve seen that intergenerational mix occurring in the ranks as opposed to between the ranks,” he said.

“It has its advantages because quite often you’re able to change or manipulate what’s occurring inside each of those generations by using the ranks. There are some distinct disadvantages though; no-one wants to work with their mother.”

“The key to success in building that capability is really about having a total employment offer”

Another challenge faced by the Army is the idea of robustness (both physical and mental) in new recruits, and Brigadier Daniel said the process of building this robustness traditionally would have taken around 12 to 16 weeks.

“It now takes 12 to 18 months, so it’s well after they’re actually in the trained force of the Army before we see that physical and mental resilience that we would have traditionally had at a much earlier stage in their training,” said Brigadier Daniel.

A related issue can be found in the younger generation, which tends to enter the Army with a more self-centred state of mind, he said.

“There is a real issue with getting people to have an acceptance of working in a small team environment as opposed to working inside themselves and that sort of ‘me’ culture,” said Brigadier Daniel.

“You need to be part of a small team. You are important, you are important to the team, you’re important to the whole.”

Views around the education level of new recruits are changing as well, Brigadier Daniel added.

“[Previously] we wanted you to have finished Year 10 in high school, we wanted you to be responsive and adult like and we wanted to be able to train you to achieve an affect,” he said.

“Like a lot of industries now, a lot of the equipment that we use is complex and technical, it requires people to have a higher degree of education. [We are] competing in an ever decreasing demographic for the same skills that industry wants as well.”

While an older generation does bring benefits in terms of experience, Brigadier Daniel said the reality it younger recruits form the backbone of the Army.

“The harsh reality is you want your men and women in the army to be young. You don’t need 30,000 50-year-old Brigadiers, you need 28,000 18-24-year-old young men and women” he said.

“There are some distinct disadvantages though; no-one wants to work with their mother”

To attract younger candidates, the Army has developed a “contract” with Australia with a view to improving the employment “brand” and vision associated with employment within the ranks: “I am an Australian soldier who is an expert in close combat. I am physically and mentally tough, compassionate and courageous. I lead by example, I strive to take the initiative. I am committed to learning and to work for the team. I believe in trust, loyalty and respect for my country, my mates and the army. The rising sun is my badge of honour. I am an Australian soldier always.”

Brigadier Daniel said this had resonated with personnel “unbelievably well”.

To help support this, the Army has also emphasised its total employment offer, to reinforce the notion that working for the Australian Defence Force is about more than just a pay check.

“Individuals look at more than just their salary as a condition of service within the army,” said Brigadier Daniel.

“So the key to success in building that capability is really about having a total employment offer.”

This includes competitive wages, housing support, healthcare for soldiers and their families, leave options, the military superannuation benefits scheme, flexibility to relocate personnel in locations to be with their families, as well as physical fitness and nutrition benefits.

“We have an extraordinarily high level trust within the Australian community and we should do everything in our power to honour that trust.”

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