CULTURE OF AIR POWER EXCELLENCE
- SA Air Force new values the
vehicle to excellence
"The survival of mankind
will depend to a large extent
on the ability of people
who think differently
to act together"
The truth of this fact finds no better
application than in the South African context. A better understanding of
the invisible cultural differences found amongst members of the SA
community is an issue occupying the attention of most managers looking
to improve their company’s performance. The SA Air Force is no exception
and its leadership, in realizing the importance of aligning the
organization with environmental changes and demands, has subsequently
embarked on a full-scale long term intervention of transforming the
organization’s culture to one reflecting the values of all its people.
intent with this article is (1) to describe the planned process for
transforming the SAAF’s culture, (2) to explain the need for analysing,
aligning and restructuring its set of core values and (3) to present the
new SAAF Values and associated supporting behaviours.
well known vision of the SAAF top leadership is to establish an
organisation of Air Power Excellence. To be able to achieve this,
especially within a turbulent, ever changing environment, a supporting
organisational culture needs to be in place. In this regard the Air
Force Board has already decided on a three course route namely (1) the
transformation of organisational structures and processes and (2) the
transformation of human resources through (3) effective, dynamic
strategic leadership. Transforming human resources implies changing the
what is culture?
looking at the relevant literature one finds that the angle from which
the subject is discussed, determines the definition thereof and
therefore a variety of definitions are found. However some common
thoughts do exist. Organisational culture refers to those values and
behaviours that distinguish one organisation from the next. It answers
the question of "what is making us unique?" and could therefore be seen
as the "personality" of an organisation. Culture does not have to be
seen (as it often is) as an abstract, fluffy concept. When everything is
taken into account, organisational culture could be seen as a reflection
of "how we do things around here". It refers to those commonly agreed
upon behaviours that are characteristic of our organisation.
act together" (collective behaviour) therefore forms the core of what we
refer to as organisational culture. It is a construct that is being
vigorously studied and researched, not only in South Africa, but
throughout the world. More and more emphasis is put on the importance of
effective human behaviour (especially teamwork) on organisational
a well known fact that for any organisation to be successful and to
survive in its changing environment, it has to adapt to these changes
and demands as quickly as possible while staying focused on its future
vision. Based on the PDSC strategic issue list and in support of the
SAAF’s vision of air power excellence, the Air Force Board developed a
strategic objective, namely to align the SAAF culture with individual
employee needs as well as the principles of business excellence.
Furthermore it is also required of all public service departments to
analyse their business- and HR policies and in doing so move away from
inhibiting, rule bound practices and approaches towards a value driven
culture, one being characterised by participating practices, innovation,
continuous improvement and the acknowledgement of the inherent
competence and creative potential of all employees. The Air Force is
serious in setting an example of how this can be achieved in the
military environment too.
doing a culture measure-ment
order to be able to effectively assess the existing culture of the SAAF
the "Organisation Culture Analysis" (OCA) was used for data collection.
This instrument in addition to providing actual culture data, also gave
the added benefit of a clear picture of the future desired SAAF culture
as seen by all members participating in the survey. The OCA feedback is
given in terms of those conditions that need to be in place for people
to be competent – it analyses these conditions (collaboration,
commitment and creativity) in terms of actual and desired situations.
OCA is based on the theory of competence, which has as its basic premise
(or point of departure) the fact that people can and want to do what
needs to be done provided that the correct conditions exist within the
organisation. The results of the OCA are given as an indication of the
extent to which the nine so-called "supporting conditions for
competence" are evident and exist in the organisation. The Air Force
senior leadership acknowledges the fact that the establishment of an
organisation of Air Power Excellence (its vision) will only be possible
through people and is therefore dependant on the extent to which these
condition under which people can excel are created in the work place. To
be able to do this it was necessary to create a clear picture of the
existing conditions as well as an indication of how people throughout
the SAAF would like to see them as part of the desired future
organisation culture. A 10% sample of the organisation was drawn after
which the actual survey was done during November 2001, including all
bases/units as well as the Air Command and the Air Force Office. Just
more than a 1000 members eventually participated in the survey. This
sample was representative in terms of rank, ethnic group and gender.
a case for change
an OCA report was prepared for each base on its own, the overall SAAF
results clearly show that the predominant culture of the organisation is
still characterised by non-flexibility, tight procedural and regulatory
control, a high resistance to change and people practices which do not
encourage collaboration, commitment and creativity.
furthermore show that there is a significant gap between the actual and
desired scores. It is only through closing this gap that the
organisation will move to a culture of strong enthusiasm and commitment,
one that is thriving on the inherent talent, creativity and competence
of its people, thus allowing the SAAF to adapt to change quickly and
SAAF OCA Results
It is important not to interpret the actual
picture negatively. It does not indicate that we do "right or wrong"
things, only that there are more effective ways of going about doing our
business. In following the principles of the competence process, we now
know where to focus our attention as leaders to ensure that our people
perform to the best of their ability.
the change process
Management and Renewal Services (DM&RS) at the Air Command was requested
to facilitate the change process and to present a proposed action plan
for transforming the SAAF’s culture over the next few years and to align
it with the organisations 2012 vision. After studying the OCA results
thoroughly and through following the proven principles of a full-scale
culture change intervention, DM&RS developed a unique change process for
the SAAF. The Air Force Board not only approved the process but has also
confirmed their full commitment.
process, consisting of a series of six steps, should not be seen as a
short term intervention, but rather as a continuous guideline for
changing/aligning all our practices, policies and procedures to
eventually reflect the characteristics of our desired culture. It has
far reaching implications for leaders in all areas of business and the
eventual success will predominantly be determined by Officers
Commanding, Directors and their leadership teams taking full ownership
and responsibility for implementing the new principles.
SAAF Culture Change
any change of culture in an organisation a prerequisite for success is
the unconditional commitment of top management to the process. The Air
Force Board not only recognised this important fact but has already
practically demonstrated their full commitment through various actions.
All senior leaders were requested to be sensitised around the principles
of the new full range leadership program. This program was updated to
include the essential elements of the organisation’s culture change
members of the Air Force Board were the first to attend the new program.
During the program a list of core focus areas for immediate attention
was drawn up, which will continuously be addressed on AF Board work
sessions. They will also be the first to be presented with the Models
for Leadership, which is the process to be followed to address the all
important conditions for competence (ie to close the diagnosed culture
a clear end state – the role of
a change process of any nature could be initiated and implemented one
has to have a clear picture of where the organisation is heading. What
is this new culture all about? What is wrong with the existing one? What
will guide our way of "doing things" in future? The answer lies in a
description of our values, what we believe and what we stand for. If we
do not have clarity on these, we have nothing to measure the "rightness"
of our direction.
What are values?
We can define an organisations core values as the constant, passionate
beliefs that drive the behavior of its people. For us they communicate
what is important, they influence overall behaviour and they inspire
people into action. Values can never be a vision in itself. While the SA
Air Force is vision-focused it’s behaviour is value-driven. They drive
the things we seek to accomplish and describe the things we will and
will not do, the behaviours we reward and those we condemn.
Values therefore have the
following importance in organizations:
what our common (core) values are is not enough - they also have to be
understood by all people involved in the process. Furthermore, awareness
of these values is worth no more than the paper they are printed on, if
people are not committed to making them part of the practical day-to-day
workplace. This will be the most important challenge for leaders
throughout the process.
new values? Since 1994 we became used to the PROUD-value system,
the first officially implemented set of values for the Air Force. We
also know that these values have been changed in the late 1990’s. The
question may rightfully be asked: “Why change them again?”
value system is cast in concrete and can ever be seen as suitable and
applicable forever. Values are always coupled to the organisations
vision of what it wants to achieve. As a first step in the culture
change process of the SAAF, clarity on its set of core values had become
important. Although we did have an official set of values, there were a
number of other value related inputs (value drivers) calling for the
revision of these drivers. DM&RS was requested to analyse and
restructure all these value inputs and to rework the existing values so
that they can reflect the true nature of our future desired
SAAF-culture. What were these drivers?
Fundamental principles of excellence. Through analysing our
future culture, it becomes clear that the Air Force wants to
establish a culture of
excellence and competence. We therefore cannot ignore the fundamental
principles of the excellence approach, which the Air Force has also
accepted as an internal tool for self-assessment. The excellence model
or approach is built around eight principles, of which the central theme
is continuous improvement. If we subscribe to an organisational
philosophy of sustainable improvement on a continuous basis, it has to
be taken up in the organization’s core values.
2. The conditions for competence. The
proper conditions for people to be competent and to perform to the best
of their potential were already referred to earlier. Core values should
guide the behaviours of leaders towards creating these conditions.
3. Senior management values. During a
work session early in 2002 the Air Force Board reached consensus on how
they as the senior leadership would like to see the future
organisational culture. These inputs consisted of values, behaviours,
ethics, approaches and important focus areas. This information was
reworked into a structured document and most of the important issues
culminated in the formulation of value 1.
4. The “Value Hierarchy”. Although it may not be seen as a pure
value driver in itself we know that values manifest at three levels in
the organisation – we therefore had to ensure that the core values
addressed all three levels. On the individual level we find the more
personal values, beliefs and convictions that you as an individual holds
as important ie honesty, integrity, etc. The intermediate level is where
team values influence the nature of interaction between people. Here
they determine how we solve problems in a team, how we make decisions,
how we communicate. The highest level of values is referred to as the
so-called organisational or performance values and could include
important principles/concepts such as performance excellence, continuous
improvement or customer care. Keeping these four value drivers in mind
it is clear that the previous value set of the Air Force was not
applicable anymore and that it had to be brought in line with the
requirements of the future culture and the work related needs of all
employees. The elements of these four areas were thoroughly analysed and
finally formulated in a set of four values comprehensively representing
all the important requirements.
the new SAAF Values
new set of (four) values for the Air Force indicates what we regard as
important for our conduct. It gives a distinct Air Force flavour to all
that we do.
of values, important as it may be, is not the end of the story.
Something else should happen to make the values really functional and
trustworthy: clarity on what the best practices and behaviours are that
we associate with the organisations core values. Each of the four values
is therefore supported by a clear belief statement that the leader must
uphold together with a set of behaviours highlighting the nature and
intent of the value. These behaviours must be seen as guidelines to live
out and practice these values on a daily basis. For example discipline
problem is a result of a lack of own accountability and responsibility
that is driven through a persons values.
is a brief discussion of each of the four new core values. It should be
kept in mind that these values attempt to describe our desired culture
and not necessarily what we are currently doing. It is what we strive
for and serve as the benchmark against which the performance of leaders
will be measured.
The four SAAF Values are:
Core Value 1
credible, competent and effective (transformational) leadership.
the most practical terms integrity implies doing the right things even
if nobody is watching over you. It is based on the corner stone of trust
an element of leadership that is fundamental to air operations and is
embedded in the four I’s of transformational leadership. In practice we
have already proven that the more participative approach of engaging the
work force is the only truly effective style of leadership. It is also
important to note that there is no deviation from the DOD Code of
Conduct, and that our values fully support this code.
the inherent competence of our people and believing that future
excellence lies in the hands of all our people – our most precious
behaviours associated with this value reflect how leaders create the
conditions in the workplace for their followers to do what needs to be
done and to develop to the highest level of their own potential. Only
through maximising this individual potential, will the SAAF be able to
reach optimal levels of effective air operations.
will (and will always be) the most important resource in any
organisation. Our senior leaders acknowledge this and are convinced that
without people we cannot strive towards a Center for Air Power
Excellence. These behaviours do not only refer to the relationship
between leaders and followers. They indicate how we should approach each
continuous learning and improvement
improvement is directly linked to our vision of being an organisation of
excellence. Knowing that we find ourselves in a turbulent and ever
changing environment, we have no other choice than to continuously and
proactively position ourselves for the next change or challenge.
are creative and to be able to face the demands of “doing more with
less” in an organisation with increasingly advanced technology, we will
have to focus on unleashing the full innovative potential of everyone
our SAAF uniqueness.
at this value reflects the unique Air Force “way of doing things”. These
are the things that bind us together and that create that all important
sense of belonging namely a “calling and not just another job”. It
reflect each airmen’s commitment towards the SAAF’s mission readiness.
NOTE: The term “airmen” is rank- and gender free.
SAAF recognises the fact that our leaders’ actions are instrumental in
maximising all employees’ selfless and committed efforts towards air
the role of leadership
distinct difference between world class and
unsuccessful companies was found to be the fact that for the former
their values were clear, they were adhered to by management and they
were understood down to the lowest levels in the organisation. In these
companies the good leader is seen as someone that is knowledgeable in
promoting and protecting the values. Nowadays people even refer to a
so-called MBV-process (Management by Values) When we talk about the
transformation of organisation culture, we see that there is one element
running like a golden thread throughout the process. Leadership. Culture
goes about what we do and how we do it. Followers react on what their
leaders do and eventually do like they do. Through either reinforcing or
disapproving certain behaviours they determine future behaviour. Any
effort towards change in company culture is therefore largely dependant
on the committed and wholehearted participation of leaders at all
levels. These commitments is summarized by the following leadership
Institutionalisation of values
institutionalisation of these new values has also been singled out as
the most important challenge within the cultural change intervention.
During the AFB Worksession of 3 – 5 March 2004 it was decided and
minnuted (CAF/C/522/4/2-1 dd 15 March 2004) that the communication of
these values need to be conceptualised and visualised by our people
through the behavioural patterns of eagles. It was decided that this
personalised approach will enhance the internalisation of our values in
support of our new envisage SAAF culture.
a professional and good quality communication medium in the form of a
visual assimilation was developed of eagles in action, demonstrating the
four approved values of the SAAF. A CD/DVD of the values together with
posters and key rings have been included as marketing material to
communicate these values on each base and unit. An example of these
the month of October 2004 CAF and a selected team, communicated these
values throughout the SAAF. Officer Commanding’s must therefore use
every possible opportunity such as OC communication forums and “full
blues day” to communicate these values on their basses and units.
more the operationalisation of these values should be done through a
process of socialisation, integration, and recognition.
Socialisation: The fit between the new candidate and the required
culture through induction and in-post training.
process of incorporating the values within existing practices such as
SAEM, business plans and policies and procedures.
process of reaffirming appropriate behaviours through rewarding correct
behaviours and correcting unwanted behaviours.
conclusion – the
new envisioned culture of the Air Force poses a huge challenge to each
and every leader, manager and supervisor involved. One thing is for
sure: if nothing changes in the organizations procedures, policies,
processes and day-to-day activities, or in the attitudes and approaches
of its leaders, employee attitudes and behaviours will not change
either. It is a well-researched fact that employee attitudes are largely
a product of the environment in which they work.
leaders and supervisors need to be involved right from the start
especially through examining their own processes, policies and
behaviours. Breaking with the past and old (ineffective) approaches will
not be easy. The first step is to realise that this is not just another
fad or flavour of the year, but a permanent change of era. There will be
no turning back. The process will require commitment, dedication, hard
work, determination and endurance. It takes time and patience.
then will we succeed in transforming our organisation and its people
into a workforce of engaged, committed and creative employees.
must therefore strive to uphold these values throughout the Air Force in
our cockpits, crew-rooms, offices and workstations.