The United States Air Force is a large organization with many policies that structure the behavior of its members. Due to the length of time that the Air Force has been in existence, it has found ways to balance the needs of the individuals that make up the organization and the needs of the organization itself (Rivkin, Jan W. & Siggelkow, Nicolaj; 2003). These policies while generally helpful to its members can also be considered stagnate and inflexible. One of these policies affects single parents in the United States Air Force, due to the nature of military service the military finds it easier to limit the numbers of single parents serving their country. While this is helpful to the military it is a hardship for individuals who wish to serve their country and gain the benefits of being part of the military due to the makeup of their families. For an organization to institute change, the issues need to be examined and the benefits and challenges of the proposed change examined.
There are three variables of an organization that indicates the ability of change of an organization. These three variables are the organic structure, the organizational strategy, and the complexity of the division of labor (Hage; 1999). The military is a highly complex organization that depends on a hierarchy of rank to maintain the discipline required. Due to the nature of the military and the very complex business practices practiced by the military to ensure the successful completion of its mission organizational change is a difficult process but by no means impossible.
While the military is well known for its adherence to tradition it has a history of innovation in the organization as well. Innovation and the willingness to change are very important in making that change possible. The Air Force has a history of willingness to try innovative technologies and practices that were believed to provide a benefit to the organization. The inclusion of more single-parent households in the Air Force would be indicative of that spirit of innovation assisting the Air Force in completing its mission as well as allowing more individuals to have access to the benefits offered by military service.
As an organization, the military functions similarly to business in revealing and communicating social expectations and values to its personnel and families. Concomitant with social expectations and family values are military work expectations. As a work organization, the military requires a range of personal and family sacrifices that dominate the lifestyles of military personnel and their families in accommodating to its work mission. Many unique and adaptive challenges are presented, because the military’s environmental context requires readiness and preparedness for missions crucial to national security (Bowen, 1985; Bowen, Orthner, & Zimmerman, 1993; Jensen, Lewis, & Xenakais, 1986; and Walker, 1985,). These demands of the armed forces dictate the selection of a lifestyle that pervades almost every facet of a person’s life. Few civilian occupations require such a high level of commitment and dedication from employees (Bowen, 1986). Albano (1994) and Segal (1986) used Lewis Coser’s notion of the “greedy institution” to describe the great demands that the military as an organization places on the time, energy, and commitments of service members and their families, demands that are unrivaled in the civilian workplace.
A difference of the military as a work organization compared to a civilian company is how intensely the military family is dominated by the requirements of the military. The military requires many sacrifices by the personal employed by the military and their family including frequent relocations, extended separations, and the subservience of the needs of the family to the requirements and objectives of the military (Bowen et al., 1993). In exchange, the military provides many economic and social supports to compensate the family for those sacrifices combined with a community lifestyle which allows the family members and service members an interpersonal support network (Bowen et al., 1993).
The Air Force has had experience with large numbers of single parents in the early 1980s. In 1981 there were over 8,000 single parents on active duty with the United States Air Force. This rising trend of single parenthood reflected the changes in society in which death; divorce or unwed parenthood became a growing trend in the population of the United States. This showed an increase of 62 percent when compared with the statistics gathered in 1976 (Bowen & Orthner, 1986). When the Air Force had to mobilize its units for the first Gulf War it was expected that the single parents that were involved with the Air Force would have the appropriate Family Care Plans in place and ready to be used. Unfortunately, many of the parents had let their plan get out of date which caused delays in the Air Force’s efforts to mobilize the units. This caused units to deploy without key personal while they attempted to find individuals who were able to take care of the children while they were overseas. This delay in the Air Force carrying out its mission of National Defense caused the commanding officers to rethink the position of single parents in military service. At the end of the Gulf War, many of these individuals were removed from service because of their family obligations.
Organizational change never happens in a vacuum there is always a contributing factor that causes the organization to move in different directions. In the case of the delayed mobilization, the Air Force chose to change its policies removing single parents from eligible individuals who could serve. However, due to the difficulties that were caused by the single parents, the mental image that remained in the minds of commanding officers was that single parents delayed the mobilization of the Air Force jeopardizing the mission. The timing of events such as this one affected the change experienced by single parents at the end of the Gulf War (Staudenmayer, Nancy; Tyre, Marcie; and Perlow, Leslie (2002).
An alternative direction that would be a desirable change is allowing single parents to return to active duty for the Air Force but be limited to the Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) that do not regularly deploy. For this to happen several preemptory changes need to occur. The first thing that would need to occur is the alteration of the schemas currently in place by active-duty military members that place single parents in a derogatory mental view. Single parents face possible discrimination from the military leaders who have questioned the commitment of single parents and their ability to deal with the demands of military life (Bowen, Gary, L; Orthner, Dennis, K; & Zimmerman, Laura, I, 1993).
When changing an organization especially one that has as many members as the Air Force it is important to take into account the difficulties that may be encountered. Some of these difficulties are organizational politics, strong cultural norms, and socialization procedures, poor timing, and the lack of the necessary resources to carry out the change (Libianca, Giuseppe; Gray, Barbara; Brass, Daniel J. 2000). The military has an intensive training program that takes recruits and commissioned officers and changes their mental processes so that they conform to military life. Due to this intensive training deeply embedded schemas have been created that need to be addressed before the policies affecting single-parents returning to the Air Force can be addressed. A schema is a cognitive framework that gives form and meaning to experiences and contains general knowledge about a domain (Bowen, Gary, L; Orthner, Dennis, K; & Zimmerman, Laura, I, 1993). Some schemas also allow individuals to anticipate actions in social situations and are referred to as scripts (Bowen, Gary, L; Orthner, Dennis, K; & Zimmerman, Laura, I, 1993). Due to the enduring nature of these cognitive processes, it will be very important to address them in such a manner that allows single parents to serve on active duty is accepted by the Air Force’s collective schema.
Another factor of organizational change is organizational learning. When the Air Force changed the policy limiting single parents from serving in the military it was in response to what it learned during the mobilization effort of the first Gulf War. Organizational learning happens when any of the organization’s units acquire knowledge that it recognizes as potentially useful to the organization (Huber, George P., 1991). Since most organizations have activities that are either intended to gather more information or disperse that information to other members of the organization the information can flow in both directions through the organization (Huber, George P., 1991). The military is very adept at disseminating the information that is vital to its success such as its traditions, obligations, mores, and beliefs. Because of this flow of information, the policy changes must affect either the individuals in command situations and the newly enlisted or commissioned officer. By having the information flow through the organization from both directions it will reach more individuals faster and hopefully display a quicker adaptation of the new policies.
By changing the policies affecting single parents in military service the military will gain access to a larger population of suitable candidates for military service. These individuals would gain the job security that military service offers as compensation for the sacrifices of time away from family that could be required. Also unlike their civilian counterparts, single parents in the Armed Forces are all employed in a job with reasonable job security with excellent benefits for them and their families. Single parents in the civilian world especially females face high unemployment or underemployment and a lack of support services including access to medical services.
Another theory that is examined in organizational change situations is the theory of structural inertia (Hannan, Michael T; Polos, Laszlo; Carroll, Glenn R., 2003). The original definition of this theory was that structural inertia was only valid when dealing with the core features of the organization, the features that were on the edges of the company or organization were not affected by this (Hannan, Michael T; Polos, Laszlo; Carroll, Glenn R., 2003). When dealing with the military because of its size and the traditions that surround it recognizing and adapting to issues that will cause a delay is paramount to the success of the project. There are at least four types of issues that will cause delays inside a process. They are structural processes, institutional processes, political processes, and learning processes (Hannan, Michael T; Polos, Laszlo; Carroll, Glenn R., 2003). The policy change of allowing single parents the ability to enlist or accept a commission in the military will have to adapt to these processes so that the process is as streamlined as possible.
Due to the nature of this change, it would be recommended to take the crawl-walk-run approach. This would allow sufficient time between each phase to fully disseminate the information to all levels of the organization. Because of the nature of the Air Force, all of the delay-causing processes may have to be addressed in each phase. In each phase, measures should be taken to minimize the possible disruptions to the policy change.
In the crawl, stage training would begin to change the mental schemas of single parents from the individuals already serving on active duty. This training would be considered on-the-job training for the individuals who have completed their basic recruit training and are currently at their duty location. For individuals that are going through the basic recruit training, this new policy will be taught to them there so that they will be able to avoid any preconceived notions from their command. In this phase, measures need to be taken for the structural, institutional politics and learning processes. To address the needs of the structural processes the combined training from the command structure to the newest recruit will ensure that the information is sent to all individuals serving in the Air Force. The institutional processes are addressed through the education effort and ensuring that the policy is widely known. The political process is addressed by sending the new training materials through the chain of command to Congress so that the policymakers are aware of the change and the phases through which the change will be created. The learning process affects organizational learning which will change the belief that single parents are not fit to serve in the military due to their obligations to their children and changing that mental schema so that they are seen as fully functional members of the military with the same job requirements and responsibilities.
The walk phase would include changing the enlistment and commissioning guidelines so that single parents could apply for specific Military Occupational Specialties. There are several Military Occupational Specialties that do not generally deploy. These include but are not limited to veterinarians, veterinarian’s assistants, and clerical positions. While limiting single parents to these types of jobs could be considered inappropriate they have the benefit of not deploying frequently so that the single parent could remain with their children. This stage also will need to address the four processes. The structural processes are addressed through the adaption of the recruiting process to showcase the types of jobs available to single parents rather than denying them entry into the service because of the relationship status. The institutional processes are addressed by changing the criteria of the enlistment process so that single parents would be able to join the military as long as they chose one of the approved Military Occupational Specialties. The political process is addressed through gaining the approval of the recruiting command and Congress for adapting which Military Occupational Specialties single parents can apply for. The learning process affects organizational learning which will change the belief that single parents are not fit to serve in the military due to their obligations to their children and changing that mental schema so that they are seen as fully functional members of the military with the same job requirements and responsibilities. With limitations on the types of jobs that they would be allowed to have would allow single parents to fulfill the terms of their contracts without having to deploy.
The run phase would entail passing the policy through Congress and implementing the policy in the recruiting stations. The run phase is the phase when all of the initial work has been completed and single parents can enlist or accept a commission in the Air Force. This phase integrates the learning accomplished in the crawl and walks phase with the actual beginning of the recruitment of single parents. As this is the last phase of the organizational change it will be closely monitored by the command structure to ensure that if there are any difficulties that the situation is resolved quickly and painlessly. In monitoring this phase the four processes are again addressed. The structural processes are addressed through the promotion of the recruiting process showcasing the types of jobs available to single parents and accepting their entry into the service despite the relationship status. The institutional process is addressed through specific Military Occupational Specialties that would best suit the needs of the single parents and the needs of the Air Force. The political process is addressed through the approval of the recruiting command and Congress of the adaptation of the recruitment process for single parents. The learning process affects organizational learning which will change the belief that single parents are not fit to serve in the military due to their obligations to their children and changing that mental schema so that they are seen as fully functional members of the military with the same job requirements and responsibilities. The limitations in place for the types of jobs that they would be allowed to have would allow single parents to fulfill the terms of their contracts without having to deploy as often as other members of the Air Force.
While single parents would still face some issues from the Air Force because of their status and the changes that would be made to accommodate their enlistment or commission, the single parents would be able to gain access to the benefits and obligations of military service. They would gain valuable job skills which could be used in both the civilian world and the Air Force should they choose to lengthen their service time. Creating the situation in which organizational change occurs can be a difficult process especially when the organization is as steeped in tradition as one of the branches of military service. However, by being aware of the mental schemas and potential problems that could appear while the change process is ongoing it would be possible for that change to be as painless as possible. This change would benefit the single parents through access to a stable job with good benefits and would benefit the Air Force by bringing in an infusion of recruits and commissioned officers for the next generation.
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