The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.
Next is DOD Government Executive of the Year finalist Rick Quade, secretary of the Navy and deputy for test and evaluation at the Department of the Navy.
Quade found a few moments to speak with us, reflecting on the past 18 months and key Navy achievements in 2019-2020. He talked about looking at the budgetary/capability and financial decisions from a holistic perspective. Quade stressed that their vital accomplishments cycled around literally and metaphorically “turning the switch to a more digital approach.”
Covid-19 forced leadership in the Pentagon and throughout the government to address how we operate and function. It made organizations face how we work and where we work; being onsite versus telecommuting and address the issue of trust, culture and operational necessities.
N94 developed a tool that captured day-to-day management and operational functionality. The Continuity of Operations tool N94 built in response to Covid-19 helped him manage his people and resources as it wreaked havoc on traditional routines. Quade’s office was able to migrate the tool into a digital planning tool to track workflow and assess tradeoffs during the budget build. The goal was to use one tool to optimize budget and manage the work; ultimately ensuring data was available, accessible and trusted in one place to ensure optimal data-informed budgetary decisions.
As we talked about looking ahead to the rest of 2020 and next year, Quade said his goal was to continue the migration to an enterprise approach. He stressed the need to challenge the status quo and dissolving stove-piped perspectives and priorities; again allowing the Navy to make informed and optimal holistic decisions.
“We look at this (data and workflows) collectively and iterate these/our processes,” he said. “We will mature that direction and take it to the next level, truly acting like an Enterprise – touching all warfare domains, test capabilities, R&D and operational needs.”
Quade stressed that the Navy has challenges — budgetary, environmental, threats, operational, etc., so it is critical to have the right level of knowledge at the right time to inform decisions in which leadership can feel confident.
Quade talked about shaping the next generation and how to recruit and train them for leadership positions. Understanding how millennials and Gen Zs look at the world and the selling “the art of the possible” will be important to working with them. What that generation sees as important is not what previous generations found valuable.
“Our challenge is ensuring we make their jobs exciting and provide the engagement opportunities that allow young recruits to see they are part of the greater good; serving their country and how their role impacts the fabric of the Navy,” he said.
Quade said his goal was to attract and keep the best. Providing intellectual challenges and offering flexibility and remote/compressed work will be pivotal to many future jobs in the armed forces. He anticipates some of the teleworking elements for Covid-19 will have a similar feel to what our offices could be.
When asked about breaking rules in the government, Quade had a zen-like response. He noted that we need to realize many rules are merely things we think exist but are not actual rules. Rather, we are our own impediments. He then said we should categorically break rules that make us ineffective; like needing five signatories for documents when one is sufficient.
The other point Quade mentioned about rules is that they should not hinder us from innovating and from taking risks as an agency.
“We must follow the law and do what is ethical, but we need to take more risk to solve bigger problems and innovate on our defense/government challenges … and, never take ‘no’ from anyone who can’t say ‘yes,'” he said.
Quade remarked that he could not have imagined being in his current position when he started in the Navy. He was fortunate to have had a significant amount of different jobs and that it gave him great perspective on the breadth of the agency and how departments mesh together.
He worked on a Russian built ship, flight simulators, learned infrastructure, testing, program management, and with each experience, he took cues from the officers and leaders for whom he worked. Quade’s formula for leadership and running a huge department is to surround yourself with good people, delegate authority and hold them accountable.
As we closed our conversation, we asked Quade what he learned from failure. He said that he would always remember an error that was found before it became a catastrophic accident. An aircraft component certification on landing gear was problematic, yet paperwork faltered, and it did not register as something critical or actionable. Though it was potentially a trivial issue, the secondary and tertiary impacts to his program were significant but unknown since the appropriate level of due diligence had been lacking.
For him, this type of issue is an emblematic reminder of how impactful things can be, the need to always do your homework and understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, who is responsible and accountable, and how it fits into the critical path.
Ultimately, Quade goes back to accountability again and again. One of the questions he always asks is “Who’s got the ‘A’?” That’s “A” for Accountability.