Defence Policy Review

DPR – Implementing for success

Much of the early defence policy discourse has been on the strategic environment and the policy content, in short, on the “why” and the “what”. This paper will focus on the other three questions, the “how, who and when”. These are the questions of policy implementation, or what happens the day after the government announces their policy statement.

Previous Canadian defence policies and strategies have often had a short shelf life as the world changed, politics shifted, key initiatives bogged down, or recessions arrived. If we are smart about this, we can build resilient and adaptive implementation pathways that can be implemented even as the context inevitably changes.

Why is policy implementation important?
Any reasonably competent strategist will advise that in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous circumstances, it is important that policy be not be too far wrong, but vital that implementation be mostly right. Every business school and every war college in the world preaches relentless execution.

Both the UK and Australian defence reviews were explicit on implementation. In the November 2015 UK Strategic Defence and Security Review, implementation was covered in the last Chapter 7, although Chapter 6 contains related elements such as innovation, defence industry and skills. In the 2016 Australian Defence Review, the final chapter 9 covers implementation while Chapters 7 and 8 cover defence reform and resources respectively. In Australia, the topic of defence reform based on its first principles review received significant attention.

Implementation is often under-estimated. Without implementation direction, the defence review risks becoming a statement rather than a forcing function for action. The defence review will ultimately represent a pivotal set of government choices, and they will want action leading to results.

The execution of a policy is often more difficult than its formulation. Without a careful consideration of changing conditions, enablers and obstacles, there is a risk that initiatives and changes will either not succeed or be delayed. Implementation requires balancing resource allocation with flexibility of approach. The positioning of enablers and mitigation of obstacles is often on the critical path for delivery, but is too often considered too late.

The defence policy will be a Cabinet decision, and its direction will drive efforts outside of DND. If the implementation goals and timelines are clear, then collaboration with other government departments will be easier as part of overall government intent.

The government is committed to delivering its commitments and to achieving results. It has articulated “deliverology” as its core technique of getting to outcomes. This methodology is based upon a clear definition of what is to be achieved, how to measure the achievement and how to navigate to success. This defence policy review therefore needs to be built for implementation via deliverology so as to achieve impact in a timely way.

The goals need to be framed and aligned with accountabilities so that achievement can be measured. This clearly implies a policy implementation plan, or what military professionals call a campaign plan. Such a plan has lines of operations, a sequencing of events across all the lines of operation, and a centre of gravity. The centre of gravity is defined as the source of power that provides moral and physical strength, freedom of action or will to act.

A campaign plan has a central narrative that is energized by collaborative leadership that levers creative and critical thinking. So too must our new defence policy. Its centre of gravity must be the shared sense of purpose, values and interests among government, Canadians, and their armed forces in its global context. With this shared sense of purpose, implementation can be steered through the inevitable turbulence, provided that flexibility is built in.

What is needed, therefore, is an implementation campaign plan. DND and the CAF know well how to do this, and need only couple the right military and civilian skill sets together to produce the necessary outline plan that can be progressively refined as the policy statement matures. In this context, the services and civilian ADMs that have the accountability to generate enablers should be engaged early.

Vital Dimensions for Implementation
The desired policy ends need to be sufficient to handle forecast challenges to security and sovereignty while fitting within fiscal policy. Policy ends must be aligned with policy ways and means in order to be achievable.

The outline implementation plan needs to set out enough top-down direction without inhibiting the departmental management capacity to find innovative, collaborative and emergent approaches.

High-level execution pathways must be provided for choices made, and in particular for the most critical delivery dimensions (or lines of operation). In this case, implementation direction should be clear for at least the following seven critical dimensions:

Engagement. How will Defence stay engaged with its key stakeholders and Canadians? How can we help Canadians get to know their CAF better through better access and outreach?

Integration. How does the policy explicitly derive from Canadian interests and values? How will defence policy be tied into foreign policy, national security, international assistance, arctic policy, indigenous peoples’ policy, and finally prosperity and trade?

Capabilities. What changes are needed to the military instrument to ensure capacity, utility and relevance?

Resources. What level of resources will be provided to achieve affordability? What level of support will be provided for the health and well-being of CAF members?

Enablers. What championship, competencies, processes and systems will enable success?

Flexibility. How will parameters be stated so as not to impede progress?

Institution. How will the institution of the CAF be reformed and nurtured by the policy?

Governance. How will decision rights be allocated to steer implementation?

The best practices in strategic implementation leadership are to:

  • Display championship, leadership and commitment;
  • Create a sense of urgency and relentless tempo;
  • Achieve clarity of role and responsibility for key initiatives;
  • Produce quick wins in the near term to build momentum and capacity for the longer term;
  • Address institutional culture in parallel with change initiatives; and
  • Provide incentives, rewards and consequences for results.

Implementation planning needs to occur in parallel with consultation and synthesis so as to ensure achievability. Mobilizing implementation resources and enablers will take time. Recall the extensive training, logistics and tunneling that preceded the successful outcome on Vimy Ridge. Implementation preparation throughout the policy formulation period will build momentum and produce an adaptive and resilient policy statement.

Implementation planning can exploit adaptive techniques in the policy statement such as additional option studies to prepare for future decision-making, prototyping and pilot projects, contingency plans in case of unexpected shifts and learning from others’ experiences.

A superb approach for flexibility in implementation is to avoid imputing a single number for input parameters such as the number of personnel, systems or dollars. These numbers ultimately become albatrosses around the neck of defence senior management. A far better approach is to set a minimum-maximum range for these types of parameters so as to allow optimization of outputs through the years as conditions change.

A High Level Perspective on Policy Implementation
After a prolonged period of strategic review and deficit reduction, some types of enablers are in short supply. Here are some of the pivotal implementation needs:

  • Support for an inherently collaborative (joint, combined, interagency, whole of government) approach to decision-making and moving forward, connecting back from force employment through force generation and development, to include better connection to Canadian society;
  • Identification of the most critical 3-5 capital projects as a package to drive their acquisition through to key milestones, together with fundamental transformation of the capability acquisition system and competencies, along with specific scope and timelines for capability innovation in the arctic, space, cyber and stability operations;
  • A blueprint for a 21st century CAF people system for the knowledge age, one that will increase effectiveness in operations, add new competencies, increase educational opportunities, reduce boundaries, attract and retain millennials, and lever diversity;
  • Creation of a contemporary digital platform for both operations and the corporate side, with the expertise to support change initiatives and exploit enormous data holdings;
  • Financial envelopes and flexibilities, to include labour-capital balance and any adjustment to align the Defence Renewal goals to the new policy statement; and
  • A holistic set of institutional and governance arrangements to sustain the approach.

Defence policy implementation planning and preparation needs to occur in parallel with the formulation phase so as to ensure achievability. Implementation planning needs to be aligned with the “deliverology” approach to achieving results. This is similar to the campaign planning approach familiar to the profession of arms. It will require leadership attention and clear metrics.

A resilient and adaptive policy will contain flexibility mechanisms so as to allow the departmental management capacity to find innovative, collaborative and emergent approaches.

A fully aligned defence policy review that incorporates implementation planning with strong continuing performance feedback will be sustainable over time, even as the external context changes.  

Major General (Retired) Doug Dempster, Centre for Executive Leadership, Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa

This article is based on the author’s written statement presented at the CDA and CDA Institute ‘Special Event’ on the Defence Policy Review. All written material from the event has been published in a CDA Institute Analysis: