Special Edition Number 1 - The Profession of Arms

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Fostering an educational culture at the Chief Warrant Officer Osside Profession of Armes Institute

CWO Kevin West

A review of military affairs in 1999 determined a need to transform the CAF to meet its future needs (Defence Strategy 2020, June, 1999). From this strategic directive the Chief of the Defence Staff commissioned the Canadian Defence Academy – which oversees professional development (PD) in the CAF – to develop strategic guidance for NCM PD in order to meet the needs of the complex security and defence environment predicted for 2020 (Canadian Defence Academy, 2003, p. 1). It was deemed necessary that the Non Commissioned Members (NCM) Corps of the future be made of “military professionals serving Canada and devoted to the profession of arms” (Canadian Defence Academy, 2003, p. 5). Among the eight strategic objectives articulated in support of this vision, two are specifically relevant to our discussion on senior NCM PD, the first being the progression to a “fully professional NCM Corps” and the second being the development of “a knowledgeable NCM Corps” (Canadian Defence Academy, 2003, p. 6). These objectives remain highly relevant today and clearly respond to a need to keep improving a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) NCM Corps that is regarded as one of the most professional in the world. Senior NCMs are faced with increasingly complex decisions that require an expanding list of skills, competencies and knowledge.

As the current Canadian Forces Chief Warrant Officer, I have a responsibility to ensure that future NCMs are developed to meet the high demands placed on them in the performance of their duties. The Chief Warrant Officer Osside Profession of Arms Institute (Osside Institute) currently delivers PD designed to build a fully professional and knowledgeable NCM corps. As the former Commandant of the Osside Institute I am well aware of the critical role it must play in the development of future senior NCMs through the increasingly important educational pillar of CAF PD. This paper argues that the Osside Institute should become an educational hub in order to ultimately meet the CAF strategic vision for its NCM corps. It also discusses concepts that will eventually support an organizational leadership project focused on examining how the Osside Institute can evolve into an educational institution.

Education Matters

In the ambiguous and complex defense domain of the modern world, the credibility of the CAF is based on its operational excellence. CAF doctrine recognizes that “to remain successful, the profession of arms in Canada must continue to adapt to maintain the highest standards of professionalism as it performs its duty for Canadians” (Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, 2003, p. 63). Leadership is a key enabler of that outcome. Since “intelligence or intellectual ability is positively related to leadership…and reasoning appears to make one a better leader” (Northouse, 2001, p. 19), education is of the utmost importance for NCM professional development.

Historically however, NCM PD has been primarily accomplished through training, which is “teaching that which is accepted or certified or canonical or otherwise thought to be ‘proven’ in contrast with education, which is also about teaching but for those things that are considered contingent or emergent” (Avruch, 2009, p. 163). Enhancing the educational pillar of NCM PD could create a favorable environment in which NCMs would better develop cognitive capacities–one of the five leadership competencies (see Appendix A)–enabling them to be better leaders all the while ensuring operational success in a complex environment.

To support the future growth of NCMs, Beyond Transformation argued that the CAF should “indoctrinate knowledge-based versus qualification based progression”; “develop strategies designed to enhance the critical thinking skills of NCMs”; and “enhance NCM-specific military, post-secondary level, accredited programs” (Chief of Force Development, 2011, p. 17). The Osside Institute is a critical enabler in meeting the future educational needs of NCM leaders. The primary stakeholders, the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force, fully comprehend the benefit to having their NCM leaders better prepared for the challenges of the future. In an evolving world, keeping the status quo and not affording more importance to education in NCM PD could create a potential risk to future mission success and institutional excellence.

Putting Education in its Organizational Context

Canadian military ethos is based on the fundamental values of “duty, loyalty, integrity and courage” (Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, 2003, p. 30) that in turn drive the organizational culture of the CAF as a whole. Large organizations usually display subcultures, with the CAF being no different in this respect. At the highest of macro levels, it is divided into its three services. Each service then branches out into functional capabilities such as underwater warfare, infantry or tactical fighter aircraft. These subcultures, and the micro-cultures found within each of them have their own patterns based on their specific roles. In other words, “shared assumptions that create subcultures most often form around the functional units of the organization” (Schein, 2010, p. 55). To offer a larger viewpoint to senior NCMs and thus provide them with the abilities required to effectively deal with this increasingly complex operating environment, the CAF needed to create institutions that could deliver broader educational programs promoting shared values and core knowledge.

The Osside Institute was the first step in meeting the demands of an evolving, complex and changing world as stated by Major-General Tremblay:

The complexity, uncertainty and volatility of the current operational environment means that our NCMs require skills and understanding that extend far beyond the tactical field. Consequently, aligning the NCM professional institute with a national institution like Royal Military College Saint-Jean is a winning solution that will optimize the transfer of knowledge and maintain our operational and professional excellence.

(E. Tremblay, personal communication, August 21, 2014)

The Osside Institute delivers professional military education considered common core knowledge for NCMs, regardless of the service to which they belong. Numerous senior leaders reinforced the need for education of the modern CAF NCMs during the dedication ceremony of the Osside Institute (NCM division turns a new leaf, August 8, 2014).

The Robert-Osside Institute is a very small piece of the all-encompassing CAF education system. The Institute itself comes under the umbrella of Royal Military College Saint-Jean (RMC Saint-Jean). In order to describe the framework of the CAF professional development system, it is important to understand the structure of the organization (see Appendix B). Military Personnel Generation Command is the overarching command structure. RMC Saint-Jean is a college level educational establishment dedicated to the development of young officers and senior NCM leaders (see Appendix C for RMC Saint-Jean’s organizational structure).

The Osside Institute is a division of RMC Saint-Jean and therefore shares its vision and mission statements: “The Canadian Military University recognized globally for the continuous development of leaders of the profession of arms” and “Royal Military College Saint-Jean’s mission is to educate selected personnel in order to instil the competencies required to maintain excellence within the profession of arms” (Welcome to the RMC Saint Jean, November 26, 2015). These statements align with the intent stated by the Chief of the Defence Staff:

I will continue to emphasize the value of education in preparing our leaders of tomorrow, to enhance their ability to make better decisions and to understand the context of the larger strategic environment. I will also ensure we continue to invest in developing and training our people.

(Chief of the Defence Staff Guidance, 2013, p. 17)

These statements also support the reasoning behind this paper which is the initial step in a larger inquiry. In order to continue to develop and grow to meet current and future needs of the CAF, the NCM Corps will have no choice but to expand its horizons and develop a culture of education, for which the Osside Institute can be the primary vehicle.

The staff of the Osside Institute is comprised of 28 military personnel, including command, teaching and support staff (see Appendix D for the structure of the Osside Institute). The institute also has 15 college-level professors supplied by the Academic Division of RMC Saint-Jean. Internally, key stakeholders are the teaching staff, military instructors and the professors. These two entities, although working in unison, have very different backgrounds and approach methods to teaching. Civilian professors and military instructors bring a complementary set of knowledge, competencies and experience to the table. As such, civilian professors bring a rich theoretical background from the academic world and this effectively meshes with the highly valuable pool of professional knowledge and experience the military instructors can offer. The result is a blended approach that best suits the needs of military education.

The Osside Institute educates approximately 1500 leaders every year through four programmes: the Intermediate Leadership Programme, given for the promotion to the rank of Warrant Officer/Petty Officer 1st Class; the Advanced Leadership Programme for the rank of Master Warrant Officer/Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class; the Senior Leadership Programme for Chief Warrant Officer’s (CWO)/Chief Petty Officer 1st Class (CPO1); and the Senior Appointment Programme, dedicated to CWO/CPO1s who will be employed at the operational and strategic levels of the CAF. The methodology in the delivery of these programmes is a blend of distance and residential learning, a model used by many modern institutions such as Royal Roads University.

The director of the Osside Institute manages, plans, and executes the day-to-day operations of the school. From a systems view, he is the key influencer of the culture within the institute, including that of the students. The director has direct influence on the tactical implementation of this change. The director’s chain of command is what is referred to as a direct report to the Commandant of RMC Saint-Jean, from whom he receives orders and direction. The Commandant of RMC Saint-Jean performs at the next level within the organization. Through his primary role, he will have the most influence from a strategic context to successfully realize this change. A critical aspect of implementing and sustaining change is team cohesiveness. In order to create cohesion the Commandant will need to act as “shaper, monitor evaluator, and implementer” as described in Belbin’s team roles chart (as cited in McShane, 2006). The CAF is built on a rigid hierarchy and remains deep-seated in its history and heritage; innovative thought and intent on change are often viewed unenthusiastically. Numerous factors such as “conformity to norms”, “systemic and cultural coherence” and “vested interests” can impede change (Burke, Lake and Paine, 2009, pp. 370-373).

The development of technical skills is the foundation of the effectiveness of the CAF; however, Major General Tremblay, commander of Military Personal Generation Command, stated NCMs also must have the capacity to think and reason (E. Tremblay, personal communication, August 21, 2014). Training and education are complementary to one another. “Education…is essential to the continuing development of effective training…without input from education, training soon rigidifies and becomes hermetic to changing conditions…the application of training to education is what keeps education…relevant and socially engaged” (Avruch, 2009, p. 163).

The Osside Institute is the delivery mechanism for NCM professional development, and in theory, controls the methodologies used to present the content of the various programmes. In the same vein, the Institute is also charged with the development of programme curriculum. Although the institute is given a fair amount of leeway, Military Personnel Generation Command is the external agency that determines programme content and on many occasions directs how the curriculum is presented. This often creates friction between the two organizations, which can have a negative effect on the Osside Institute in its pursuit to evolve into an organization with a prevalent educational culture. However, knowing where we want to be and understanding where we are, or “creative tension” as described by Senge (2006, p. 132) is the type of tension that could be positive and help the Institute reach its goal.

The Osside Institute is affected by a number of other external stakeholders, including the three services. The Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force direct their respective NCM professional development requirements based on their organizational needs. Even though the services have common needs, they also have specific requirements. The services and other various agencies within the CAF will often attempt to influence the curriculum to meet their specific needs.

A Systems View of the Operating Environment

Before examining an issue, one must understand the issue and what affects it. This initial step in a broader inquiry must consider all aspects of the systems influencing the Osside Institute directly or indirectly. There is a need to examine how each part of the interrelated systems influence each other, including the cause and effect on each other (Czarnecki, 2012, p. 22). The CAF is a large and complex system; its primary output is “Implementing Government decisions regarding the defence of Canadian interests at home and abroad” (About the Canadian Armed Forces, May 23, 2014). To accomplish this, systemic interactions at various levels within the organization must occur. The Osside Institute is but a small segment of the larger development system within the CAF. The difficulty in implementing change is the ability to sustain it:

“This responds to the idea that any system, in order to maintain its equilibrium throughout time and reliably accomplish its functions, has to be adequately designed, according to the larger system(s) in which it is embedded”

(Sajeva, Sahota, and Lemon, 2015, p.58).

Many components affect the potential outcomes of the system. Figure 1 demonstrates the influencers and their respective relationships with the system. As with any system, there are a number of internal or external influences affecting the organization. The internal culture of the CAF is the basis of how the organization operates in its daily tasks (Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, 2003). This culture is affected by numerous factors, the most imperative being an external influence, the expectations of Canadian society in terms of what they want or expect of their defence force. This relates to everything from what equipment they should have, and what is their state of readiness to how they expect military members to behave.

It is also influenced internally by the three services, which embrace their respective “subcultures” (Schein, 2010, pp. 55-68). The Osside Institute programmes are founded on the overarching CAF culture. In certain situations, tensions are generated from the services’ desire to influence the programmes with their respective subcultures (P. Turbide, personal communication, August 18, 2015). The political domain indirectly affects the Osside Institute production and operation. The federal government determines defence priorities, often based on society’s desires; these policies govern defence funding, which directly impacts CAF priorities, and in turn influences the Osside Institute. The complex environment in which it operates directly affects the Osside Institute. Although this is an external factor, it has immense influence on the curriculum. Three themes influence the results of the Institute: world issues, technology, and the future security environment.

World issues, sometimes referred to as globalization, encompass matters such as economics, conflict and humanitarian crises. This directly influences world stability. “Globalization, despite the plethora of opportunities it offers, also poses numerous challenges and intensifies social and economic trends that are potential causes of instability” (The Future Security Environment 2008-2030, 2010, p. 1). These unrests challenge the stability throughout the world and affect the future, specifically the future security environment. As the security environment changes, the Institute’s programmes are directly affected and modified in order to meet these changes. Another aspect is technology and its influences on identity. Illeris (2011) said, “Technological development removes the basis of certain professions and trades and radically alters the content of others” (p. 40).

In today’s advanced technological sphere, methodologies of instruction changes at a rate of which it is often difficult to keep abreast. Another subsystem affecting the whole is the learning environment. This subsystem is both an internal and external influencer, comprised of parts such as standards, methodologies of instruction, technology, and time. Standards determine how and to what level of knowledge a certain subject will be taught. The methodologies have an effect on the learning environment; how students are developed often determines how they learn. An aspect of the system that quite often has a fair amount of impact is time. Time relates to how much time (training days) the CAF allocates to the specific course at the Osside Institute. The time subsystem is greatly affected by other systems such as funding and defence priorities. An external influence affecting the learning environment subsystem is technology, in relation to generational differences regarding technology; this plays an important role in all organizations. Brody and Rubin (2011) stated, “certainly one of the most visible characteristics of the contemporary workplace is the proliferation of technologies…Information technology has compressed time and space and allowed individuals to engage in business transactions anywhere in the world…These technologies have, therefore, increased temporal flexibility” (p. 171). Internal to the CAF, there are various generational gaps where personnel who served prior to the digital age quite often have difficulties using, let alone adapting to, the technological advances of today’s world. To conduct an inquiry, seeing the system as a whole is essential because as stated by Senge (2006), “once we do, new alternatives become evident” (p. 343).

Figure 1 - Systems Analysis Diagram of Osside Institute
* Academic Wing reports directly to Cmdt RMC Saint-Jean


The central question explored in this initial paper was how could the Osside Institute foster an educational culture among its staff and also become the educational reference point for all NCMs. It is part of an Organizational Leadership Project through my studies as a graduate student at Royal Roads University aimed at examining what the CAF needs and wants of its NCM Corps in the future. Interviews with senior leaders of the CAF will be conducted to understand the institutional need and intent for NCMs in the complex operating environment. This will be followed by a large group data collection method known as a world café. So as to collect a good cross section of data, the session will involve military and civilian staff from the Osside Institute. The world café concept is designed to collect thoughts and experiences which will lead to the development of potential recommendations and course of actions for the Institute to consider.

The next step of this research inquiry will discuss other considerations such as the role of senior leadership in fostering this culture; the current state of the educational offering for NCMs; the key strategies that can push the Osside Institute in the right direction; and finally, the key elements that other institutions use to support the implementation and growth of an educational culture. One of the focal points of the final inquiry will pertain to the positioning of the Osside Institute as the national educational hub for all senior NCMs. This institution is the only NCM school focussed solely on the development and education of the profession of arms in Canada, therefore unofficially, it is the senior NCM’s professional education hub. This would ideally mean that both military instructors, civilian professors assigned to the institute, and students all converge at the Osside Institute to foster and further an educational vision what will hopefully spread throughout the NCM Corps. While the Osside Institute is the senior NCM school, it should also act as “Home Station” for all NCMs. It should, in short, lead by example on an institutional level that will evolve the development of our profession of arms through the acquisition of knowledge through enhanced educational programmes.

On completion of the research there will be a final report produced and presented to the Commander of Military Personnel Generation Group, the Commandant of RMC Saint-Jean and the Director of the Osside Institute. As the technology, future security environment and society is in a rapid and almost continuous state of evolution, the CAF is at a decision point for the future development or not only the NCM Corps, but all sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen. We are in a time of opportunity and the outcomes of the project have the potential of changing how the CAF develops in NCMs to meet any challenge that will come its way.


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Appendix A: CAF Professional Development Framework

Appendix B: CAF Organizational Chart

Appendix C: RMC Saint-Jean Organizational Chart

Appendix D: Osside Institute Organizational Chart

* Academic Wing reports directly to Cmdt RMC Saint-Jean

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