Assessing the Fleet

On March 7, 2014, a self-directed study was emailed to Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Personnel. Titled “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon: A Navy Officer Retention Study”, the paper provided Vice Admiral Moran with a canary in the coal mine, describing a looming retention downturn using historical data and, perhaps most importantly, timely and relevant information based on primary source interviews with hundreds of U.S. Navy Sailors. 

Within days, the paper leaked from the Navy’s Personnel Command and made its way throughout the Navy.  The message resonated with Sailors at the deck plates — officer and enlisted alike — and caught the attention of senior leaders throughout the U.S. Government.  To their immense credit, Vice Admiral Moran and other senior Navy leaders have responded to decreasing retention indicators with personnel changes designed to improve morale and a Sailor’s ‘quality of service’. These changes provide commanding officers with greater flexibility to prescribe uniform wear, increase sea pay for Sailors on extended deployments, and reduce general military training requirements on commands, just to name a few.  

Larger initiatives are in the works although they have not been publicly announced.  Some initiatives, like expansion of the Career Intermission Pilot Program, require Congressional approval. There is also a desire to better understand the current retention downturn before acting.  This is understandable. The Navy is a large, diverse, and dispersed organization and more information is required to ensure the next round of changes provide the greatest return on investment.  However, the time to act is now.  

So, how do you determine the right course of action to provide the greatest return on investment?  

Senior decision makers are asking important questions.  First, is there really a retention problem?  Is it possible we are retaining the right quality of Sailor, just in fewer numbers?  Are previously cited retention factors — an improving economy, significant operational tempo, perceived reductions in quality of life, among others — truly impacting our Sailor’s “stay/go” decisions? If so, in what ways? 

The desire to further expound on the tenets of the paper — in a thoughtful and deliberate way intended to benefit senior leaders — led to the creation of an independent 2014 Navy Retention Study Team in March 2014.  The team is comprised of a volunteer group of high-performing active duty Sailors and select civilians who have dedicated their off-duty time to create a first of its kind retention survey — created by Sailors for Sailors.  All of our members are upwardly mobile, highly-placed individuals who want to measurably contribute to the continued success of the U.S. Navy. The success of this initiative is due largely to their sense of ownership for the Navy and their correspondingly impressive efforts. 

This report details the results of this year’s survey, including a broad analysis of factors which are assessed to affect retention and additional recommendations to avoid the shoal waters of a multi-year retention shortfall for several communities. Further, it is important to provide relatively unfettered access to the survey data (as appendices in this report) with more raw data to be made available throughout Fall 2014.  

While our analysis of the data is presented for your use, I suggest you don’t take our word for it — read and assess the data for yourself.  Then read widely, think deeply, write passionately, and act decisively to help retain our most talented Sailors in uniform. 

We must continue to cultivate a strong sense of ownership within the U.S. Navy.  Reassuringly, many Sailors have stepped forward with innovative ideas to improve processes and policies, whether as a Yeoman, a Lieutenant in the F/A-18 community, or as a pre-major command surface warfare officer. In the end, no matter your rank or position, it’s about asking ourselves what type of Navy we want to dedicate some portion of our lives to … and what type of Navy we want to leave for those that join 5, 10, 15 years into the future and beyond.  It’s easy to lay problems at the feet of our senior leaders, however it’s incumbent upon all of us to take part in solving this issue.

At the end of the day, the Navy cannot directly hire uniformed personnel into positions of responsibility, nor can it surge leadership, trust, and confidence.  Instead, we must explore changes to legal statutes and internal policies in order to retain our very best, brightest, and most talented — the continued success of the U.S. Navy depends on nothing less.

The 2014 Navy Retention Study report may be downloaded at:  starting Sept 1, 2014.

Release of 'quick look' demographics

Just over a month ago we asked sailors to take part in an unofficial survey in order to assess perceptions about their time in service and what their thoughts are regarding whether to stay Navy or explore other options.  

They responded.

Our survey ran for a one-month period, with notification spreading only by word of mouth.  When the survey ended May 32st we had received 5,536 completed responses, a statistically significant number that will provide our team, senior Navy leadership, sailors, and the public a timely look at what sailors are thinking on about topics.

All these responses yielded over 900 pages of data we still need to sift through.  We understand your desire to know more about the survey, so today we released a two-page 'quick look' which provides so highlights for the survey: who took it and simple responses to a few of the questions asked.  The full report -- to be released this fall -- will take a more in-depth look into the questions asked and provide cross-linkages that we think are most relevant.

Most importantly, we will released the 'bulk' responses a month after the report is released, so that YOU can form your own conclusions.

Stay tuned, as we'll continue to post relevant survey data points on a weekly basis while we continue to write the final report.

2014 Survey Closeout

The 2014 Navy Retention Study survey is now closed.

A sincere thank you to all who participated to help make this a successful endeavor -- we received 6,141 responses in only one month.

We are now looking at the responses -- all 868 pages of them -- and will be producing some intermediate products before the bulk survey responses are made public.

First, we'll post a report on our website with survey response demographics by June 15th: Who took the survey, the communities they come from, breakdown by rank, and more.

Next, we'll be working with academics and key partners to produce a quality report of our findings, which we expect to be out by Sept 1st.  

Finally, we intend to release as much of the 'raw' survey data as possible, so that you can draw your own conclusions. We haven't set a firm date yet, as we understand the importance of providing information -- including comments -- that protects the personal identity of those who participated. 

Again, thank you. We are incredibly passionate about this topic and are glad to see that so many of you are as well. Thank you for helping make our inaugural survey such a success!


2014 Navy Retention Study Team

"No Fast Hands in the Cockpit"

In the aviation community, we emphasize the concept of "no fast hands in the cockpit" when you have an aircraft emergency.  Instead of acting instinctually, it's important to assess the situation before taking action.

This applies to a small Launch Day hiccup with the survey site that may have affected some of you.  We received word of a typographical error on the main survey page and took immediate action to correct it -- unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, that meant anyone currently taking the survey was recycled back to the beginning of the survey without warning.  We heard about that issue, so went back in to determine why ... thereby forcing yet another group to experience a survey that wouldn't advance to the next page.  SurveyMonkey, the site powering our survey, actually 'locks down' respondents so that they don't risk entering inaccurate data if the survey is in the process of being revised.  In short, this was an administrator error all the way.

Luckily, we rapidly resolved the issue and most of you should have progressed through the survey without a hitch.  If you were affected, please accept our most sincere apologies!

A quick recap from the Launch Day (May 1st):  >570 surveys were completed, the website received >2,160 visits, and our Facebook post was viewed >15K times.  Thank you for taking the time to engage - and thank you for sharing this website with your social networks.

Best,  The 2014 Navy Retention Study Team

A Sense of Ownership

A heartfelt thanks to all of you who’ve followed the journey of the “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon” paper and for the thoughtful conversations that have followed in its wake. The survey released today and the overall study on retention presents an opportunity to get at the heart of what YOU think, and help provide that relevant information to senior decision makers, our Navy family, and the American public.

I’ve been humbled to have had many positive interactions with our Navy’s leaders over the past few weeks — officer and enlisted alike, and from all communities. Please know that this effort is being watched by many, and the outcome — and your support — has the potential to foster a climate where our best, brightest, and most talented men and women choose to remain in uniform.

In many ways the continuing conversation is about two things: What it means to serve, and the importance of nurturing a sense of ownership throughout the fleet. “Service” isn’t just wearing the cloth of our nation or collecting a paycheck from the government … it’s about putting the good of the Navy before yourself. The paper has also helped reveal that many throughout the Navy, and at all levels, share a strong sense of ownership. Many have stepped forward with innovative ideas to improve processes and policies at their level of the organization, whether as a Yeoman, a Lieutenant in the F/A-18 community, or as a pre-major command surface warfare officer.

Luckily, there are many in senior leadership who openly support the potential for positive change, including Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the Chief of Naval Personnel. He has made the time for several “all hands calls” with the fleet since the release of the paper, and is truly interested in hearing from those of us at the deckplate — what inspires sailors to remain in uniform and, just as importantly, what is pushing sailors away. We’re incredibly lucky to be having this conversation with a Chief of Naval Personnel, among other senior leaders, who are willing to listen intently, think deeply, and act boldly in support of our Navy.

In the end, no matter your rank or position, it’s about asking ourselves what type of Navy do we want to dedicate some portion of our lives to … and what type of Navy do we want to leave for those that join 5, 10, 15 years into the future and beyond?

Again, my most humble and sincere thanks. The support for the paper and for the 2014 Navy Retention Study has been tremendous.  Keep the constructive feedback and ideas coming!

All my best,


Solidifying the Team

We've worked hard to build a team and a board of advisors that effectively represents the diverse cross section of our Navy's communities -- both officer and enlisted.  These are upwardly mobile sailors within our profession,  who care deeply about our Navy.  Our advisors also include deep thinkers from academia who have helped us create a thoughtful survey designed to understand why you choose to remain in uniform ... and why you chose to leave.  These same members will also help us connect the dots following the survey, in order to draw the best conclusions from the data we collect.  

Too often we approach a problem with pre-conceived notions of what's wrong and how we should fix it.  Many senior leaders are concerned that today's budgetary environment won't support the financial incentives they believe will be required to keep our quality sailors in uniform ... but many of our sailors say "its not about the money."  Rather than viewing their stay in/get out decision through our own lens, why not simply ask them?

That is, simply put, the nature of this survey ... and we're highly confident that the team we've assembled will position us for success.

Rapidly evolving our process

A sincere 'thank you' to all who have reached out with comments, constructive feedback, and offers of support.  Please know that we take your feedback seriously and are continually tweaking the website to ensure clarity as to the purpose and background of this endeavor.  

To that end, we are currently in the process of collating many of your comments to create a  frequently asked questions (FAQs) page on this website, which will couple easily understood questions with correspondingly easy to understand answers.  

Please continue to keep the feedback coming as we head towards the survey release date!

-- The Team