Achieving The Mission: Navy Morale, Welfare And Recreation Programs Boost Recruitment, Readiness And Retention

Sandy Keehner

Armed with the most advanced technology, weaponry, ships and aircraft available, the United States Navy boasts the world’s mightiest fighting fleet.

But the heart and soul of this proud military branch are the active duty men and women. And while they are committed to serving their country, a sailor’s life can get complicated very quickly. They might find themselves at sea on a six-month deployment. Or sent to a foreign war zone to conduct combat operations. Or forward deployed around the world as part of U.S. national security objectives.

It can be challenging, even for the saltiest of sailors.

“Service men and women have a duty, and there isn’t a group of people who are more dedicated than U.S. sailors,” said Dr. Sandy Keehner, a performance improvement specialist in the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Division headquartered in Millington, TN. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t need services and facilities to improve their quality of life.”

The MWR division, which operates programs at 120 Navy installations and aboard 385 ships, meets that need by providing services to sailors that will improve quality of life. Onboard ship services include sports and fitness activities, as well as libraries and movies. At land-based facilities, community service programs are offered, including youth, child development, and recreational skills development programs. There are also food and beverage services, bowling centers, golf courses, marinas, Navy Clubs, swimming pools, and outdoor recreation.

As one might expect, the programs are popular with Navy personnel. However, MWR leadership saw room for improvement in the way those services are delivered.

“There’s a lot of competition outside the gate in most areas, and many sailors want to get away and go off base,” said Keehner. “However, if we can create an organizational culture that is more customer-focused and provide service that is extraordinary, we will increase loyalty and MWR will become the provider of choice. Actually, being customer-focused and providing extraordinary service is critical to everything that we do. It impacts retention and recruitment, product/service innovation, employee turnover, market share and financial performance.”

Keehner said leaders at MWR headquarters decided the rime had come to assess and improve the MWR organizational environment and “look to see what barriers keep MWR from consistently delivering exceptional customer service.”

In short, Navy MWR wanted to go beyond “just good enough service” and transform MWR worldwide into a “best in class service leader.” Navy MWR’s goal was to create an organizational culture in which customer-focus, exceptional customer services both infernal and external, and employee and customer loyalty prevail. In January 1998, MWR joined forces with AchieveGlobal to attain that goal.

Steps to Providing Quality Service

Starting in 1998, MWR and AchieveGlobal, one of the world’s leading consultants in sales performance, customer loyalty, leadership, teamwork and people development, began a six-step program to address the important facets of providing quality service. Navy MWR named the new plan “Star Service,” with the goal of implementing a more customer-focused approach to doing business.

Phase 1 of the program — gathering data on customer and employee core and customer service satisfaction, and beginning the first training sessions for employees — has taken place in Navy installations worldwide. More than 4,400 MWR employees have been trained in San Diego, Chicago, Millington, Seattle, Naples, Italy and Japan, as well as two sites in Florida: Pensacola and Jacksonville.

Phase 2 of the program — implementing changes based on the customer and employee survey, as well as training managers in motivating employees — is underway. Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago will become the first Star Service “Center for Excellence.”

“We’re waiting to get quantitative results from Great Lakes before we export a service quality improvement program to other installations. It is our intention to do that in 2001,” said Keehner.

Although statistical evidence is not available for how the program is doing, Keehner said the anecdotal evidence is overwhelmingly favorable. For example, the Admiral who is in command of the Navy Personnel Command (NPC) — which oversees not only MWR headquarters but other Navy “quality of life” programs like Family Services — has shown interest in exporting the Star Service program to all areas of NPC.

“It’s contagious,” said Keehner. “That’s the best way to describe it. People have noticed that it’s making a difference.”

Here’s a closer look at how Navy MWR has improved its service with the six-step process developed with AchieveGlobal.

Identify Customers and Their Needs

To improve service, you first have to know the areas where improvements are needed. Toward that end, AchieveGlobal contracted with Macro International to use Pulse Point, a survey tool that MWR had previously developed. Macro surveyed 3,504 MWR customers and 762 employees worldwide.

On average, MWR got a “C” grade from customers. While the survey found customers thought of MWR employees as generally friendly, caring, enthusiastic and willing to go the extra mile, they also felt there was room for improvement in flexibility, rectifying errors and following up on requests in a timely fashion. Customer loyalty hovered around 31.5 percent.

Not unlike employees in any industry, MWR workers identified problems such as a lack of incentives to improve and failure to get recognized for good work.

“We found we had to address product and service improvement simultaneously,” Keehner said. “We have to go beyond just personnel skills and look at the job environment, policies, tools, how we treat each other, how we’re structured, our motivation and incentives, and a rewards and recognition plan.”

Improve Products and Service

Using the Macro survey results, MWR created 14 program enhancement teams that include representatives from MWR operations worldwide. Each team includes frontline workers and managers who work together to create product and service standards. Keehner said the teams serve a dual purpose: getting all the various regions of the Navy on board with the program and raising the expectations for the quality of products and services.

“The idea is to ensure what sailors experience in terms of product and service is the same no matter where they go,” Keehner said.

Train and Develop People

To develop employees’ skills, MWR has adopted AchieveGlobal’s Achieving Extraordinary Customer Relations (AECR), Motivating for Exceptional Service (MFES) and Managing Extraordinary Service (MES).

The 4,400 employees mentioned above have received the AECR training, as have MWR directors in Norfolk, Pensacola, Japan, and at Navy installations in the Pacific Northwest and Europe. MWR also has the first AECR master facilitators (who train other facilitators) in the U.S. government, as well as 193 AECR facilitators and 74 Star Service coordinators worldwide.

With 17,500 employees worldwide, the undertaking is massive. Keehner said there have been challenges, like language barriers in foreign countries — where locals are hired for some MWR services, and scheduling training for all employees — “We’re a `24-hour business’ and many employees work additional jobs. However, the Facilitators and Coordinators have creatively managed to work around these challenges.”

Reward and Recognize

MWR headquarters has created a peer recognition program called “You’re A Star.” The Admiral who commands NPC — inspired by this Star Service recognition concept — has created a similar recognition program for all NPC staff.

The “You’re A Star” program starts from the ground up. Postcards have been placed all around MWR headquarters. Anyone who experiences exceptional service can fill out a card with the name of the employee who provided the service. At the end of each month, the division captain or deputy delivers the employee a helium balloon with “You’re A Star” emblazoned on it.

The employee also gets “MWR bucks” that can be used to purchase local MWR products and services.

“It’s a nice way to recognize people who have taken the training to heart and are putting it to use,” Keehner said.

Star Service Popularity Skyrockets

As Keehner noted, Star Service has become contagious. “A lot of people know about if. We’ve heard from sailors who say they’ve noticed a change in the service they’ve been receiving, especially at Pensacola and Great Lakes. It’s amazing how the Star Service image has taken on a life of its own. Initially, some (MWR)directors were resistant. However, once they’ve gone through it, people have told me the training far exceeded their expectations. This will have a tremendous impact on improving MWR as a whole.”

Due to the amount of exposure that Navy MWR has received from Star Service, along with the perceived changes in customer service, a great deal of interest has been generated by other commands throughout the Navy. NPC has already contracted with AchieveGlobal and Macro to assist with performance improvement throughout NPC. Commanders at Navy installations have also expressed interest in exporting the program to some of their operations. Keehner has even received testimonials from customers praising the marked improvement in MWR products and service.

How’s It Working?

As they move forward on this ambitious undertaking, Navy MWR is excited about galvanizing the talent, insight, and expertise within their organization to ensure a future where both employees and customers find irreplaceable value in MWR. While it’s too early to compare data to the original Macro survey, MWR program enhancement teams will create reports on how the Star Service plan is working worldwide.

Navy MWR is committed to becoming a “best in class service leader.” If the initial qualitative data is indicative of what’s to come in the future, the Star Service program will be a “stellar” success!

Sandra (Sandy) L. Keehner, Ph.D. is a performance improvement technologist who currently serves as both the point of contact for the Navy Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) Star Service Initiative and the Star Service field support team leader. Sandy received her doctorate in recreation with a concentration in programming and leadership development from the University of Maryland in 1988. She is one of only two certified Star Service: Achieving Extraordinary Customer Relations (AECR) Master Facilitators employed by the federal government. Steven M. Buckley is head of the Public Affairs Office for Navy Morale, Welfare, and Recreation. Currently working on his master’s in public relations, Steve has a degree in broadcast communications from the University of Memphis. Prior to working with MWR, Steve was director of marketing with Simon DeBartolo Group. Mary Patrick Walker is the publications and public relations manager for Achieve-Global, the world’s leading provider of performance skills training and consulting. Achieve-Global offers more than 100 results-oriented programs and services in the areas of sales performance, customer service, leadership, and teamwork. Together they have written “Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs Boost Recruitment, Readiness, and Retention.” The article starts on page 70.

COPYRIGHT 2000 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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