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Information for SDEF Sponsoring Companies
Frequently Asked Questions
1. The material you have provided discusses SDEF program benefits for DoD. What does the Sponsor get from participating?
There are pragmatic and philosophical benefits, some of which are unknown and unpredictable. Obviously, the Sponsor has, effectively, the use of a full time middle management on-the-job trainee for a year. Moreover, this person can be counted on to be a goal-oriented, type-A personality, with leadership qualities; used to working under stress in less than ideal environments at odd hours and meeting hard deadlines.
Sponsors are often surprised how much they end up learning from the Fellow in the areas of organization and leadership. At one Sponsoring organization, which was heavily populated with technicians who had risen within the company without management experience and training, the Fellow actually developed an enterprise- wide leadership training course. Fellows have also been used as impartial observers and sounding boards, free to express their opinions without job security fears. By sending representatives to other Sponsors for participation in the “Company Day,” Sponsors gain access and a view inside other companies not normally available. With an all-volunteer force and post Cold War downsizing, the number of ex-Service members in the workforce is gradually shrinking and in some new business segments, virtually non-existent. This program provides an opportunity for companies and their employees to gain a better understanding of today’s military, just as the Fellows are getting a better understanding of today’s business world. For companies doing business with DoD, helping to build this cadre of future Service leaders who are more educated in best business practices has direct long term benefits. Finally, this program is unique in that verbal reports are given directly to the Secretary of Defense and other principals from his office (Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries) and the four military Services. By aiding in a top down effort to improve the organization, processes, and business practices of the Armed Forces, all Sponsors are benefiting from better government.
2. You had a fellow at my competitor last year. Why should I not worry?
There should be far less concern than if you had hired someone away from your competition, or vice versa. First, the Fellow will sign whatever legally binding non-disclosure agreement you desire. Second, because of geographically separated follow-on assignments, there is very little personal contact between year groups that might result in inadvertent disclosures. Third, Fellows remain employees of the Federal government and are bound by law to maintain fair and open competition and adhere to standards of conduct forbidding personal gain. The principle of fair and open competition actually provides another mandate for us to offer competing companies the opportunity to participate as Sponsors. In our list of former Sponsors you can see a number of competing companies, which have participated without problem, some even in the same year.
3. What is a “Company Day”?
We ask that each Sponsor host a day of briefings and tours of their company for all the SDEF Fellows as a group. It is an opportunity for the executives of a company to present what makes them a leader in their industry segment and how they do it. In this way, some of the insights gained at a Sponsoring organization are imparted to the Fellows working at other companies, with the resulting synergistic effects. As long as there are no competitive conflicts, we ask Sponsors to allow representatives from other Sponsoring organizations to attend as well. Feedback from Sponsors has been that, for them, this is a big plus for the program. It gives them an opportunity to gain insights into and learn from a company that they would not otherwise have had dealings with. A common lament from Sponsor representatives who didn’t take advantage of the opportunity has been, “I know I was just too busy, but you should have made me attend anyway.”
4. What will the Fellow do at my company?
An overall goal of the program is that it will be a productive learning experience for the Department of Defense, the individual Fellow, and the corporate Sponsor. We have found the best means to accomplish this is to place a Fellow in a position where he/she can both learn by observing and learn by doing. The “doing” is accomplished by placing the Fellow in as close to a normal full time OJT position as possible, with meaningful responsibilities, tasks of productive value, and an evaluation of performance just like any other trainee. However, for the high level strategic management issues of interest, the Fellow can, realistically, probably only play the role of an observer at meetings, briefings, decision making forums, etc.
5. Where is the best place to put a Fellow within my company to both train and observe?
There is no one right answer. Fellows have been placed in virtually every business segment within a company except human resources. This is primarily a Sponsor decision, based on what the Sponsor hopes to achieve from participating in the program. From the program’s viewpoint, almost any position will do as long as the Fellow is also given access to be an observer at strategic level functions. Occasionally, it is possible to combine the two requirements into one position, but this is not a requirement. In general, Fellows are placed in one of two types of positions, either as a special assistant to a VP, assigned various individual tasks, or as a member of a team, participating in a group task. In this way, any lack of technical expertise in the business of the company can be mitigated. Also, it is normal for a Fellow to be placed in two or three different positions. For this reason, and in case the initial job assignment doesn’t pan out as expected, it is a good idea to have several suitable follow-on jobs in mind prior to the Fellow’s arrival.
6. What kind of background training and experience in my business will the Fellow have?
In the technical aspect of your business, possibly not much experience; in the management and leadership aspects, a lot. The Fellows are military officers, normally with 18 to 20 years of service, and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel/ Navy Commander or Colonel/Navy Captain. They are selected by their Services for the SDEF based on their past performance, expectations that their participation will ultimately benefit their Service, and potential to eventually be Generals or Admirals. This means outstanding leadership and performance in their particular area of Service, such as commanding aviation squadrons, ships, ground troops, or supply and services organizations. We usually have about a 60 - 40 mix of operational and support backgrounds among a group of Fellows. Remember, that the technical aspects of your business are of interest, but of secondary importance to us. The primary interest is in the leadership, strategic management, business processes and organization that have made your company the success that it is. That said, we are more often than not able to provide someone who is at least conversant in the technical language of your business.
7. How is the Fellow selected to come to my company and do I have any part in the decision?
The matching of Fellows with their assigned jobs is an iterative process, driven by the backgrounds of the available Fellows and the desired job placement of the available Sponsors. Fellows are selected specifically for the program by their Services and are nominated for the consideration of the Secretary of Defense. In a parallel process the Director of the SDEF negotiates assignment details with an equal number of Sponsoring organizations as there are available Fellows. Following this agreement in principle, potential areas for the Fellow to work in and any unique Sponsor requirements and desires are further discussed. When the SDEF Director receives nominations from the Services he contacts the individual nominees to learn the details of their backgrounds and any preferences they might have among the potential Sponsors. When all the nominees and their backgrounds are known, normally in early April, the SDEF Director makes a preliminary best-fit match with the Sponsor’s possible job assignments. He then contacts the Sponsors to propose one or more officers that are potentially a good fit and receive their concurrence before notifying the officers of their assignments.
8. When will our Fellow arrive and when how long will he be here?
Fellows arrive around the first of August and normally remain until the following June, about eleven months total. Sometimes the reporting date to their follow-on duty station will extend this time by a few weeks.
9. Will the Fellow be available for the entire period of time?
We will ask the Fellows to return to Washington in January for two or three days and at the end of May for two weeks to provide briefings to senior officials or participate in professional training events. In addition, there will be at least six “Company Days” at other Sponsors scattered throughout the tour.
10. Are there any other expectations for the Sponsor?
In addition to the “Company Day” visit by all the Fellows, the SDEF Director will visit at least once to discuss how the program is going from the Sponsor’s perspective. During their tour, some Fellows are expected to make periodic written reports by their Services and they should discuss them with you. At the end of the tour, all Fellows must make a written report and verbal out brief. These should also be discussed with you, especially to make sure no proprietary information is contained in them. Also at the end of the tour, you are requested to provide a letter to report on the Fellows performance. This will be used as an input to the officer’s normal military end of tour evaluation report and will be made an attachment to it.
11. If we agree to host a Fellow, what are the next steps in the process?
You will be sent an e-mail confirming your decision, along with any necessary material you do not already have, such as a strawman DoD – Sponsor agreement which needs to be completed. Select a point of contact within your company and notify the SDEF Director, if you have not already done so. Determine possible job locations within your company and discuss them with the SDEF Director. Second only to the Sponsor itself, the Fellow will be most interested in the geographic location, so this should be determined as soon as possible. Once this is decided, the specific initial job and possible follow-ons can be determined in an iterative process over a period of time. Part of this process will be a visit by the SDEF Director to meet with the Sponsor’s point of contact, potential direct reports for the Fellow, and any other company officials who would like to be briefed on the program. Please complete necessary paperwork as the required information becomes available.