A Consultant's Casebook

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They Shoot the Messenger!

I presented our findings in the General’s briefing room with two flip charts and a pile of transparencies.  With a polished performance, I led the General and his staff through the analyses that (in my mind) clearly demonstrated that after removing the sampling bias from 1990 to 1991, attitudes toward military service had not dropped among young males.  Confidently, I presented the conclusion that young people’s attitudes are reasonably resilient, and that I would not expect a dramatic change in a brief time period. 

General Wheeler was not pleased!  He countered with the observation that (1) recruiting had gotten more difficult in 1991, and (2) that after he installed his new leadership team recruiting had gotten easier!  EXPLAIN THAT! The modern Army is built to respond to leadership!

I didn’t enjoy getting dressed down, but the General had a point.  Recruiters had reported that they couldn’t find enough recruits during 1991.  And by 1992 recruiters really were satisfying their manning requirements.  Clearly something had happened – but what, and how?

I felt comfortable discounting the attitudinal data from YATS.  Psychologists have been trying to relate attitudes to behavior since the study of attitudes began, and they have limited and barely significant results to show for decades of research – even under the most controlled laboratory conditions.  Outside the laboratory in real life, behavior is determined by countless, random, and uncontrolled events, and attitudes are unlikely to have a marked effect.

So, what else had changed in the recruiting environment that could have an effect as dramatic as that reported?  Recall that the mission had changed dramatically – twice during this period.  Initially, due to the reduction in Army personnel, recruiting demands were relatively low, and recruiters needed to put only one man in boots every month.  With the Desert Shield/Desert Storm campaign, recruiters were put under increasing pressure and needed to enlist about 50% more men.  The quick and decisive victory in Iraq meant that recruiting pressure dropped once more to its original level. 

So there, General Wheeler!  It wasn’t your inspired leadership that “turned the force.”  Instead, things got harder because you demanded more, and then things got easier because you let up.  But I didn’t dare bring him that explanation without some pretty convincing evidence.


(New!)  A model of Recruiting
See Model of Recruiting for more details.

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Last modified: October 19, 2000