DAHLGREN, VA. – Every month, at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) warfare centers nationwide, newly promoted federal employees become first-time supervisors.
Even when these promotions are anticipated or long awaited, a plethora of questions arise regarding the responsibilities and mechanics involved with leading teams of scientists, engineers, or business professionals.
Early on, in one form or another, this question is asked: “How will I begin to manage the many leadership and personnel challenges ahead?”
This past year, new supervisors within the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) and Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) communities found that ‘Propel’ could answer their questions and provide essential guidance, training, and mentorship.
“Propel is a pretty special course and, unlike many mandatory training courses, employees are asking to attend Propel,” said Lindsey Abair, Propel Program lead, after teaching a segment of the course held at NSWC Dahlgren Division, June 18-22. “Propel provides practical tools to de-mystify the expectations and responsibilities of a supervisor, and word has been spreading throughout the warfare centers.”
Propel – a five-day course for new first-line supervisors at all NSWC and NUWC divisions – provides a basic awareness of warfare center expectations for supervisors, and the interactive class aids new supervisors in interpreting workplace environments to find and use organizational resources for appropriate, timely supervisory actions.
Like university alumni returning to their alma mater to lecture or teach, new supervisors covet opportunities to continue engaging in Propel by speaking at the monthly classes held at one of the warfare center divisions.
“It is becoming more common that supervisors, old and new, are reaching out to me asking how they can get into the course,” said Abair, who is based at NUWC Keyport Division. “Even after graduating, we are seeing past students wanting to give back to the program.”
For example, Human Systems Engineering Branch Head Danielle Merket – who attended Propel at NUWC Newport Division in April – hosted students at the NSWCDD Human Performance Laboratory during the last Propel course. Merket and her team briefed the new supervisors on the history and capabilities of human systems integration science and engineering technical capability at Dahlgren. Moreover, they witnessed demonstrations of virtual reality technology that showed how leveraging commercially available technologies can enhance Navy design and training efforts with high-fidelity simulation capabilities at lower costs with shorter implementation times.
“We have many projects and programs that are connected with other warfare center divisions,” said Kim Thornton, supervisor training manager for NSWCDD Leadership Development Programs who coordinated the course at Dahlgren. “The tour really showcased the great technical work we do here and how it complements, connects, and impacts other divisions.”
The Propel students’ NSWC Dahlgren Division tour also featured the Potomac River Test Range and the Electromagnetic Railgun Facility. The new supervisors – briefed on railgun design parameters and test operations – discussed the use of electric weapons on future Navy combatants where the need for electric power will continue to grow and improve combat capability.
Throughout their course and tour, interactions among students and instructors from warfare center divisions in California, Washington, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia continuously took place as answers to questions yielded further discussions, collaboration, and feedback.
“We consistently receive feedback about the importance of cross-division interaction,” said Abair. “There is definite value in building the relationships across divisions and exposing new supervisors to divisions they may have previously known very little about. The exposure to the bigger warfare center community adds a level of strategic thinking and cross organizational networking and synergy not available in off-the-shelf or division-specific training programs.”
The knowledge, real-world cases, and networking strategies that experienced supervisors and instructors from different divisions brought to Dahlgren – and bring to each host’s site – show the new supervisors that they are not alone in their struggles or challenges.
“Other supervisors can relate to problems or concerns that are brought up from different divisions,” said Thornton. “Propel also promotes cross-divisional collaboration by encouraging networking and comraderies among the students. This will ultimately lead to high-velocity learning, as students get back to their home divisions and reach out to their classmates for questions or to check in on goals. I believe that when we can connect with others, we can grow and learn more than if we are on our own.”
Propel – designed to connect students with warfare center supervisors via real life examples and case studies from the NSWC and NUWC workforce – is taught by warfare center division supervisors and subject matter expert guest presenters in human resources and business. New supervisors from all divisions come together to attend Propel, traveling to another division as needed in order to take the course within their first few months on the job when it will be of maximum value.
“My favorite part of being an instructor is helping others to succeed and seeing them find a lightbulb moment, where an idea or answer from the class triggers a solution for them,” said Thornton. “By creating an atmosphere of open dialogue and sharing, I feel like I learn just as much as the students in the class do.”
More importantly, the course helps about 20 new supervisors a month across the warfare centers by allowing them a space to ask their questions and get some advice on situations they are already facing.
“The subject matter experts help students learn what difficulties exist in this job and how to avoid them, or at least manage them better,” said Thornton. “The benefit of an in-class training is having experts right there who can answer questions. In the meantime, students learn the answers to questions they didn’t know they had.”
Propel’s emphasis on practical leadership and supervisory skills empowers employees as they transform to a supervisory mindset. Students leave the classroom with relevant and concrete tools enabling them to effectively engage their workforce, give constructive feedback, manage misconduct, and staff effective teams.
“First-line supervisors are the heartbeat of our organization,” said Donald McCormack, executive director for NSWC and NUWC. “They staff, train, and equip the workforce to meet both the needs of today and the challenges of the future. Their jobs are difficult, and to better support them, NAVSEA warfare centers are investing in new programs and resources for supervisors across the organization."
Propel includes practical tools that new supervisors can immediately apply to manage the leadership and personnel challenges they will face, while jump-starting their knowledge on human resources topics necessary for all federal supervisors. Propel students learn more about the warfare centers as organizations, what is expected of them as supervisors, who they are as individuals, who they need to be as leaders, how to ensure their teams are engaged and know how to succeed, and ways to effectively manage their time.
The class was designed to be taken within 90 days of being selected as a new supervisor. Students leave the classroom with relevant and practical tools and tips they can implement immediately, as well as a better understanding of the rules and regulations that apply to supervisors in the federal government.
“Propel helps supervisors be as successful as possible in their new role, and that includes how to help motivate and engage their employees,” said Thornton. “More engaged employees lead to a more productive workforce, which means the warfare centers as a whole are more successful in meeting their missions.”