What a Culture of Excellence looks like
By Col. Steve Tanous, 30th Space Wing
/ Published February 19, 2008
VANDENBERG AFB, Calif. -- In June 1997, for the first time, the Air Force published its Core Values - Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. The core values are a touchstone for all of us as Airmen in today's Air Force. One of the things the core values do is challenge us to establish a culture of excellence. In fact, the "Little Blue Book" states that "excellence in all we do directs us to develop a sustained passion for continuous improvement and innovation that will propel the Air Force into a long-term, upward spiral of accomplishment and performance." We see this in the heart of the Air Force's effort to find efficiencies and improve - otherwise known as AFSO 21.
Gen. Ronald Fogleman himself is quoted in that same manual: "True quality is embodied in the actions of Air Force people who take decisive steps to improve processes and products; who capitalize on quality as a leverage tool to enhance products, achieve savings, and improve customer service."
To establish a culture of excellence, the values of the Air Force must be internalized and excellence must be viewed as a continuous journey, pursued for its own sake. Every Airman must know the importance of creating a culture of, and serving with, excellence, whether it's processing a booster, training for deployment, manning a post as an augmentee, or working a service counter, we can't afford not to get it right the first time - the mission, or someone's life, may depend on it.
A culture of excellence is possible in an environment where teamwork, communication, creativity, a commitment to quality and outstanding service exist. Discipline and a dedication to continuous improvement are required, establishing an environment where the principles of AFSO 21 can take root and bear fruit. In order for this to happen, dynamic leadership must be displayed and continuously reinforced. Everyone who has customer contact represents the Air Force regardless of their role; we are all "ambassadors" who must continuously project a positive image of the Air Force.
To fully realize our culture of excellence we must all be "Strategic Airmen"- each of us must realize and understand that the impact of what we do each day reaches far beyond our work center or post - that our contributions are essential to the mission of the base, the Air Force, and the Nation. To that end our Airmen must be solution-focused, constantly engaged in the search for innovative solutions to every challenge they face, using their experience and expertise, as well as the wing's vision, mission, and goals, to find solutions to the challenges that face each of us every day. Our Airmen must take ownership of those things they are responsible for, strive to exceed expectations and find new ways to be better contributors; they must answer not only to their chain of command but also to each other for their attitude and performance.
In our culture of excellence, each Airman must know the importance of being a good wingman, where people work together as a team with a shared vision of a common goal for the betterment of their unit. Using that as a starting point, each Airman understands that being part of the team is what makes the whole more than the sum of the parts. It could be something as critical as sitting console as part of the day of launch team, or something as important as being part of the honor guard detail at a funeral. If we see an opportunity to take the team to the next level -- perhaps the need to change an operating procedure in an ops center or how we schedule honor guard details -- then we as Airman need to act to make that improvement a reality. When we realize that the team counts on each of us to find better ways to execute our mission, this will also drive us toward excellence.
What should be apparent is that there are three interrelated aspects of being an Airman in today's Air Force - thinking strategically, being a good wingman, and serving with excellence - and that the foundational nature of a culture of excellence will naturally move us in the direction of being Strategic Airmen and good Wingmen. More importantly, I need your help to make our culture of excellence a reality. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell once said, "If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude." I look forward to working with all of you as we make excellence a habit and take the wing to the next level in our journey to excellence.