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Canadian Forces Transformation

CDS, General Rick Hillier, visits Afghanistan

DND photo AR2007-A014-0006 by Sergeant Craig Fiander

CDS, General Rick Hillier, visits Afghanistan, 12 March 2007.

Inside Canadian Forces Transformation

by Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Michael K. Jeffery, CMM, CD

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Change is a constant in any organization. The emergence of new structures, the acquisition of new equipment with different capabilities, the adoption of new technology, or the development of new processes or doctrines are normal evolutionary changes for any organization. But fundamental change is rare. Institutions – in particular military institutions – tend to be conservative and to eschew new directions that create turmoil and risk. Fundamental change occurs for a variety of reasons: new threats, the emergence of disruptive technologies, new doctrine or concepts, and changing resource pressures, to name a few. However, historically, such pressures exist for some considerable time, without anything but minor organizational ‘tinkering’ having occurred. Real change requires a catalyst, either a significant military event, usually a defeat, or the emergence of a leader with a new vision and the courage to implement it.

General Rick Hillier assumed command of the Canadian Forces (CF) on 4 February 2005. He arrived with a vision for a very different CF, a ‘transformed’ military institution that he commenced to implement immediately. What followed was the start of what may be the most significant change to the CF in over half a century.

This article highlights the major points in a book-long case study on institutional leadership during CF Transformation – Inside Canadian Forces Transformation: Institutional Leadership as a Catalyst for Change.1  The study took a ‘snapshot’ of the first two years of CF transformation, 2005-2007.  However, given that the year 2008 was a period of consolidation of the transformation, the conclusions, assessment, and future challenges are relevant as of 2008. As such, the study essentially reflects a three-year history, 2005-2008, of CF Transformation. 
This article focuses upon the CF institutional leader and intends to show how institutional leaders achieve real change. Equally, it addresses the difficulties and failures encountered. It provides an analysis of CF Transformation as an example of institutional leadership in action. It refers succinctly to the chronology of events, describes the changes, analyzes what worked and what did not, provides insight into the institutional leadership and change management lessons learned, and attempts to highlight the challenges that the CF will face as it continues to transform. Because that 43,000-word book is distilled here into a 6000-word article, readers are encouraged continually to cross-reference their review of this article with the book itself.

In building the case study, the CF manual, Leadership in the Canadian Forces: Leading the Institution, was used as the doctrinal foundation. This work was supplemented with references on change management theory, with the principal change reference being John Kotter's Leading Change.2 The case study was not an exhaustive work; rather, it was a ‘snapshot’ of a process that continues to evolve. The case study is meant to be widely read, and attempts were made to frame it in a readable style. (In this vein, the male personal pronoun has been used throughout, vice an alternating approach, or the more cumbersome ‘he/she.’)  Finally, while many senior leaders within the CF, including the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), were generous with their time and perspectives, the views and analysis in this case study are those of the author. In this context, where commentary reflects the position of the CF, the CDS or other senior officers, that is because it was assessed as such, and may not necessarily reflect CF policy or the opinions of any member of the CF.

Context and Background

In order to understand the magnitude and importance of CF Transformation, it is vital to establish an understanding of what has gone before. The CF has not remained stagnant, but has undergone a considerable number of changes over the years. It has instituted new strategies and policies as required by government direction, adapted its operational structure and doctrine as required by changing threats, and adopted new technology as the operational environment demands and resources permit. Events as significant as the integration of the navy, army, and air force into the Canadian Forces and the end of the Cold War, as well as many incremental changes, were essential to creating the demand for more fundamental change, and for setting the conditions that made CF Transformation possible.

Perhaps the most sobering era for the CF was the time frame 1990-2005, which witnessed the emergence of a new World Order; the First Gulf War; Canadian troops deployed to the Balkans in 1992; reductions to the defence budget in the 1990s; and a Second Gulf War. This period was characterized by significantly declining operational capabilities, serious equipment shortcomings, inadequate personal protective equipment, eroding morale of the troops, and a deplorable manner in which casualties, both physical and mental, were handled when personnel were repatriated.  Events of this period also called into question the ethics and professionalism of the leadership. Most noteworthy was the ‘Somalia Crisis,’ which included the torture and murder of a Somali youth by Canadian soldiers. The government formed a Commission of Inquiry, which led to other investigations and inquiries on a range of issues, and to the condemnation of the military for its treatment of its personnel. It was a very bleak period for the CF.

Accordingly, by the end of the 20th Century, the CF faced an array of problems: it was structurally and culturally constipated; focused upon industrial age warfare; a hollow force with declining military effectiveness, after years of economies driven by  ‘shaving the ice cube’; a high, indeed, unsustainable operational tempo exacerbated by the reduction in personnel capacity; a presumption of professionalism and a belief that specific failings were only aberrations; declining institutional cohesion;  poor and declining morale; and the lack of a clear and positive vision for the future.

There were a variety of internal and government-directed reforms and attempts to chart a more sustainable course forward. Most significant among these was the development of a new strategic framework (Shaping the Future of the Canadian Forces: A Strategy for 2020, or “Strategy 2020”) that would guide efforts to shape a new and sustainable CF.3  Regrettably, such work lacked a coherent and compelling vision for the future. Critically, it postulated the continuation of an industrial age model and doctrine for the CF that lacked credibility with the government and virtually guaranteed no appreciable resource improvements. However, confronted as it was with institutional failure and a continuing high tempo of operations, the army faced the most comprehensive challenge, and, arguably, became the leader in terms of self-reflection and change. Commencing in the late 1990s, it implemented a succession of pragmatic initiatives to improve the way it trained, generated force, and managed its resources, all with the objective of optimizing its limited capabilities. This effort reached its zenith with the development and implementation of the army strategy, beginning in 2000.

World Trade Center September 11 2001

Reuters RTRPR00, photographer Sean Adair

The September 11 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

On 11 September 2001 (9/11), terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington set in motion a fundamental change in the way that North Americans, particularly Americans, perceived their security. Thus began what some have called the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), in which Canada would play a significant part. It also saw a shift away from classic industrial-age mechanized tactics to operations that were decidedly asymmetrical. That is to say, conflict was between ‘high-tech’ 21st Century conventional forces and agrarian age tribal warriors, or, as the British General Sir Rupert Smith has categorized it, “…war amongst the people.”4

While the CF had been shaped by the Cold War, 15 years of post-Cold War operations and events unquestionably set the stage for the real transformation that was to come.  Many key reforms shaped the values, leadership, and the personnel management philosophy of the CF, and the experience gained by each of the environments over a decade of demanding operations brought major changes in terms of how they fought. However, these changes principally were the result of tactical reactions to problems as opposed to any coherent view of where the CF needed to go. This is not to suggest that no such attempt was made, but that attempts fell short of providing a new vision essential to moving the CF forward, and it clung to the view that all future operations would follow the industrial age model.

The Nature of Organizational Change

Essential to an informed analysis of CF Transformation is an understanding of the dynamics of any organizational change process. The specific principles and factors are highlighted in the book Inside Canadian Forces Transformation.  Most large organizations have been through different stages of attempting to revitalize, streamline, ‘right-size’ or ‘re-engineer’ themselves, often driven by the ideas of the latest organizational management guru. The challenge facing organizational leaders contemplating change is to adjust elements of the current organization over time in order to realize a new system that better meets its needs. In change terms, it must focus upon moving the organization from where it is currently to a new, more suitable or effective system in future.

The Dynamics of Organizational Change

Figure 1: The Dynamics of Organizational Change5

Core to implementing such change is the need to develop a vision, a strategy, and a strategic plan. The vision is a clear, simple, and objective articulation of the new system to be achieved. This vision must identify a genuinely new end state that is practical and achievable, and a strategy or a conceptual focus that drives organizational change. This strategy must be the ‘big idea’ that shapes the entire change process.

When considering organizational change, it needs to be understood that change initiatives must be implemented according to some framework that ensures the maintenance of a coherent and effective organization. This framework is commonly referred to as Enterprise Architecture, a model representative of the various elements of an organization that will normally depict the organization both as it is today and as it is envisioned for the future.

Conceptual Model of Enterprise Architecture

Figure 2: Conceptual Model of Enterprise Architecture

A more illustrative way of considering these organizational elements is shown below.

Organizational Elements

Figure 3: Organizational Elements

Any change will impact upon all of the elements of Purpose, Organization, Process, Command Philosophy, Technology, People, and Culture (see the detailed descriptions in the book) albeit to varying degrees and at different rates. Healthy organizations are those in which all elements of the organization are in balance and harmony.  Maintaining a healthy balance of organizational elements during a period of change is difficult, and the progression of change must be carefully charted to ensure the maintenance of organizational balance over time. The following figure provides a depiction of this progression, created to reflect balance over time.

The Progression of Change

Figure 4: The Progression of Change

Organizational change, either planned or unplanned, can come in many forms, generally identified by the principal change initiative.6  Modern Transformation is really the holistic change that results in a fundamental shift in either what an organization does, or the way in which it accomplishes its objectives. Central to this paradigm change is the development of a new or adapted organizational culture. Without a changed culture, transformation has not occurred.

This is particularly true with strong cultures, such as the military, where doctrine and training inculcate members with values of loyalty to their comrades and their unit, and a strong sense of tradition. As a consequence, any attempt to change the organization or the way it operates is perceived as being in direct conflict with the underlying values of the culture. A model, guide, or template can be valuable, but there are many philosophies of how change is achieved within organizations. The CF was partial to John Kotter’s Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change, with its key steps, provided in detail in the case study.7 Change leaders need a solid understanding of the underlying principles of organizational change in order to ensure success, such as offered by Kotter. But, above all else, they must be leaders.

Canadian Forces Transformation

Attempting to provide an overall assessment of CF Transformation is far from easy. It is, after all, a work still in progress, and there is much more to be done before anyone can conclude with certainty that it has achieved its intended purpose. However, it is a superb case study of an institutional leader leading change. This is not to suggest that General Hillier as the change leader did everything either right or wrong. Rather, it shows a strong, visionary leader making reasoned judgments as he shaped the change process and the institution to his will. In so doing, he achieved considerable success, but not without difficulty or setback.

On assuming his responsibilities as CDS, General Hillier immediately commenced the process of institutional change. Analyses were conducted, and an overarching framework and sequencing of change developed. This planning envisaged four phases of change;  Phase 1 – the development of a vision,  Phase 2 – the restructure of the CF operational command and control architecture, Phase 3 – the alignment of the strategic and operational enablers and  Phase 4 – the evolution of force generation. In implementation, this sequence was generally followed, albeit the intended timings were disrupted by a variety of factors. At the time of this publishing, the first two phases are largely completed, while Phases 3 and 4 remain a work in progress.

Perhaps an effective portrayal of the CF Transformation plan was the use of the ‘missile’ metaphor that the CDS had developed during 2007 to explain the phases – a rocket or missile with each stage as one of the respective process elements – with change commencing at the tip by virtue of Force Employment (FE), and progressing in turn through the various stages of Force Generation (FG), to the fuel of Force Development (FD).

CThe CDS' Transformation Missile

Figure 5: The CDS' Transformation Missile8

Why Change?

There is little doubt that, during the early part of this century, the CF was facing major challenges that called into question its long-term viability and value to the nation. Indeed, General Hillier did not believe the status quo was either sustainable or viable for Canada. Central to his sense of the need for change in the CF was his concern with respect to the institution’s operational effectiveness. While the CF had generally performed well in a variety
of missions and environments, General Hillier saw the Canadian contribution as being increasingly rudimentary, unresponsive to mission needs, and providing Canada a poor return on investment. This he saw as a consequence of the CF’s traditional “industrial warfare” force structure and operational doctrine, a non-responsive and bureaucratic approach to C2, and an environment-oriented culture, all of which he believed was impeding the effectiveness and limiting the ability of the CF to meet the missions to be faced in the 21st Century.

When he was given an opportunity to change it, he had to decide, with very little time to assess all the factors, whether he would take the risk, inherent in the fast-paced approach to change, that he knew would be required. There is little doubt that his decisions to accept appointment as CDS, and to transform the institution, were taken together. Not by nature one to be a ‘caretaker,’ General Hillier came into the position because he felt strongly that the change was required. In his view, the risks were acceptable because the objective was so important.

Some will argue that the time was not right, that the lack of clear resourcing and the certainty that operations in Afghanistan would take their toll on the CF should have predicated a delay
in organizational change, or at least a more measured approach. As one commentator argued, the approach was misguided as the resources did not exist to achieve the ends – akin to departing on a 1000-kilometre journey with only 800 kilometres of fuel. However, the perspective of the CDS was that at no time would conditions be right for such levels of change. To delay or to slow down would only sacrifice the opportunity provided.  

An Inspiring Vision

To address his concerns, General Hillier foresaw a new kind of CF and shaped his vision statement accordingly.9 It indicated that the CF “…will become more effective, relevant and responsive, and its profile and ability to provide leadership at home and abroad will be increased.”10 Implicit in this vision, General Hillier believed three fundamental changes were necessary to the modus operandi of the CF. These were a shift of institutional focus away from its post-Cold War mind set, placing a much higher priority on domestic and continental security, but also playing a greater role on the world stage; a paradigm shift in command philosophy that would reassert command to its rightful place, with an appropriate subordination of the staffs; and the development of an integrated CF culture, resulting in focused and integrated effects in operations to ensure all elements of the CF were able to contribute effectively to the mission.

He also envisaged a new strategic paradigm, in which the military would have a more,
important role in helping the nation realize its strategic objectives, would truly be part of the fabric of the nation, and, as a consequence, would have the support, in both moral and resource terms, of the people and government.

CF Transformation was launched with vigour, and it very much captured the imagination of
most observers, both within the CF and across the nation. General Hillier’s vision, delivered with passion and conviction, resonated with many, and, if the substance of the message was lacking at times, the energy definitely was present. Perhaps most importantly, this was a military leader who had presence, a ‘soldier’s soldier,’ and many were inspired and re-energized by him. The troops felt that, finally, here was a leader to lead them out of the wilderness. For Canadians used to political leaders, coloured in shades of grey, here was a colourful, charismatic leader to brighten their mood and to make them feel good about themselves. In presenting his vision and selling himself to the members of the CF and the Canadian public, he established a solid foundation of understanding and trust. This credibility provided him the essential support, both within and outside the institution – support that became the foundation upon which his transformation efforts were built.

The Strategy

In launching CF Transformation, General Hillier adopted a sound strategic approach. Realizing that he had limited time available to prepare, he eschewed detailed plans in favour of a dynamic, command-led strategy. Relying upon his own experience and playing to his own strengths, he developed a strategy intentionally focused to unseat the existing culture and to create a more malleable environment. By creating a new command structure and moving the operational focus out of NDHQ, he fractured the existing staff-centric bureaucracy. Then, by emphasizing the effectiveness of operations, he shifted the balance away from the staff process and reshaped command and control to drive change to DND and CF culture.

General Hillier believed that speed was vital in creating the conditions for change, and he shaped his strategy accordingly. Some observers will argue that time was not that critical, and will suggest that more planning would have overcome many of the problems he encountered. However, he made a sound decision to proceed quickly, given his overall objective, but it was one that was to haunt him throughout the change process.

The strategy adopted was properly one that best fit General Hillier’s personal style and abilities. He is, by nature, an intuitive, strategic thinker, and he saw the broad thrusts he
would have to make to create the change required. It was founded upon his personal operational experience and philosophy, and, as an armour officer, he took a ‘manoueverist’ approach to the problem. He saw the need to overcome institutional inertia, not unlike that of attacking a defensive position, and his strategy, much like the German Blitzkrieg, was intended to break through and destabilize the situation. He could then consolidate the gains, ‘mop up,’ and prepare to attack again. While clearly understanding the need to plan such a strategy, he saw detailed planning as being wasteful of time, and, potentially, as jeopardizing attainment
of his objective.

The rapid implementation of a new CF command and control structure was very much General Hillier’s Blitzkrieg, disrupting the old NDHQ matrix structure and culture while ensuring that he and his operational commanders retained the initiative. Unquestionably, this action created the environment he sought – an environment of “constructive chaos” – and the new structure was in place in a remarkably short time.

Rapid change within the CF was an essential element of the strategy to set the conditions for achieving his long-term goal. For only by establishing the institution’s credibility as an organization willing and able to change, and demonstrating the value that it could have for meeting the nation’s interests, would the necessary support and resources be forthcoming.

CDS, General Rick Hillier

DND Photo

General Rick Hillier

Achieving Unity 

By far, one of the most important and difficult tasks for the change leader is that of developing the team, getting all on board with his vision and strategy, and keeping them engaged. There is little doubt that most were inspired by the vision and the style of this new CDS, and all looked forward with anticipation to the new world he promised. However, some of the more senior and experienced officers – those who understood well the limits that the institution was facing – had their doubts. In the final analysis, the degree of unity achieved was a direct result of the ability to achieve a shared vision and a level of trust between the CDS and his leaders.

The vision was captivating but never fully understood, and it certainly was not shared by all of the leadership. This was caused primarily by concerns with respect to achievability and inclusiveness, which resulted in a fragmented vision and approach to achievement. Unquestionably, the vision was inspiring, and many saw it as a new and better world that
they all could embrace and support. However, the CDS had not ‘operationalized’ it, that is to say, defined the details and the ‘how,’ with the result that such was not clear. Given the lack
of time to conduct planning before launching transformation, this lack of clarity with respect to the end-state was understandable. But, with the passage of time, the problems were still not resolved.

Many could not see themselves within the vision, or, if so, in a much-reduced role. The navy
and air force were particularly concerned over what some saw as an ‘army-centric’ vision that they perceived as minimizing their role to one of support. There was also a concern on the
part of all Environmental Chiefs of Staff (ECSs) with respect to their roles in the evolving DND/CF structure. There also persisted a genuine concern with respect to the ability to achieve the vision.  Part of this worry came from the belief that the resources were not sufficient – and would not become sufficient – to achieve all that the CDS envisaged. The achievability issue was not a surprise, as all parts of the CF had been living a marginal existence for some time. The CDS saw the implementation of a new CF vision as an opportunity to resolve many of the shortfalls facing the CF, from which, by showing a willingness to change and truly embracing reform, all would benefit. He was a risk taker and he did not appreciate the degree of risk aversion that others would possess.

However, the leadership concerns were not limited to the vision itself, but also involved problems of inclusiveness in the transformation process. Driven in part by the need to develop the vision early, the CDS relied largely on a small staff and some trusted advisers to shape the way ahead. For whatever reason, he did not take the ECSs into his confidence for some time, and they, for all practical purposes, did not play a major role in shaping the vision. As a consequence, the leadership did not come together early enough in the process, did not enthusiastically embrace the vision, and adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude. As implementation proceeded, given the urgency and in accordance with the “command centric” philosophy, change issues were normally taken to the CDS for decision. Consultation was not the norm, with the consequence that the senior leadership was not always aware of the decisions being taken, and did not feel part of that process.

In addressing this very difficult and sensitive subject, there is a danger in over-generalizing
and misrepresenting the true chemistry present in a very challenging and dynamic situation. However, some degree of understanding of the situation is essential for future leaders. The first and, arguably, the most influential aspect of the command relationship was the CDS’s leadership style. General Hillier approached his role as CDS in a similar manner to that of an operational commander. In part, this was due to his background and experience, but his approach was also the consequence of a conscious decision, as he believed it was just this aspect of command that the DND/CF corporate culture needed to change. Following this operational model, he anticipated that he would make clear his intent, he would seek the
views and advice of his subordinates, and then he would decide how the CF would proceed.
He was comfortable with others discussing or even debating the elements of the emerging plan, but did not see himself engaging in that debate.  However, this approach, in a consensus culture quite used to such debates, did not help his cause. This dynamic created an environment that set the stage for some difficulties in command relationships. The result was an erosion of mutual respect and trust.

In the final analysis, the CDS was not able to achieve the level of unity or consensus that he would have preferred. To some degree, this was driven by factors beyond his control, as he could not promise the CF leadership that which he could not deliver. There was also some criticism that he did not invest the requisite time and effort building greater understanding, or was not as open to compromise as he should have been to achieve a shared vision. There may be some merit in that view, but it is likely that the CDS saw this increasingly as too high an investment for the probable return.  In the final analysis, he was prepared to work around people, if necessary, relying instead upon the great support of the members of the CF and the public to sustain him.

Canadian soldiers patrol

DND photo AR2009-5001-27 by Master Corporal Matthew MacGregor

Canadian soldiers patrol through the village of Teymurian, Afghanistan, 7 December 2009.

Leading Change

As the change leader, General Hillier was the visionary, and CF Transformation was his
initiative. As was his custom, he led CF Transformation from the front.  He was the face of change within the CF, and his effect was motivational, particularly with respect to the troops and the Canadian public. Accordingly, it was here that he concentrated his effort, perhaps realizing that his ability to influence all aspects of the institution was limited.  How people saw General Hillier very much reflected their sense of transformation, and his ability as a charismatic leader and communicator was the foundation of this credibility. General Hillier has become a public persona like no CDS who served before him. Much as with the troops in the front lines, the Canadian public was largely impressed with him and saw him as truly the face of the CF.  General Hillier’s personal credibility counts for much in this dynamic, and it allowed him to accomplish a great amount. In the final analysis, his credibility with Canadians and the members of the CF provided a strong counterbalance to any lack of support among the senior leadership.

Managing Change

Leadership is by far the most vital component of effecting change within an organization. However, management speaks to the requirements for organizational coherence, which is essential if transformation is to be sustained. This implies effective corporate planning and coordination to ensure the strategy and its objectives can be achieved, along with the
constant balancing of the institution’s ambition against its capacity.

The development of internal plans, vital to the understanding and coordinating of the change intended, was not a strong feature of this period. While the vision was the focus, there was no clear strategy for getting there, and no such strategic document was ever written. The result was that the “commander’s intent,” so strongly held by the CDS in his mission command philosophy, was not always clear. In addition, the CF corporate structure was, as a result of the change, fragile and lacking requisite capacity. The consequence of this turmoil was a fracturing of the coherence essential to good organizational management. While much was accomplished, and major disconnects were avoided, this was primarily due to the hard work of a few key players.

The old saying, “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp,” is a sound personal philosophy, but it has serious implications for an organization undergoing change. To maintain organizational effectiveness and cohesion, the level of ambition must be carefully balanced with the capacity of the institution to implement and coordinate the actions required. Unquestionably, General Hillier’s expectations for change during his tenure were very high and he intentionally pushed the organization to do as much as he thought it could. However, there is some evidence that capacity is a problem that has impacted and will continue to impact the CF’s attempts to change.

Two aspects of this issue added significantly to the degree of difficulty encountered. First was the increase in the tempo of operations. It was not just the number of troops deployed, but
the change in intensity that had the greatest consequences. With the move to the Kandahar region, the CF’s Task Force Afghanistan now was undertaking major combat operations, and, significantly, incurring casualties. The effect of this was to increase the demands on the CF, its leadership, and the government in managing the conflict, which, in turn, added considerable pressure to all activities of the CF. Second, with the change in government, a great amount of energy was consumed to respond to the political change in direction. As with any such change, harmonizing ongoing initiatives with the new government agenda was expected to take time, and there was always the potential for directed change to plans. However, the very different visions of the CF, held by the new Minister of National Defence and the CDS, created considerable tension and resulted in an inordinate amount of time passing before an agreed-upon way forward was reached. The effects of this were to both slow and alter the CDS’s plans for transformation. Having launched a high risk venture, his political support was, at best, eroding.

The consequence of all this was a CF that was overloaded, and, with the benefit of hindsight, seemingly lacked the ability to make the really tough choices. The reality is that during a period of change, it is vital that the institution carefully balance its level of ambition with its capacity. The secondary consequence of these challenges, given the reduction in available time, capacity, and political support, was most certainly to slow down the change initiative.

By mid-2006, with operational commands established, the CDS identified the need for an independent assessment of the new command structure, and a requirement to set the stage for the next phases of CF Transformation. Three retired senior officers undertook a validation study of the transformed CF command structure focused upon force employment, which resulted in two reports11 that provided the CDS an opportunity to reflect on CF transformation, to make course corrections to ensure his overall objectives were being achieved, and to shape the process going forward. Perhaps the most significant of the recommendations made to the CDS was that he, as the face of transformation, personally re-engage in the process and champion that effort – particularly the cultural transformation he envisaged for the CF. This galvanized the CDS into action to recalibrate the transformation effort and to ensure that his leadership team was well aligned to re-energize the initiative. Overall, by late 2007, CF transformation had entered a consolidation phase that, for the most part, lasted to the end of General Hillier’s tenure in mid-2008.

Canadian soldiers patrol

DND photo IS2009-3063-02 by Master Corporal Angela Abbey

A section from the Police Operational Mentoring Liaison Team on presence patrol in the village of Deh-e-bagh in the Dand district of Afghanistan, 6 November 2009.

The Future of Transformation

The demands of organizational change are considerable – more so for military organizations – and require the change leader to maintain the energy for the change initiative, and to manage the perceptions and expectations of many stakeholders and constituencies, all while maintaining institutional stability and balance. General Hillier understood these requirements extremely well, and, while his ability to adhere to them was limited, it was not from lack of effort. He is a strategic leader and clearly had the long-term vision in his mind at all times. However, events, some beyond his control, detracted him from ensuring that his schedule and objectives were always met, and that the management of change was always properly focused.

In spite of the challenges faced, there can be no question that General Hillier created
significant change within the CF. He put in place a new command and control structure that is fundamentally changing the way in which the CF and DND operate. In addition, he created a dynamic that has already shaped a much more operationally focused organization. He started
a shift in institutional culture to meet these demands, and the organization is, arguably, already much more agile.

But, there remain doubts. There are concerns as to the sustainability of the command and control structure over the long term. There are questions as to whether the evolving shape of the CF will meet the defence needs of the country.  Perhaps the greatest issue of all remains the continuing challenge of shaping the CF culture, one focused upon operations.  

Change is not a destination but a journey. The implementation of CF Transformation has laid a foundation and created a dynamic that should see the institution continue to adapt. The ultimate impact of this change will depend in part upon how well the CDS has been able to consolidate his efforts and to firm up that foundation. But, ultimately, it will depend upon his successors.

It is said that changing an organization that has enjoyed a long period of relative stability is much like moving a large rock in a garden. The greatest challenge is getting it out of the mud
so that it can be moved. Thereafter, moving it anywhere can be a relatively easy task. One
may debate whether General Hillier has been able to get the rock moving, but there is no
doubt that he has unleashed the suction around it and turned it over. Movement now is inevitable.

CMJ Logo

Lieutenant-General Jeffery joined the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery in 1964, and was commissioned in 1967. Throughout the 1990s, he was intimately involved with organizational change, including a period as Chief of the Land Staff, during which he developed and implemented a strategy of change within the army. General Jeffery retired from regular service in 2003.


  1. Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Michael K. Jeffery, Inside Canadian Forces Transformation: Institutional Leadership as a Catalyst for Change (Kingston, ON: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2009). Access was provided to the author to hundreds of documents recording the intent, direction, actions, and concerns of CF leadership, and was complemented by wide access to the CF’s senior leaders and key staff, both military and civilian, consisting of more than 40 formal interviews, their conduct based upon non-attribution. Additionally, the author participated in CF senior leader professional development sessions that provided a unique insight into the dynamics of the CF General and Flag Officer team.
  2. John P. Kotter, Leading Change (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1996).
  3. Department of National Defence, Shaping the Future of the Canadian Forces: A Strategy for 2020, June 1999. 
  4. General Sir Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World. General Smith’s assessment of the evolving conflict environment is but one of many. See also Colin S. Gray, Another Bloody Century; Colonel T. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone; and Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era.
  5. The author created Figures 1 to 4.
  6. Ronald Lippitt, Jeanne Watson, and Bruce Westley, Organizational Transformation: Approaches, Strategies, Theories(Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood Publishing Group, 1958). The authors have distinguished between spontaneous or evolutionary change, fortuitous or accidental change, and planned change. The first two types are unplanned. Unplanned change, according to their definition, originates outside the system experiencing change. Planned change, on the other hand, originates with a decision by the system to improve its functioning.
  7. John P. Kotter, Leading Change, p. 21. He first put forward this Eight-Stage Process in John P. Kotter, “Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” in Harvard Business Review (March-April 1995), p. 61.
  8. General Hillier first used the CDS’ Transformation Missile, a schematic, in his Transformation briefing at the General and Flag Officers Seminar, Spring 2007, after having visited Vimy Ridge in April. Later in 2007, the schematic was conceptualized in greater detail by the Chief of Force Development, and titled "Action Areas to Transform the Force for Effect."
  9. “The Way Ahead for the Canadian Forces,” CDS Transformation Brief addresses the vision, key enablers, force structure, etc., (Slide 27/32), (Ottawa: National Defence Headquarters, 2005). Referenced in Major-General Daniel Gosselin, “Hellyer’s Ghosts: Unification of the Canadian Forces is 40 Years Old - Part One,” in Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 9, No.2 (2008), pp. 6-15.
  10. The Way Ahead for the Canadian Forces.
  11. Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Ray R. Crabbe, Vice-Admiral (ret’d) Lynn G. Mason, and Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Fred R. Sutherland, A Report on the Validation of the Transformed Canadian Forces Command Structure, 31 January 2007; and Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Ray R. Crabbe, Vice-Admiral (ret’d) Lynn G. Mason and Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Fred R. Sutherland, A Report on the Impact of Canadian Forces Transformation on Defence Strategic Enablers, 5 September 2007.

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