Can we measure the Commando State of Mind?
By anon RM Officer
A recent press release on Janes 360[i] underlined the exciting transformation that the Royal Marines is embarking on. Within the narrative were some encouraging remarks around the delivery of the Future Commando Force and it position as a Major Transformation Programme but it was four words in particular that encouraged me to write this short note for Puzzle Palace: “…our amazing human capital…”. Amongst the exciting talk of restructure and new technology the reference to human capital is a an interesting one. The quality of our people is often referenced in speeches given by senior officers and politicians[ii], but I wonder if in reality we really do enough to build on the “amazing human capital” that the Royal Marines is fortunate to possess.
“Our greatest asset is our Commandos”
– Every Royal Marines Officer, ever.
During basic training at the CTCRM we are (amongst many things) instilled with psychological qualities which are summarised neatly into the Commando Spirit (Courage, Determination, Unselfishness and Cheerfulness[iii]). Towards the end of training and if successful we are awarded the Green Beret, a badge of honour that shows that we have reached the professional standard required and demonstrated those hard to quantify qualities expected. We are entitled to wear the Green Beret for the rest of our careers and therein lies the rub; a huge bold assumption that we will possess those qualities for the rest of our careers. Occasionally they are tested again, on Command Courses and such like, but in reality very little attention is paid to the famous Commando ‘state of mind’ once the man has left CTCRM. Rather than being a weakness, this is where the Royal Marines has an excellent opportunity to genuinely harness the human capital that our Commandos give us, and set us aside from our peers in Defence.
“…acquisition of skills requires a regular environment, an adequate opportunity to practice, and rapid and unequivocal feedback about the correctness of thoughts and actions.”
– Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Slow and Fast.
There has been a consistent growth in the use of psychometric testing to profile employees in industry since the early 90’s[iv]. Psychometrics have been used to measure heuristics and biases in order to aid recruitment and selection at all levels; from workers to senior directors. They can range in complexity from simple assessments using Myers-Briggs Indicators[v] to more complex assessments of suitability for certain positions using the Hogan Personality Inventory[vi]. In Defence, and more specifically the Royal Navy, psychometrics are used as a basic indicator of suitability for training at an early stage in the selection process, but rarely, if ever will a Royal Marines Commando have their personality and psychological traits screened during their time within Operational Units. This is a wasted opportunity. By understanding the heuristics and biases of our Commandos, the Future Commando Force could employ them in roles that maximise their potential, and optimise the collective performance of a Commando Unit. It could also develop training programmes that enhance and reduce the most and least desirable traits. It is possible to predict how individuals will react when placed in certain situations by understanding their leanings and biases, for example an individual who seeks statistics before making a decision could, and probably should, be employed differently to an individual who makes decisions based on instinct and emotion.
To exploit this opportunity, the Future Commando Force project should include a strand of work that seeks to measure the ‘Commando Mindset’ possessed by those serving in the Commando Community. This could be with the use of a simple questionnaire, similar to that used by AFCAS, which is deployed at the lowest tactical level. Concurrently and during any proposed restructure of branches, the traits desired for specific tasks should be identified by qualified specialists. With this information, tactical commanders can select the right people for the right tasks, career managers can select the right people for the right trades and training teams can develop programs which maintain and enhance desirable traits within our Commandos.
“When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them. When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won”
– Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
There is a growing body of evidence which shows that simple interventions can greatly increase performance in sports, business and the special operations forces as outlined perfectly by Angela Duckworth[vii]. In order to be genuinely innovative, the Future Commando Force project must do more than procure unmanned vehicles and new weapon systems. By exploiting the cognitive ability and potential of our people the Future Commando Force can gain an intellectual edge over its competitors and peers. our Commandos must be a priority when seeking to optimise the operational capabilities of UK Commando Forces.
[iv]Harper, Annabel. “Psychometric tests are now a multi-million-pound business: What lies behind a coach’s decision to use them.” International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring 2 (2008): 40-51.