Planning Associates Program: Growing as leaders, Serving with Integrity, Planning Solutions

Growing as leaders, Serving with Integrity,
Planning Solutions

The Planning Associates Class of 2013 was welcomed to the program with a reading list.  Many of the books are national bestsellers and long-time favorites in the business leadership community. The themes woven through the literature focus on leadership, team work, decision making, attitude and change. Below is a closer look at a few of themes found in books on the list:


Five elements of a functioning team include trust, intellectual conflict, commitment, accountability, and results. As planners, study managers, and Project Delivery Team (PDT) members, there may not be anything more important than creating and maintaining trust within our teams.  As we implement SMART Planning and three levels of enhanced vertical teaming, trust at all levels of the team is critical.

Sharing Information and Teaming

The class explored sharing information, creating autonomy through boundaries, and replacing the old hierarchy with self-directed teams.  Although these three elements are simple, the impacts of implementing them can be profound.  As a group the class agreed that there is little power to be gained by withholding information and a greater benefit to be realized by transparency and always sharing available information. 

The Planning Associates class signs a handbook to establish boundaries and expectations; however, within those boundaries, we are empowered to use our professional judgment, make decisions, and take on leadership roles. With the first two elements in place, it is a smooth transition to working together as a self-directed team. Leaders must be focused on team results, not just on individual achievements or personal egos.  This idea has particular importance for USACE planners; we are civil servants, and our attitudes and efforts must be infused with humility.

Change and Transformation

The class reviewed books that explored the challenges associated with the concepts of change and transformation. The Corps of Engineers and the Planning Community of Practice in particular, is going through a process of change. The 3X3X3 guidance, which requires feasibility studies be completed within three years at no greater of a cost than $3 million using three levels of the vertical team and with a report of 100 pages or less, has sparked a sense of urgency, largely among planners. We are challenged to do things differently from the bottom up; it is our responsibility as planners and team leaders to begin to infuse our teams with that sense of urgency.  This starts at the Project Delivery Team (PDT) level.

Why We Do What We Do

“Why” is at the core of USACE planning, and is often overlooked. What the USACE does is primarily established through authorities, but the clarity of why sometimes gets lost or overlooked in the process.  Civil Works Transformation and the USACE Civil Works Strategic Plan for 2011-2015 do not so much recommend changes to what we do, but instead encourage a focus on new ways of thinking and conducting business. In other words, the focus goes all the way to the “why” and begins to re-establish that clarity of purpose.  This is captured in the USACE vision for Civil Works, which answers the question “why do we do what we do?” concisely: “to be the nation’s engineering leader in providing . . . solutions to public water resources needs.”

Planning Associate Sierra Schroeder, a Community Planner from the St. Paul District, St. Paul, Minnesota, contributed to this story.

Sierra Schroeder, a Community Planner from the St. Paul District, St. Paul, Minnesota, contributed to this story.