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Automated System Assesses Equal Opportunity

September 1, 1994
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Related Topics: Diversity, Featured Article
Decentralization is inherent to the Navy. Its special mission, the exigencies of battle and the isolation of submarines and ships at sea require that commanding officers have much administrative latitude. As a result, each naval unit, or command, functions similarly to an independent, but wholly owned, subsidiary of the parent organization—the Navy Department.

Many required programs and policies are affected by this organizational structure. One such policy requires that each Navy command provide equal opportunity for its members regardless of race, ethnic group, gender, religion or national origin. Because of the importance of such a policy, the Navy has had ongoing efforts since the mid-1970s to monitor its equal-opportunity climate. However, earlier efforts ran counter to one aspect of the Navy's organizational culture, which values delegation of responsibility to the local unit level. Recently, the Navy found a solution to its dilemma: Through its Command Assessment Team Survey System (CATSYS), the Navy can standardize the collection of equal-opportunity survey data organizationwide, while still allowing the individual units to maintain authority over the process. A pilot test of CATSYS in several commands has shown that the system is effective: Results include time and money savings, improved survey procedures and more effective use of data.

Past efforts to monitor compliance conflicted with decentralization.
From 1975 to 1984, the Navy required all operational naval units to monitor their organizational climate as part of the Human Resource Management (HRM) program. The cornerstone was the HRM survey, which included an index measuring equal opportunity.

A combination of factors led the Navy to discontinue use of the program. First, the Navy was affected by budget cuts in the early 1980s. Because the HRM program required many regional centers and large numbers of specially trained personnel, it was quite expensive to operate. More importantly, the commanding officers perceived that the program required excessive outside interference in their units. It was clear that the organization had two conflicting values:

  • The desire to delegate responsibility and authority to commanding officers at the unit level
  • The responsibility to monitor compliance with rules and regulations at the headquarters level.

This clash between values led the Navy to make a change. In the mid-1980s, the Navy established the Command Managed Equal Opportunity (CMEO) program.

CMEO emphasizes the chain of command's responsibility to ensure equal opportunity. In addition, it requires each command to evaluate its equal-opportunity climate by maintaining objective data (gender- or race-based discipline rates, for example) and conducting annual surveys. A command assessment team is responsible for performing this evaluation and recommending steps and timetables to overcome deficiencies. To maintain some consistency Navy-wide, the CMEO program is subject to inspection by the local unit's next-level command at least once every three years.

Although it was a step in the right direction, CMEO didn't address all of the Navy's issues. Organizationwide evaluations revealed several weaknesses with this self-monitoring approach, two of which were particularly pressing. First, the Navy needed to compile organizationwide information both to evaluate the overall equal-opportunity climate and to develop benchmarks for command-specific data. Secondly, the Navy needed to standardize the survey procedures used in assessing the equal-opportunity climate at the command level.

The objective is to improve equal-opportunity assessment.
To address the pressing need for organizationwide equal-opportunity climate information, the Navy developed the Navy Equal Opportunity/Sexual Harassment (NEOSH) Survey. For each of its first three administrations in 1989, 1991 and 1993, the survey was mailed to a random sample of approximately 10,000 naval personnel, stratified by race, gender and rank. The 1993 version of the survey contained more than 100 items that assessed personnel's perceptions of the Navy's equal-opportunity climate. Areas of assessment included leadership, discipline and advancement. The other half of the biennial NEOSH Survey contained items assessing the occurrence, forms, consequences of and actions taken as a result of sexual harassment.

The other weakness in CMEO wasn't as easy to address. Given the complexities of any survey process—including the design, administration, analysis and feedback—it isn't surprising that the survey portion of the assessment was a major barrier for many command assessment teams. Typically, team members have little or no prior experience in either survey methods or equal-opportunity standards. Furthermore, the changing membership of the assessment teams from year to year often led to changes in survey content, which in turn made comparison of findings across years difficult, if not impossible. Also, if one of the team members wasn't proficient in statistics, the analysis of results took weeks. As a result of these and other technical concerns, most commands didn't complete the survey and often didn't conduct the required annual equal-opportunity assessment.

To solve the problem, the Navy needed a way to integrate its organizationwide and command-specific survey procedures. More specifically, the Navy needed a unified equal-opportunity survey procedure that would meet the following criteria:

  • Fit its culture of delegating authority and responsibility to commanding officers
  • Be simple enough to be locally administered, analyzed and interpreted
  • Engender good survey principles
  • Link command-specific measures with organizationwide norms.

A new survey meets organization and unit-specific goals.
The Navy addressed these issues by developing the Command Assessment Team Survey System (CATSYS). This system assists the teams by computerizing many of the technical steps that have hindered the gathering, analysis and presentation of information regarding the equal-opportunity climate. More specifically, CATSYS is a menu-driven system that can be operated on any industry-standard computer, and the software can be copied onto one or two diskettes and mailed to individual units. The transportability of the program and the minimal hardware requirements ensure that CATSYS can be operated in virtually all Navy commands.

Central to the CATSYS is a survey that utilizes 38 items from the organizationwide NEOSH Survey. Using these identical items allows the individual commands to compare their average responses with the NEOSH Survey-based norms, which are supplied in the CATSYS User's Manual. Thus, CATSYS and the NEOSH Survey are linked to provide organizationwide benchmarks for evaluating the command's efforts in providing equal opportunity.

The use of a single survey across commands also helps to automate many steps in the survey process. Using CATSYS, command assessment teams are able to collect survey data either with paper and pencil or by computer. If the information is gathered in a written format, the teams are supplied with menus that request each piece of information, thus decreasing the likelihood that responses will be entered incorrectly. If the team decides to gather the information via computer, respondents are provided one item at a time on the screen. This set-up, plus the limited number of acceptable responses, prevents the entry of out-of-range values and missing responses and allows respondents with no computer skills to use CATSYS.

Another benefit of the system is the ease with which the survey data can be analyzed and prepared for presentation. As part of the software, there are functions that automatically organize the information into a variety of formats. By simply selecting the relevant menu items, team members can create a variety of graphs and charts on CATSYS that can be used to provide feedback to the commanding officer in the equal-opportunity briefing. For example, the team can create a pie chart illustrating the percentage of respondents who fall into specific ethnic groups; similar pie charts can be created for gender and pay grades. Other options include bar charts or graphs, which can organize data from each of the demographic subgroups above or from the entire sample. The CATSYS User's Manual supplies guidelines to help an assessment team interpret this survey output. In all, CATSYS allows the command assessment team to produce hundreds of pages of presentation material, which can be generated in a matter of minutes.

Evidence from the initial tests supports automation.
Although the formal full-scale implementation of the CATSYS is set for late 1994, a number of commands already use the system. Results from these locations show that this new system enhances the Navy's ability to assess its equal-opportunity climate.

First, CATSYS saves the Navy considerable money and time by eliminating redundancy and automating the survey process. In field tests of commands with several hundred surveys, the steps from data entry through generation of tables and graphs have taken only a few hours. This short period stands in stark contrast to the several weeks' time that teams formerly spent identifying the survey content from an item bank, typing and reproducing the questionnaire, entering data, writing and checking the computer programs that were used to analyze the data (or calculating the results by hand) and constructing briefing materials. This time savings is magnified when it's remembered that all Navy commands are required to administer an annual equal-opportunity climate survey. In addition, CATSYS saves the Navy money by eliminating the need for additional software programs to analyze data or graphic programs to present information.

The new system also increases the likelihood that statistics are computed correctly and the full domain of equal-opportunity climate is measured. Testing the CATSYS software before its delivery to the units minimizes the chance of a programming or data-analysis error; no such quality check could be guaranteed formerly. Also, programming overall and subgroup breakdowns ensures that the units can produce all analyses that Navy administrators might request at a later time.

CATSYS also ensures that the Navy addresses all equal-opportunity concerns. Because under the old system each command constructed its own survey, an assessment team or commanding officer could consciously or unconsciously bias the findings by over-or under-emphasizing aspects of the equal-opportunity climate. The new system administers the same items in all commands and emphasizes all the equal-opportunity dimensions that top Navy leaders deem important.

Finally, CATSYS allows individual commands to utilize a practice that's similar to the benchmarking procedures used in civilian organizations. By comparing their local findings to Navy-wide norms, commands have a true standard of comparison, allowing them to determine their areas of strength and deficiency.

Once CATSYS is put into place, it'll become a mandatory part of the Navy's command-based assessment process. To ensure efficiency and standardization, training programs will include sessions that will increase familiarity with the CATSYS software and the ability to interpret survey results. Thus, rather than being a standalone surveying tool, CATSYS will be the link between the command-specific equal-opportunity assessment package and the Navy's organizationwide NEOSH Survey.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Navy Department. The authors acknowledge the assistance of Amy L. Cuthbertson, Carol E. Newell, Edmund D. Thomas and George Edw. Seymour.

Portions of this article were presented at the 1993 American Psychological Association convention in Toronto, Canada.

Personnel Journal, September 1994, Vol.73, No. 9, pp.104-112.


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