Hold on Tight! Here Comes Mission-Focused Business Leadership!

The Air Force’s Mission-Focused Business Leadership is my new mantra, and that’s a good thing because I’m nearly hyperventilating. I’ve been waiting for this moment for 4 years, 2 months and 2 weeks ago–and yes, I’ve been counting.

What a great Fiscal Year End present for my former coworkers! I’ll hit what I personally consider to be the highlights–your mileage may vary.

Yesterday, Maj Gen (Sel) Cameron Holt, Deputy Assistant Secretary (Contracting), sent his first “fireside chat” email (19 Sept 2018) to Air Force Contracting, and I woke up this morning to innovators doing happy dances and the not-so-innovative folks squirming in their seats about what this missive means. To me, it gives me a lot more faith in being able to overcome our Frozen Middle problems because I believe this initiative will force change at that level.

First, one of the key differences I’m glad to see is the idea of shifting from Contracting being “business advisors” — a focus in full effect around 1998 and forward — to being “business leaders.” That might not seem like a big deal, but being a “leader” takes a different mindset and a different level of responsibility. It’s easy to “advise” when your ass isn’t on the line and you don’t hold the ultimate responsibility, but when you’re a leader and you need to figure out how to get something done, you better be part of the solution. Maybe that’s just semantics, but the difference in meaning sets a new tone, more of a proactive one, in my opinion.

My personal interpretation of Mission-Focused Business Leadership means more attention to lead-times as well as getting well-ahead of our adversaries in decades-long advantages, but I’ll quote from his email as to the WHY of Mission-Focused Business Leadership. I believe most of the readers here are aware that we’ve let other world powers get ahead of us in some areas. If not, you need to plug back in for a bit.

Regaining dominance requires us to partner with industry to achieve greater “lethality” (think primarily systems contracting) and “readiness” (think primarily operational contracting) in our nation’s Air Force.

Okay, I love this because he not only tells you what we need for success but also breaks the work into systems contracting and operational contracting. This has been needed for quite a while because the tools for each are different and I always found that I (and my advisors) needed to flip a switch in our heads between what was best course of action for each. This was especially problematic when advisors and approvers wanted to apply systems approaches to operational needs. Again, another shift in mindset. All good.

He goes on to provide the WHAT AND WHEN of Mission-Focused Business Leadership: he plans to remove barriers.

This is another big change. For years, I’ve heard senior leaders encourage innovation, and the kids in the trenches have wanted to jump in and make things happen. The middle–and maybe this is part of why they’ve been the Frozen Middle–has said, “Yeah, that’s great, but those at the top encouraging all this change haven’t changed the rules that we still have to follow.” This fireside chat missive marks a change in that.

The first ever AF Contracting Board of Directors (BoD) is scheduled for December-at our first BoD…the senior leaders in AF Contracting will lay out our AF Contracting Flight Plan: Mission-Focused Business Leadership. This will be a journey of objectives and key results…but also a change in culture and a new “swagger” with a more direct connection to the AF mission.

A change in culture. Amen to that.

He closes with a list of ideas he’s been toying with, though I would expect that most of these will come to fruition once the Board gets in place–and innovators are going to find these very exciting! It reads like my Christmas list. I cannot decide my favorite–by the time I got to #6, I was delirious. (Numbers are mine, so we can argue over which What if we like best.)

[1]- What if we gave you new tools, not new rules?

[2]- What if we removed layers of contracting authorities and pushed more down?

[3]- What if we stopped multiple prep meetings/reviews before key decisions are made?

[4]- What if we streamlined the AFFARS and killed all MPs below the AF level?

[5]- What if we instead improve/enhance Instructional Guidance to rapidly share best practices and proven procedures?

[6]- What if we took intentional steps to reject a culture of recrimination when things go wrong or honest mistakes are made?

[7]- What if we were free to try new things with ALL the tools in the FAR (and anything else not expressly prohibited by the FAR) to push for better outcomes?

[8]- What if we rebranded our Senior Contracting Official (SCO) role and prepared them as industry would train a CFO or CEO?

[9]- What if we gave SCOs each $1 Billion of authority (competitive or non-competitive) along with a permanent seat on our BoD and the Development Team?

[10]- What if we freed SCOs to behave as entrepreneurs yet as part of a broader unified team going after meaningful mission-focused results across the AF Contracting enterprise?

[11]- What if we lost our fear of protests and enhanced communication/transparency between AF and industry-max communications before final RFP release and after award?

[12]- What if we leveraged our business innovations like Category Management and use the savings from our ingenuity to “buy” the Secretary and Chief of Staff a new bomber or fighter?

[13]- What if we fixed the deployment tasking process that over deploys some and under deploys others? What if we brought back Silver Flag and Top Dollar? (you can ask a “gray beard” what that is)

This email marks a big shift in mindset that is absolutely necessary to stay ahead of our adversaries, and it’s a shift that will open a lot of closed doors for Contracting personnel to move with more agility. You know, 4 years, 2 months, and 2 weeks ago, I told then Colonel Holt that he was the only person I’d follow into battle, no questions asked, and that was because of his vision and his decisiveness in taking action. This email reflects that.

Right now is the best chance I’ve seen since around 1995 at changing the Acquisition process because we have several action-oriented visionaries with the power to make changes happen at a level most of us never will. Besides General Holt, we have his boss, Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. I never worked directly with Dr. Roper but worked closely on some SCO projects–he founded the Strategic Capabilities Office–and I really appreciated the mindset. There are others, I’m sure, but we also have the wildly visionary Hondo Geurts, formerly the Acquisition Executive at SOCOM, now Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition. Any one of these three leaders would indicate a change in mindset in the Acquisition world, but three? This is good news for innovators. It’s great news.

For you innovators in the Air Force Contracting trenches, take heart. Every time you want to push a unique and creative solution and get resistance, point out in your documentation how you’re being a Mission-Focused Business Leader, (not a business as usual business advisor!).

And get excited…because you’re about to have a better chance than ever at making a difference!

c 2018 Lorna Tedder

Lorna Tedder


  • Rapid Acquisition Consultant
  • Recently retired Contracting Officer, unlimited AFMC warrant 1991-2018
  • Nationally recognized Innovation Thought Leader in Government acquisition
  • Rapid acquisition teacher, both FAR and non-FAR based contracting
  • Master brain-stormer and advisor to program offices across the DoD
  • Expert in developing junior and mid-level personnel to become innovators in Government acquisition
  • 3 decades of first-hand experience and success with Other Transactions, Oral Proposals, 10 USC 2373, Broad Agency Announcements, unique pricing arrangements, Price Based Acquisition, Award Without Discussion, streamlined source selections, multiple award IDIQs, UCAs, waivers, omnibus tool creation, Quick Reaction Capability teams, and strategic sourcing
  • Do you need help? Would you like me to spend a couple of days teaching your Government team how to use innovative contracting methods? Message me on LinkedIn or my contact page.
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