Company Command Series Part XI: Unit Pride & Recognition Programs

CO COC Pic

This blog post is a continuation of the multi-part Company Command Series covering key aspects of my command experience that I feel other commanders (current and future) can benefit from. This post discusses methods to enhance unit pride and ideas for a formal unit recognition program.

It is undeniable that a positive organizational culture is critical to your success as the commander, and the success of your company.  What I’ve found, though, is that little content exists addressing how exactly to advance your unit’s culture with specific, tangible actions. There are necessary methods such as Leadership by Wandering Around, as I wrote about in an earlier blog post. However, what are other influence methods that can build a healthy culture focused on your priorities as the commander? I argue two major components are: being deliberate in establishing a robust sense of unit pride, and creating an extensive recognition program. For both lines of effort, below, I address ways I advanced my company’s pride and a supporting recognition program.

Unit Pride

  • Company logo. When I took command, my company’s logo was terrible. It was a complicated, hand-drawn mythical creature that no one could really identify, and no one knew how or why it was chosen. So, I decided to personally pay a graphic designer to create a new logo for the company. We decided on a simple and classic design that all of the Soldiers loved. I was surprised how much simply updating our logo did for generating company pride. The simplest things can have a big impact.
  • Paint the unit area. After we created a new logo, I paid $100 for paint and my company painted our entire unit area with our company logo (with variations), battalion and brigade crests, the crests of the maneuver battalions we built habitual engineer support relationships with, and the engineer castle with Ranger tab and Sapper scroll. We did that over the winter block leave period so it didn’t interrupt major training. Painting the unit area led to Soldiers’ taking greater care for the cleanliness of the area and made working in it more enjoyable. Platoons even painted their platoon logo outside their office doors. We were the first company in the battalion to paint our area; it was amusing to see how contagious that effort was as sister companies quickly followed suit.
  • Company apparel. You know you have achieved a high level of unit pride when Soldiers want to represent your unit in their off-duty time. With shirts being the most popular option, you can easily collect money for a business to print custom shirts. Another (cheaper) option is creating a stencil of the company logo and allowing Soldiers to spray paint it onto their existing uniform undershirts. Beyond shirts, other common options are ball caps, sweatshirts, belt buckles, mugs, and stickers. Ensure you have a conversation with your subordinate leadership before pursuing these to verify Soldier interest in funding them.
  • Company coin. Creating a company coin was one of my personally favorite things I did in command. I handed one out to every Soldier as my departing gift before changing out of command. It was a thrill to see how ecstatic Soldiers were to receive them; for many, it was their first military coin. With that company coin, your Soldiers have something tangible to remember their time in the company and what they accomplished to earn it. The financial requirement is high no matter what route you take (large or small, poker chip or metal), so ensure you discuss funding with your spouse, 1SG, and subordinate leaders.
  • Departing gifts. I can write an entire article on unit departing gifts (and I plan to in the future), but unit departing gifts are important to me personally. It shows the leader that his/her time and effort in the unit were noticed and valued. Like the coin, it is something tangible that leaders can have to reflect on their accomplishments. I still receive messages and pictures from my old subordinate leaders of their plaque hanging in their new office or home since they departed the company. I wanted every squad leader and above in my company to leave with something, so I created a departing gift program in my company. It wasn’t a fund like cup and flower, but an unofficial agreement between my subordinate leaders and me on how we funded gifts for certain positions. This needs to be deliberately addressed up front as it is a massive financial undertaking. I cannot even fathom how much personal money I spent on departing gifts, but it was important to me so it was a decision I made easily.

Beast6 Departing Gift

The results of a robust company departing gift program; a massive 3’x3’ plaque that won’t fit anywhere…

Unit Recognition Program

  • Performance board. Build a massive board to hang in your company area (where Soldiers will see it every day) to recognize performance on key physical and skill events. The events can be individual and / or formation events (squad, platoon) and cover the events important to you as a commander and unit based on your mission; event ideas can include APFT, foot march times, weapon qualification scores, crew gunnery scores, weight lifting maxes, and so on. Name it appropriately (Beast Big Board for example) and ensure it remains current; if you ignore it, it is useless. You’ll be amazed how much Soldier motivation can improve when they are competing to have their name on a board.
  • Best squad program. Squads are the basis of any company’s combat power; I routinely reminded my squad leaders that they were the most important leaders in my company. I recommend creating a formal squad recognition program to identify the best squad in your company. Choose the source topics to base that claim on (squad APFT average, squad marksmanship and crew gunnery averages, foot march times, squad proficiency in Mission Essential Tasks, etc.). I recommend that you decide with your 1SG and platoon sergeants how to determine the best squad. Once established, publish a formal standards product (MOI, memo, etc.) for everyone to read and acknowledge. Ensure you plan when and how often you recognize the new best squad (I recommend semi-annually).
  • Awards following training. Following every major collective training event, part of your unit recovery and after operations maintenance SOP should include platoons’ submitting nominations for awards. Don’t forget what Certificates of Achievement (COAs) can do for Soldiers’ promotion points, or what a company / battalion coin can do for their motivation.
  • Public recognition. Don’t ever underestimate what publicly recognizing a Soldier in front of his/her peers and the company can do for their motivation. As discussed in the Company Command Closeout Formation blog post, doing that routinely at your company closeout formation is a great time to do it.
  • A note. The From the Green Notebook blog wrote an inspiring blog post about the power of a hand-written note from a leader. Consider spending a few personal dollars to print some formal notecards with the company logo on it to write personal notes for recognizing Soldiers’ achievements, and the impact they have on the unit. A tangible thank you note can go a long way.

These are simply ideas and options for commanders to leverage. Feel free to share other methods used to grow the list of options for readers.

The next, and final, Company Command series blog post discusses my personal regrets that I’ve reflected on since relinquishing company command.

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