As part of the standard check-in process, new sailors reporting to the command are required to interview each individual in their chain of command. Like most training or indoctrination processes afloat, this system is enforced through a checklist of blank signatures, and its intent is often subverted in pursuit of the quickly completed checklist. Busy DIVOs are usually happy to oblige, efficiently sending the new sailor on their way with a smile and a signature and no idea what a division officer does.
The DIVO check-in interview is one of the most important things you do.
It supports good order and discipline, eliminates confusion and informs. It is one of the most constructive ways to communicate your priorities to your division. Most importantly, it helps you get to know your guys. It is a far better use of your time than the (ultimately insignificant) critical life-or-death spreadsheet or binder you’re sweating about.
You’ll appear more intelligent if know ahead of time what you’re going to cover. You’ll do a lot of these, so develop a game plan and stick to it. Please don’t break out a checklist; this isn’t a clinic. Talk to the guy. At a minimum you should cover the following:
What does a Division Officer do? For some of you, this exercise may serve as a forcing function to figure this out yourself. The conversation might evolve more naturally if you describe to the sailor what your functional relationship is with the Chief (or LPO if there is no Chief). Think pragmatically. Don’t act like you know everything but don’t play the idiot either– you know more than you think you do.
What do you expect from the sailor? This needn’t be a ham-fisted declaration of authority, it can simply amount to listing your priorities. Favorites of mine included adherence to deadlines and quickly communicating problems. Like the above, this exercise can be for your own benefit as much as the sailors’. On this note, be careful about playing the “I’m cooler and less formal than the other officers” bit. This little bit of ego-stroking is more like the rule than the exception, and nothing screams “I’m not all that cool” like going out of your way to make that impression.
Does the sailor understand how to route a special request chit? Specifically, they need to understand that only the CO can deny a written request. When the junior sailors don’t understand how this works, you can end up with Chiefs and LPOs effectively denying leave. This is not undermining the authority of any divisional leader; it is educating the sailor about something they definitely should know (but often misunderstand).
What should the sailor expect from you? They should feel that you are on their side. As the Division Officer, you are the most powerful individual who has any concept of their specific needs and desires. You may not feel very powerful, but when they have an issue that needs command attention, you are just the individual to call forth that political firepower. Communicating your utility to your sailors will help to reinforce within yourself a sense of service to your people. Just make damn sure that you make good on this promise.
What are they good at? Once I have said my piece, I ask the sailor to tell me what they’re “good at.” This is a very broad question, and the answer can tell you a tremendous amount about the individual. Whatever they say, I commit to asking at least two follow-on questions about it. This is the part of the interview where you make your money—this is their chance to talk. Up until this point they have probably been eager to close out the interview and move on.
While you’re getting a read on the individual—what they’re proud of, how they communicate, how they react to personal questions—you’re also communicating something very import to them. By showing sincere interest, you are demonstrating that the officers—and by extension, the Command—values them as an individual. This is the first step to building real trust.