Army OE: A History

Hello! My name is Mike Young. In 2014, I completed a history dissertation about the United States Army Organizational Effectiveness Program (1970-1985) as a PhD candidate in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.  I was attracted to this extensive—but almost forgotten—program after serving 30 years in the Army. Throughout my career, from private to lieutenant colonel, I frequently observed poor leadership behaviors at all levels of command. In my experience as a military historian and veteran, senior Army officers have always confused “leadership” with “management,” and “learning” with “training.” They viewed change not in terms of human behavior but rather in terms of technological adaptation and organizational realignment. More importantly, since Vietnam, they have largely ignored or discounted the rich research in the behavioral sciences that have advanced our knowledge about human relations.

When I began my research efforts in 2008, I discovered that a small group of officers, many of whom were fresh out of graduated schools in the behavioral sciences, sought to transform the leadership culture of the Army. As the Army exited Vietnam with severe leadership problems, a large debate opened up across the institution as the Army prepared for the end of the draft and the beginning of the All-Volunteer Army. Realizing that the Army would need to attract large numbers of young people who had largely protested the war and held the Army in disdain, two divergent views arose. Should the Army change its human relations practices by treating young recruits better or should the Army relate to them better given the social upheavals that recently occurred in American society.

In short, the Army Organizational Effectiveness Program was born to promote the latter view. After several years of experimentation, Army OE became institutionalized. The program eventually educated 1702 Organizational Effectiveness Staff Officers (OESOs) to perform as internal consultants in every division, corps, and major command in the Army. As OESOs, they served on staffs to advise commanders on leadership and change management. They did so by mastering and implementing a relatively new method from the fields of humanistic and organizational psychology—called Organizational Development (OD).

As a historian, I have marveled at how progressive and dedicated the OE participants were in improving leadership throughout the Army following the war in Vietnam. I believe that the participants in the Army OE program, in contrast to most Army leaders past and present, understood this complex, emotional behavior called “leadership.” Indeed, I think they were decades ahead of the Army in terms of managing change and implementing effective leadership behaviors.

I believe that the US Army today is experiencing a leadership crisis unlike any since the Vietnam War. Sign posts are everywhere—from toxic leaders reaching across the general officer ranks, to chronic sexual abuse, to high suicide rates (all leadership failures). I also believe that a solution to today’s problems can be found in the Army OE Program. With hope that the Army will turn to its own past for possible solutions, I dedicate this web site to preserving the work of the OESOs and the OE Program.

Thank you for visiting my web site!

Artist credit: Michael R. Crook