ResourceEngaging Leadership Before, During, and After Implementing Sexual Assault Prevention Activities in the Military

To those working in the sexual assault prevention space, the negative consequences of sexual assault for military readiness might seem obvious. However, to many, including those in leadership positions, the link between sexual assault prevention and mission priorities is less clear. Leadership buy-in is critical to the success of any prevention activity; therefore, engaging decisionmakers throughout the process is a core task of any sexual assault prevention activity team.

This resource offers guidance to help teams engage leaders before, during, and after planning and implementing prevention activities. For the activities outlined below, we recommend that senior leadership (O-6 to O-8) briefings be condensed to just the main points. Depending on the preferences and availability of senior leadership (O-6 to O-8), your team might need to brief senior leadership on Steps 1 through 6 during one briefing and then provide an update on evaluation results and improvement plans (Steps 7–9) at a second briefing. O-4 to O-6 leadership might be interested in and available for additional or longer meetings, and these briefings should include greater detail. It is not recommended to brief leadership only once (i.e., after completion of all steps). Engaging leadership throughout the process will help ensure that the team has appropriate support and buy-in necessary for their prevention activities. A format for such presentations is provided in Table 1 below.

Before Beginning Prevention Planning

Prior to beginning the work outlined in the GTO Handbook, your team will need to lay the groundwork for successful implementation by educating leadership on the importance and benefits of prevention activities (as opposed to response-only activities) and the value of evidence-based interventions (as opposed to homegrown or untested interventions). A brief presentation can give leadership an overview of sexual assault prevention (what it is and why prevention is important), evidence-based prevention practices (what they are, why they are preferable), and the GTO model. The overview of the GTO model should be very brief and should simply highlight that the team is using an evidence-based planning process to select, implement, and continuously improve the quality of the intervention. The goal of the briefing should be to establish a basic understanding of the need for well-planned and effective sexual assault prevention activities and achieve the buy-in needed to proceed with prevention activity planning. Aim to engage leadership at all levels (i.e., O-4 to O-8) at least once prior to beginning prevention planning.

During Prevention Planning

During the planning process, leadership briefings would ideally occur at two stages:

  1. after the team has identified priority problems and corresponding goals and desired outcomes (i.e., after completion of GTO Steps 1 and 2; see Engaging Leadership: Progress Briefing 1 below)
  2. after the team has identified the recommended prevention activity, the associated costs and workload, and the expected outcomes (i.e., GTO Steps 3 through 6; see Engaging Leadership: Progress Briefing 2 below).

After Implementation and Evaluation

A briefing on evaluation results and subsequent quality improvement action steps (i.e., after GTO Steps 7 through 9; see Engaging Leadership: Progress Briefing 3 below) is an opportunity to champion successes, as well as to highlight challenges that might require additional leadership support or resources to resolve. Depending on the results of the evaluation, this briefing might be an opportunity to explain why a different, more-effective intervention activity should be considered during the next round of planning.

For additional actionable information on engaging leadership, we recommend consulting the Department of Defense (DoD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office SAPRO Leadership Curriculum, which provides step-by-step guidance on how to effectively communicate with leadership.

Table 1: Example Format for Leadership Briefings

Senior leadership (e.g., base or senior mission commander; O-6 to O-8)

  1. Bottom line up front (BLUF): What is being asked of the leader? (e.g., To pay for this? Approve this? Direct this?)
  2. Problem statement: Make it clear and concise and at the layman level.
  3. Solution selected: Why is the solution the best or most promising fit?
  4. Costs: What are the financial expenditures (and who is paying), the costs to personnel time, and the impact to the regular mission?
  5. Outcomes expected: Set honest expectations early about return on investment.
  6. Requested leadership roles and actions: E.g., what are leaders being asked to direct others to do? Is public endorsement of the initiative being requested? Will leaders receive periodic reports?

Lower-level leadership (e.g., battalion, squadron, group; O-4 to O-6)

Use the same outline as above but include more detail for item 6, requested leadership roles and actions. For example:

  • Let leadership know how they can provide support.
  • Direct the leadership team to complete specified actions.
  • Let leadership know how they can follow up.
  • Ask the leadership team to provide positive and constructive feedback at specified points.
  • Let leaders know that they can expect responses to feedback within a specified number of days or hours.

Engaging Leadership: Progress Briefing 1

As mentioned above, there are certain points in the GTO process at which it may be beneficial to update leadership on the GTO team’s progress and request feedback. These check-ins allow for course corrections throughout the process to establish buy-in and avoid any surprises down the road. The first implementation planning briefing can occur after the GTO team has completed Steps 1 and 2. At this point, the GTO team should have a clear idea of the priority problems that need to be addressed, the gaps in services already being offered, and some actionable goals and specific desired outcomes. Using the relevant elements of the format identified in Table 1, the team should prepare a leadership briefing that

  • states the BLUF: What is being asked of the leader? At this stage, the GTO team might just be asking for feedback or confirmation that the problems and goals identified are appropriate to pursue.
  • provides a brief overview the value of prevention (as opposed to treatment only) to mission readiness.
  • identifies the priority problems to be addressed, including data or statistics (identified in Step 1) where appropriate to illustrate the issue. Where possible, give examples and describe ways that these problems impact the mission, as this is likely to be of primary concern to leadership.
  • directly links the problems to goal statements. Linkage could be illustrated using arrows from problems to goals, a logic model table, or some other visual that clarifies how the team decided on the goal statements. Explain how addressing these problems will comply with DoD requirements.
  • provides a limited number of requests from leadership. At this stage, your team might ask leadership to provide any feedback on the goals and either (1) direct the team to proceed with planning an intervention or (2) ask the team to revise the goals.
  • sets expectations for when the next planning update will be provided. The next suggested briefing will occur after the team reviews and selects candidate interventions (i.e., after GTO Step 6).

Engaging Leadership: Progress Briefing 2

Having completed GTO Steps 3 through 5, the GTO team will either have identified at least one candidate prevention activity or will have determined that they are not able to proceed at this time (e.g., because of a lack of capacity). In either case, there is value in providing an update to leadership. Depending on the outcome of GTO Steps 3, 4, 5, and 6, the goal of the briefing could differ:

  • If your team has made a decision about the activity (or activities) that should be implemented, the purpose of the briefing could be to solicit feedback on any adjustments to the rollout of the prevention activity and to request any needed support for implementation.
  • If your team has identified several candidate prevention activities, the goal might be to present the options and obtain feedback from leadership, with the purpose of making the final selection.
  • If your team was unable to identify a suitable prevention activity, the purpose of the briefing will be to update leadership on the steps taken to find an activity that would address the previously identified problems and goals. This is an opportunity to reiterate the value of evidence-based, effective prevention activities and to caution against wasting effort on activities just because they are more accessible or convenient.

Again, leadership briefings should follow the format that was shown in Table 1 and should be as concise as possible. The more senior the leader, the more succinct the briefing should be. Be aware that there is more information to cover in this briefing because you will need to quickly recap main points from the previous briefings—at minimum, the identified problem(s) and goal(s)—and you will need to budget your time accordingly. At this stage, the briefing should include

  1. the BLUF: What is being asked of the leader? The BLUF will correspond to one of the three briefing goals identified above.
  2. the problem statement and corresponding goals, reiterated from the first briefing.
  3. the solution selected. As time allows, discuss the decisionmaking process, including whether there were other candidate activities and why they were (or were not) ruled out. Make the case for why the prevention activity is a good fit for the site. If no activities were selected, explain the primary factors that caused you to rule out the available options.
  4. costs. Briefly describe the expected cost, including costs to personnel time, and the funding source.
  5. outcomes expected. Describe the outcomes the activity has been known to achieve, as identified in your Step 3 research. Set realistic expectations about any return on investment and remind leadership that prevention activities typically take several implementation cycles to create visible community impact.
  6. an optional handout with an abbreviated version of the GTO Step 6 logic model to illustrate the flow from problem statements through to expected outcomes, requested leadership roles, and actions.

This briefing is an opportunity to request leadership support for the specific prevention activities being planned. At minimum, you will likely want to ask for some form of public endorsement. Give leadership the opportunity to weigh in on implementation and evaluation plans as your team develops them in GTO Step 6; otherwise, let them know that the next briefing will provide preliminary evaluation results.

Engaging Leadership: Progress Briefing 3

Now that you have had time to review evaluation data and identify changes for next time (see GTO steps 7– 9), it is important to follow up with leadership to update them on the evaluation results and return on investment (if any). This is also an opportunity to share with leaders about the level of effort needed to run a prevention activity well and some of the challenges you might have encountered so that leadership has a more complete understanding of the process. Again, senior leadership briefings should be very brief and should focus only on bottom-line results, recommendations, and requests. Mid-level leadership (O-4 to O-6) might have more bandwidth to engage in discussions, and this briefing can include slightly more detailed or nuanced information (while still focusing on main points). Following a clear format, such as the one identified in Table 1, will help keep discussions focused and action oriented. At this stage, the briefing can

  • provide the BLUF. The key takeaways are likely to focus on the main results (whether positive or negative); what did or did not work about the intervention; and actions recommended to improve, maintain, or replace the intervention. State whether you are requesting feedback or simply providing an update as previously promised.
  • very briefly state the main problems and goals being addressed and describe the intervention selected. Here, for example, the senior leadership briefing might include only one or two sentences describing the intervention, whereas a longer briefing for mid-level leadership might also include some detail on why this particular intervention was selected over others. Use your judgment in deciding how much information to provide, given that the focus of this briefing should be on evaluation results and next steps.
  • provide the main evaluation outcome results first. Outcomes are typically of greater interest to most audiences than process information, which is usually used to explain the outcomes. Provide simple statistics and bottom-line results; do not include too much data or analysis information on briefing slides, but be prepared to answer more-nuanced questions about the results. Bring a copy of the full evaluation results for yourself so that you have this information available if additional questions arise.
  • explain any notable outcomes, as needed, using your process evaluation information. Note the main recommendations that arise from reviewing both the process and outcome data: e.g., Are there changes that need to be made to scheduling? Does the curriculum need to be updated to increase relevance to trainees? And, most importantly, does the GTO team recommend improving and sustaining the intervention or replacing it completely?
  • champion any successes of the prevention activity, solicit feedback on recommended changes, and potentially garner additional support from leadership for future cycles of the intervention.
Handbook Overview