To capture some thoughts conveyed in a recent officer professional development session regarding evaluations and career development (NCOs – don’t turn away just yet – your input is critical…), I offer the following and seek your thoughts.
Be The Board:
– Remember your audience when preparing evaluations. If you’re writing to the officer or the NCO, you are wrong – very wrong. Your mark on the Soldier’s career is direct communication with a nameless and faceless board or panel years into the future. It is, in fact, a lifetime vote you’re casting for the Soldier to be (or not to be) a Command Sergeant Major, a colonel or a general, or a Command Chief Warrant Officer. The time for communication comes well ahead of the evaluation end date. Consider this as you do communicate with your Troops… If more people were told they’re wrong when they are wrong, they’d be right more often. When recognized for being right, they’ll be more motivated to be right. Finally, if the consequences for wrong are the same as for right, there’s no effective difference between the two (this observation stolen from a Command Sergeant Major – thanks!).
– How do your Soldiers look as they go into the board or panel? Are they situated well to gain top marks in the evaluated areas? Those areas are typically: performance, potential, military bearing, professional military education, civilian education and assignments. With a little training, you can quickly gain an eye for how your Troops will fare. Who knows what right looks like? You and your professional peers do, provided you engage with them in this kind of discussion. How can you groom your subordinates (particularly those who want to succeed for the right reasons) to present the best, well-documented file before the board?
— Performance. Is it captured in quantified, concise statements of fact?Is it comparable with the Soldier’s peers? Did it support unit mission accomplishment and was it in keeping with the Army values? Your pen is powerful – if you want it to be…
— Potential. Critical in both officer and NCO evaluations, this is not simply worded as “great” or “unlimited” potential. It is demonstrated in top-notch performance in complex assignments and indicated by the rater in a meaningful way by the election of “the next three jobs” as well as statements regarding schooling or civilian education. Selecting three critical/complex assignments at the next grade or higher telegraph significantly more potential than three less complex jobs at the Soldier’s same grade or lower. How else is potential captured for your audience – “the board”?
— Military Bearing. Again. It’s more than a statement as to the degree of military bearing. It’s about demeanor, ability to command respect of others, ability to demand success and to get it. It’s how the Soldier looks in uniform. His or her level of physical fitness (failing, 180 or 280 or exceptional?). It’s about physical health, stamina, ability to operate under stress – and, again, the Soldier’s demeanor under that stress. Does the Soldier’s disciplined behavior reflect the Army values? Does the Soldier demonstrate humility? If yes, is this a comment to note when talking about military bearing? What else am I missing?
— Professional Military Education. Is it done to the grade-level of the Soldier? Is the Soldier ahead, on par or behind? Are all skill identifiers required trained and documented? Are the Soldier’s academic evaluation reports indicative of success (meets course standards, outstanding, satisfactory or marginally achieving standards)? Marginally achieving or failing to achieve standards for weight or APFT failure are career damaging, lifetime votes for the Troop. Are you sending a Troop to his own failure by looking the other way when it comes to basic qualifiers? Yes you are…Questions?
— Civilian Education. Officers. You have to have it. Officers by law must have a bachelors degree before promotion to captain. Further, there is no rule except for certain professions that officers must seek or hold graduate level degrees — but, the most successful ones do. Here’s why. Graduate-level education is not just another 30 to 36 hours beyond a bachelor’s degree. A masters degree is an indicator of training as a critical thinking, complex problem-solving professional. What do we do? We get hard things done when other agencies can’t… Ever wonder why? Because we don’t like “can’t”.
— Assignments. Are you comfortable where you are? Have you been there for four or more rating periods? Warning. Warning. Danger. Danger. Officers are expected to develop into and execute well as generalists. Why do you think they call the guys at the top end of our craft “generals”? You can’t get to be the generalist, problem-solving leader the Army needs by settling into a comfort zone. Doing so is career damaging. NCOs. Different story to a degree. The Army needs NCOs to be the technical and tactical standard bearers of the craft. Don’t look for me to advise you well here. I’d be wrong to do so beyond the following. You can’t operate from a comfort zone too long either, but so long as your not complacent or failing, you are expected to be in position far longer than officer personnel. Warrant Officers. You must be THE technical expert in your area. When it comes to your discipline, no one can be allowed to be more technically competent than you. So here’s the plan. No matter the program, be you NCO, officer or warrant officer, there are key gate assignments for every branch. Find those jobs as a priority. If your Soldier’s career field calls for them to specialize, do so without falling trap to a comfort zone pitfall. Seek assignments that test your best Troops. Make sure they find the key gate jobs (company grade officers typically need to be platoon leaders, company executive officers, commanders and primary battalion staff officers; field grade officers need to be S3s, XOs, battalion and brigade commanders). The other seasoning assignments are now, more than ever, required to be joint (at least once), at levels above battalion and brigade, some interaction in an interagency process is helpful, some focus on budgetary and programming is helpful and all assignments must be executed by the officer holding them as if they are critical to the organization’s success. We don’t have enough to go around, so, organizationally, we can ill afford to assign officers into non-critical, place-holder positions. When we do, we weaken our formation and disrespect our craft.
Okay… Enough. I’ve gone long and still haven’t covered all I need or want to. This discussion is yours. I’m ready to learn from you.
“Be the board”.