Interesting read about promotion and retention

Postby COMEVIL » Mon Jan 10, 2011 11:58 am

ga10 wrote:COMEVIL, I'm having trouble getting to that website from where I am. Could you copy/paste here?


Friday, January 7, 2011
Why Our Best Navy Officers Are Leaving: Predictable, Statistical, Fairness

Kicking off the blog series on Tim Kane's Atlantic article Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving, the following contribution comes from CDR Michael Junge. CDR Junge is a surface warfare officer who previously commanded USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41).

Rarely do I read an article that squarely grabs my attention on the first paragraph - or has me emailing friends about it by the second.

Tim Kane's recent article "Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving" is one of those. In this article he describes the findings of a survey he conducted of Army Officers that discusses ideas, thoughts, and questions I've either had, or heard in wardrooms, coffee talks, or articles over the past 20 years.

One telling paragraph: ?But the reason overwhelmingly cited by veterans and active-duty officers alike [for the loss of talented officers] is that the military personnel system-every aspect of it-is nearly blind to merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day- regardless of an officer's competence-so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next."

To illustrate some of what he writes, take this hypothetical example of three young men who graduate from college, are commissioned as officers, and report to their first command.

One is brilliant. Finishes everything he is assigned early. Qualifies his initial requirements in record time.

The second is a solid performer. Gets to work on time. Qualifies as required. Solid. Not exceptional.

The third parties. A lot. Is late to work once at least once a month. Qualifies late, and even then only with significant help from his entire chain of command - above and below him.

Along the way all three are assigned new positions within the command. One now works longer hours and is assigned additional collateral duties. As a result, he works later and later each day - but he still excels at what he does even though he?s beginning to put on weight and his physical fitness scores start to drop.

Meanwhile, Three has been quietly relieved of every collateral duty passed his way. As a result he is able to go home earlier, party more, even start training for a marathon.

Two presses along, doing well with what he is given but not necessarily seeking to put more on his plate.

Two years after the anniversary of their commissioning all three are promoted to Lieutenant (Junior Grade).

Nothing really changes over the next two years. One keeps working harder, doing well but getting assigned more and more work. Three spends more time working out, partying, decides to pursue Navy sports teams. Two remains a solid member of the wardroom.

After four years of service all three are promoted to Lieutenant. All three earn the exact same amount of money in their paycheck - despite differences in talent, capability, work ethic, production or any other tangible or intangible measure other than time in service.

All other things being equal, which officer is most likely to stick around past his initial service obligation? Which one is most likely to become a commanding officer? Which one is destined to be a Flag Officer? Which has been rewarded for hard work? Excellence? Productivity? Efficiency?

Now, what if these three had gone to work as junior management at Tysons Food, Shell Oil, Sun Microsystems, Google, Apple, or even WalMart? How would this scenario have played out?

Their starting salary and benefits might likely not be the same as what an Ensign earns. But the potential for promotion? Rapidity of promotion? Earnings potential?

Honestly, I don't know. But I can't imagine for a minute that any of their personnel systems prize seniority over talent. That?s something that corporations in the 1950s did, not anymore.

So, why does DoD have such an archaic system? Or, as Kane writes ?Why does the American military produce the most innovative and entrepreneurial leaders in the country, then waste that talent in a risk-averse bureaucracy??

Much of the ?error? is in the interest of ?fairness?. The personnel assignment and promotion systems were designed by military men who were products of the system, and then approved by Congress and the President in order to get the what they believed to be the fairest possible process they could create. But, fairness is at odds with exemplary performance, innovation, and creativity. And exemplary performance can often be masked (or created) by nepotism, favoritism, sexual or racial discrimination or a host of other subjective measures.

Additionally, the ?up or out? system forces officers, and enlisted personnel, to often promote and serve beyond their capabilities. This in turn drives more junior personnel to seek employment and service elsewhere. And, a system intended to limit the number of senior personnel serving in the armed forces also makes it extraordinarily difficult to fill gaps created by those same policies.

If there are two criticisms I would give Mr. Kane it?s that the article is needlessly Army centric, and that he ignores one other important reality of our promotion and assignment system. Within the armed forces we don't promote to billet vacancies. Instead we promote a percentage of the eligible officers within the ?control grades? based on nothing more than longevity.

To make matters worse, the control grade numbers are subdivided and apportioned in the Navy to the various ?competitive categories?; Unrestricted Line, Restricted Line, Limited Duty (Line), Staff and Limited Duty (Staff) ? Restricted Line and Staff are further subdivided by community. For URL this means that a board selects X% of eligible surface, submarine, aviation, special warfare and special operations officers which means is the Line community is short by a significant number of submarine officers it is legally impossible to add more submarine officers to a given selection group in order to promote more submarine officers to fill those vacancies ? without also increasing the number of surface, aviator, special warfare and special operations officers. And, the board selection rate is legally required to be similar (close, not identical) for the community demographics within the Line competitive category (i.e. Surface Warfare can't promote at 100% to fix shortfalls while aviators only get 45% because they are overmanned).

The other problem, however, is within the subdivided RL and Staff categories. In those communities it is possible to have too few officers, but still have available vacancies within the community while another community has too many officers within a year group, but enough vacancies to fill ? if they weren?t held to the DOPMA percentage requirement.

Each service, and within each service each competitive category, knows exactly how many officers we can promote each year to each control grade (O4, O5, O6) - and there is enough statistical information to be able to predict which year groups will have shortages as they move forward. Which means if community managers were to see a long term issue with inventory to billet matching, they should be able to reduce the number of billets at the O4, O5, O6 level to match the long term number of officers allowed at those levels.

But, there?s circular logic within the system. No one controls O1, O2, or O3 numbers, just the control grades and TOTAL number. So if a service meets authorized officer strength, and doesn?t break the control grades, that service likely has more officers than "ideal DOPMA" anticipated in the non-control grades. In other words, the control grade billets (O4, O5, O6) that are empty are notionally (budgetarily) filled by the over manning in the O1, O2, O3 ranks - even though those officers can't fill the billets set aside for them within the authorized end strength.

An additional wrinkle is that every non-command Commander who stays as long as they can, or post-command Captain not going to major command, or post-major command Captain knowing they won't make it to Flag ends up slowing the promotion path down for those behind them. Corporations can offer all sorts of incentives to get folks to leave?but it?s just not that easy in our system.

But, if our armed forces really want to retain the best and the brightest (since there is significant agreement that we are able to attract and recruit them already) we also need to find a way to professionally, and materially, reward those who have the best chance of being the best and the brightest 10, 15, 20, or 30 years into a career rather than allow us to become a system by which we are forced to select from those who chose to remain, rather than those who are chosen to remain.

Head over to The Atlantic and read all of this thought provoking piece. If you want to dig deeper, you can read the complete survey found online here.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

Posted by Galrahn at 1:00 AM

Labels: Guest Author Series, Leadership
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Postby COMEVIL » Mon Jan 10, 2011 12:16 pm

Another installation is here...

http://www.informationdissemination.net/2011/01/why-our-best-officers-are-leaving-naval.html

This one is aviator-centric. As a community, we could easily provide similar input.

One of my personal, community-specific frustrations with the system is the "requirement" to be well-rounded vice singularly focused. Repeat tours in the same category are frowned upon, yet that is how you become a true expert in your field.

Why not allow IW Officers to do multiple NSW tours, or concentrate on Airborne Direct Support, etc. Is it time to create career paths at the JO level that supports this?

We went down this road before on another thread. I'll see if I can dig it up.
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Postby Sum1 » Mon Jan 10, 2011 6:53 pm

I've said this in a different thread, or perhaps even this one, but I know at least a couple STELLAR individuals who've never, ever been 2nd best who are getting out because my command and the Navy doesn't really give people an opportunity to excel. This might not be everywhere and in every situation, but at a large command your fitreps are more a reflection of what job you have and how often you brief the upper chain of command than it is a reflection of job performance. Deployers (aka people not at the command often) are routinely ranked below their shore-based counterparts because of this.
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Postby 1610MATROS » Mon Jan 10, 2011 8:35 pm

Sum1 wrote: Deployers (aka people not at the command often) are routinely ranked below their shore-based counterparts because of this.


Unless you are the one doing the ranking, you can't really say this. You may believe it to be true, but I doubt that your Skipper, XO, or DH see it this way. In the old days (pre-1980) deployers were the waterwalkers and their shore-based counterparts couldn't get a fair shake. As a sub-rider my evals were 4.0 (on a 4.0 scale) across the board. My evals ashore were 3.4 - 3.6.

The Navy has always had to deal with the 'best of the best' leaving (Ross Perot, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, etc, etc). Somehow we did okay with Nimitz, Halsey, King, Stavridis, Clemins, Willard and Keating sticking around.:)
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Postby Sum1 » Mon Jan 10, 2011 9:10 pm

1610MATROS wrote:Unless you are the one doing the ranking, you can't really say this. You may believe it to be true, but I doubt that your Skipper, XO, or DH see it this way. In the old days (pre-1980) deployers were the waterwalkers and their shore-based counterparts couldn't get a fair shake. As a sub-rider my evals were 4.0 (on a 4.0 scale) across the board. My evals ashore were 3.4 - 3.6.

The Navy has always had to deal with the 'best of the best' leaving (Ross Perot, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, etc, etc). Somehow we did okay with Nimitz, Halsey, King, Stavridis, Clemins, Willard and Keating sticking around.:)


I'd agree with you if it wasn't exactly what I was told in my "debrief" (or the pitiful attempt at explaining why I was below the CO's average for the 2nd fitrep in a row). I was basically told there was a "log jam" of people at the top (all of them individuals who had high-profile shore jobs) and that maybe more opportunity would be there for me once they left. When I asked what I was doing wrong to be ranked below the CO's summary group average for the 2nd fitrep in a row no one could answer. I have yet, to this day, been properly debriefed on the change of command fitrep that was done while I was deployed in June/July 2010.

Sounds like the old days must have been nice.
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Postby COMEVIL » Mon Jan 10, 2011 10:29 pm

Sum1 wrote:I'd agree with you if it wasn't exactly what I was told in my "debrief" (or the pitiful attempt at explaining why I was below the CO's average for the 2nd fitrep in a row). I was basically told there was a "log jam" of people at the top (all of them individuals who had high-profile shore jobs) and that maybe more opportunity would be there for me once they left. When I asked what I was doing wrong to be ranked below the CO's summary group average for the 2nd fitrep in a row no one could answer. I have yet, to this day, been properly debriefed on the change of command fitrep that was done while I was deployed in June/July 2010.

Sounds like the old days must have been nice.


Understand you never got a true debrief. But I wonder if this is less because you are a deployer and more because you simply aren't in zone yet (if that is the case?).

The system is certainly "gamed" at most commands. If you aren't in-zone or just below-zone most chain of commands don't want to "waste" an EP or high-ranking on you. In turn, the Fitness Report has become less and less meaningful. You can see this at all levels, both Enlisted and Officer. It certainly is tough to understand when you bust your ass then get an MP because it simply isn't your "turn" yet. But the system promotes this. Not really sure how to solve this issue, but it certainly doesn't promote maximum performance.
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Postby 1610MATROS » Mon Jan 10, 2011 10:29 pm

Sum1 wrote: I have yet, to this day, been properly debriefed on the change of command fitrep that was done while I was deployed in June/July 2010.

Sounds like the old days must have been nice.


Get with the XO and get that debrief. Put the pressure on from your end.

The old days were nice. The new days are better.:D
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Postby Sum1 » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:20 am

COMEVIL wrote:Understand you never got a true debrief. But I wonder if this is less because you are a deployer and more because you simply aren't in zone yet (if that is the case?).

The system is certainly "gamed" at most commands. If you aren't in-zone or just below-zone most chain of commands don't want to "waste" an EP or high-ranking on you. In turn, the Fitness Report has become less and less meaningful. You can see this at all levels, both Enlisted and Officer. It certainly is tough to understand when you bust your ass then get an MP because it simply isn't your "turn" yet. But the system promotes this. Not really sure how to solve this issue, but it certainly doesn't promote maximum performance.


The fitreps that this occurred on were Ensign and LTJG fitreps, which should actually be more accurate of performance since they really have no bearing on advancement. The majority of the people I would speak to regarding why I was below the summary group would inevitably have a chuckle and mention something about how these fitreps don't matter anyway because you know you're going to me LTJG or LT. In my particular instance they mattered very much, but getting that communicated proved pretty fruitless.

1610MATROS wrote:Get with the XO and get that debrief. Put the pressure on from your end.

The old days were nice. The new days are better.:D


With a new XO on board now and the regular LTJG cycle around the corner I highly doubt anyone will remember why they ranked someone the way they did 6 months ago. Department heads spend too much time micromanaging their div o's for them to have a longer than 2 week memory, either. I'll press my luck now that I have one of those coveted shore jobs and see what happens. Either way, I'm making LT, right?

*edit* As you can see, this is a frustrating topic. Apologize if I came across as snooty.
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Postby COMEVIL » Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:32 am

Sum1 wrote:The fitreps that this occurred on were Ensign and LTJG fitreps, which should actually be more accurate of performance since they really have no bearing on advancement.


Which brings us back to the topic at hand.

Bust your ass = make LT.
Mediocre performer = make LT.
Barely stay out of trouble = make LT.

Doesn't make any sense to me...
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Postby LIVINGIW » Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:40 am

I do not like the FITREP game. I had a similar situation, promoting to LT on 1JUN and then having a Change of Reporting Senior closeout FITREP cycle in JUL. Needless to say, I was the most junior LT and was fodder for the outgoing CO to bump folks up a couple tenths of a point and was given a "P" to boot. I was deployed and was never debriefed on it by our outgoing CO or the XO. The FITREP was submitted to my record with "member not available for signature." When I returned from deployment, I went to the XO with a copy of my FITREP and asked, respectfully of course, for an explanation. He didn't give a very good one, in my opinion, and told me it was my first LT FITREP and it didn't really matter and it would give me room for upward progression. Didn?t really resonate well with me?
I met our new CO right afterwards and when he asked me if I had any questions for him, I asked him straightforward if he played the FITREP game or ranked based on performance and merit? He said the later, and even skeptical, I was hopeful. Without going into details, he ultimately held true and I gained a mentor and a great example of leadership to follow...
So what do I suggest? Keep faith, keep taking care of Sailors, taking care of the mission, and don?t get too wrapped up in the game?
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