FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. The Army wants to put the right people in the right jobs at the right time; especially with shrinking budgets, manpower and an uncertain global-security environment, but does it do that very well?
Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Ray Odierno, asked a group of captains how they think those talent-management efforts are working and what improvements, if any, are needed.
Better interaction between the Soldier and his or her branch manager is necessary and the process needs more transparency, said Capt. Paul Lushenko, noting this has been a perennial and festering problem.
He added that the Army would, of course, need to balance the aptitude and interests of the officer against operational requirements. Commanders would also need to play a role in the decision-making process.
However, certain units have a history of drawing good officers, Odierno said, adding that as chief, I want to spread talent across the Army.
The topic of talent management was one of several discussed at the Armys second solarium. The first was convened by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1953, across the defense establishment to formulate Cold War strategy.
Solarium 2014 dealt with pressing issues with which the Army is grappling. One hundred five captains from across the Army met at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., July 9 to 11, to wrestle with these problems and brainstorm ideas and solutions; after interacting with their teams for a month online. The event culminated in each team presenting its findings to the chief.
Dozens of service members were divided into teams, each focusing on something different; including: talent management, vision and branding, culture, mission command, education and training.
Odierno said he values inputs from junior officers, who are the Armys future. He encouraged the captains to contradict their own views and argue their own points in a back-and-forth discussion.
My biggest fear in life is (that) no ones telling me whats going on, so I focus on understanding how other people are seeing things and getting their perspectives, Odierno said.
At what point in an officers career should talent-management evaluations or re-evaluations take place, he asked: at accessions, after five years, 10, all of the above?
At some point in his career, an infantry officer might realize hed be better suited at cyber or intelligence, Lushenko said, and he may not even realize that latent talent.
People do change, by the way, and you may not realize the talents you have until you get out there, he said.
The first seven years are formative, with officers developing their officership and branch fundamentals, he continued. After that, officers and enlisted often seek growth outside their specialties. Fostering and cultivating that growth is a retention issue as well, since specialty burnout could occur without it.
Talent transition is a weighty decision for the Soldier and the Army, Lushenko said. Soldiers pondering this move should have an experienced mentor who can assess and advise. Perhaps the protégé could choose his or her mentor.
Besides having mentors, there would need to be facilitators or talent managers within organizations to manage this relationship, Lushenko said.
Their roles would be facilitating the dialogue between Soldiers, mentors and commanders. This process should be standardized and talent managers would take this on as a formal responsibility.
The business social networking site LinkedIn was mentioned frequently as a useful tool that allows users to share profiles and skills with each other and with talent scouts and employers.
If such a system were implemented by Human Resources Command, it could match positions with talents and would allow Soldiers to get in the loop as well.
They suggested that the Army isnt capable of building such a system and partnering with industry would be needed.
As it stands, iPERMS, Army Career Tracker System and the Officer Evaluation Reporting System are cumbersome, not interconnected.
Soldiers also need report cards to see where they are at a glance so theyre not surprised by results of promotion or assignment selection boards, they said.
Although the Officer Evaluation Reports, known as OERs, have recently been modified to better reflect an officers standing and potential, commanders are not making the tough calls when they fill them out, Odierno said. OERs look too much alike and that makes the board selection process very difficult.
Some of the captains said it is not uncommon in the private sector to see young chief executive officers running large companies. Throughout American military history, young officers have often risen quickly through the ranks to command large formations during wartime.
They wondered if a 28-year-old officer would have the talent to command a brigade, side stepping or bypassing current year-group and time-in-service requirements in favor of a merit system.
Odierno waxed hot and cold on this idea. I like your argument, but there are some impediments, he cautioned. Youre entrusting the lives of Americas sons and daughters to the commander, so taking a risk like that would be too big a gamble, he said. Were not a company like Apple or CISCO thats about profits and margins, he said.
Besides that, there are statutory requirements that prohibit favoritism in deep selecting, he added.
But the idea of elevating talent quickly is worthy of consideration in other ways, he said.
Could a cyber expert or financial wizard be quickly elevated to colonel? Id be comfortable with that, he said, meaning developing a fast track for technical specialties where there is little likelihood of command in battle.
Weve got to figure out how to do that with the authorities we now have and determine what new authorities we need, realizing the process could take five to 10 years, he said.
Carrots for Performers
There was unanimity among the captains and the chief that more incentives are needed for the Armys top performers.
Incentives could include choice of assignment and educational opportunities.
A paid sabbatical to finish graduate school was one idea. The Army recently initiated the Career Intermission Pilot Program that does just that, but Soldiers do not receive their full pay and allowances.
Odierno said the Army is looking at offering top performers a masters degree opportunity outside of the traditional graduate degrees received at service schools. Selectees could major in such areas as international relations, business administration, finance or public management with two follow-on payback assignments.
So someone majoring in international studies could have a follow-on assignment at the J-3 or J-5 with a follow-on at the State Department, he said.
One captain said that the Army Medical Command already has this program in place and that he himself is enrolled in it, studying for a doctorate degree.
Its a great motivator, but getting in is highly competitive, he said.
Odierno promised the captains that their ideas would be given serious consideration and that he would explore their feasibility and provide follow-ups.
The Armys got talent, he concluded, and with junior officers like these leading the service, the Army will be in good hands.
Army leaders said it is likely there will be future solariums, perhaps with NCOs, warrant officers or those of other ranks.