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Tools and Measures for NCO Talent Assessment

By Command Sgt. Maj. Jason P. Dein,
Victor Ingurgio, Ph.D., Krista L. Ratwani, Ph.D.,
Frederick Diedrich, Ph.D., and Scott Flanagan

U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences

July 26, 2019

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Then Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper, and Deputy Chief of Staff, Army G-1 Lt. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands meet with the senior leadership of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Ky

The concept of talent management is prevalent throughout the Army — from the publication of the Army Talent Management Strategy in 2016, to yearly releases and updates of the Army’s personnel management system (Integrated Personnel and Pay System — Army). There is no shortage of efforts ensuring the Army has Soldiers, especially noncommissioned officers (NCOs), with the proficiencies needed to succeed under a myriad of dynamic situations.


To ensure that the Army has the necessary skills, knowledge, and behaviors to win in a complex world, we must shift from simply distributing personnel to more deliberately managing the talents that our Soldier and Civilians possess. This means creating the policies, programs, and processes that recognize and capitalize on the unique talents possessed by every member of the Army team and employing each member to maximum effect. (Department of the Army, 2016, p. 1)


Assessment

One of the keys to the Army’s Talent Management Strategy is continuous assessment. Within the Workforce Management Framework outlined in the Talent Management Strategy (Department of the Army, 2016), assessments are a critical linchpin between the desired end state of Soldiers who are ready to win in a complex world and core talent management functions: Acquire, develop, employ, and retain talent ("Talent Management," 2018).

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Symon Bowen, Delta Company, 2nd Battalion (Assault), 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, uses his red lens flashlight to plot points for night land navigation (TBA).

Assessment is essential for several reasons: First, at the individual Soldier level, assessments point to areas where further development may be needed. For example, what guidance, experiences, training, or education can help a Soldier further succeed within the Army?

Second, comprehensive assessments provide leaders with the data to understand where developmental gaps may exist across their units. For instance, what attributes and competencies are missing that may affect unit success? Overall, accurate, informative assessments are foundational to the Army managing talent to develop Soldiers for long-term career progression.

Leaders at all levels should be able to quickly and consistently assess and track Soldiers on important attributes and competencies to provide both formal and informal feedback to guide their progress. Similarly, they should be able to get a snapshot of where their unit stands in order to intervene as necessary. As such, this article describes the development of leadership rubrics that can serve as a foundation for those tools.

Without well-defined rubrics, assessments may not be standardized across leaders (the proposed rubric is located at the end of the article). This results in performance disparities, and ultimately, affects long-term Soldier development. In addition, efforts are currently being made to install these rubrics into tracking software that allows assessment and tracking of Soldiers over time.

Assessment Framework and Goals

The goal of this work is to help leaders make accurate, comprehensive, and consistent assessments of Soldiers. This will allow for both formal and informal feedback. For this research, we collaborated with a Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA) unit and focused specifically on tools to be used by section leaders to assess their team leaders. However, this work is generalizable to other contexts and units.

A Special Forces candidate at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School jumps onto a rope on Nasty Nick, the school’s obstacle course, during Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, Jan. 16, 2019

Leaders throughout the Army, including section leaders, are required to rate their team leaders on the leader attributes and competencies specified in the Army’s Leadership Requirements Model (LRM) in the Army’s ADRP 6-22: Army Leadership (Department of the Army, 2012) in the context of noncommissioned officer evaluation reports (NCOERs).

The leadership attributes and competencies specified in the LRM are the focus of the rubrics designed for this research. By developing assessments of those attributes and competencies, leaders can use the ratings to help both with formal feedback and evaluation (i.e., quarterly counseling, NCOERs) as well as more informal feedback (after action reports/hot washes) provided throughout the course of daily events.

While the current LRM leadership attributes and competencies are used to evaluate Soldiers on NCOERs, they can be interpreted as subjective ratings. Based on discussions with NCOs and officers, leaders sometimes struggle to articulate specific behaviors that represent these attributes and competencies. In addition, what one leader believes is good presence, may not be the same as another leader’s perception of good presence.

There have been efforts in doctrine to make the dimensions more objective through the provision of behavioral indicators. For example, FM 6-22: Leader Development outlines behavioral indicators for each competency and anchor (Department of the Army, 2015a). The rubrics described here are not intended to replace or conflict with such information, but instead tailor the information found in doctrine to Soldiers and their leaders (section leaders and their team leaders), making it more accessible by incorporating their own words and examples of what each attribute and competency means.

Method: Rubric Development

Several steps were taken to create a rubric that meaningfully reflected how Soldiers view each of the attributes and competencies but did not conflict with existing doctrine. We focused on the behaviors of junior NCOs at different performance levels for each of the sub-attributes and competencies within the LRM. Behavioral anchors were developed to describe performance at three levels: Strength, standard, and developmental need.

U.S. Army Sgt. Daryl Kaisen, an evaluator for the 804th Movement Control Team, conducts an after action review with his team

Initially, observations of training exercises were conducted with a RSTA unit. Training exercises observed were land navigation, gunnery (simulation and live-fire), reconnaissance, and section level live-fire. This identified behaviors reflecting leadership attributes and competencies. Next, the attributes and competencies were discussed with section leaders in detail to obtain additional perspectives on the types of behaviors they believed were important.

A doctrine review was also conducted, specifically: FM 6-22: Leader Development (Department of the Army, 2015a), ADRP 6-22: Army Leadership (Department of the Army, 2012), and Department of the Army Pamphlet 623-3: Evaluation Reporting System (2015b). In addition, the rubric was also shared with researchers at the Center for Army Leadership (now known as the Center for the Army Profession and Leadership) to ensure consistency with existing documents and that the general spirit of the attributes and competencies were captured. In doing this, the information in each existing document was made more precise by coupling it with the behaviors identified from the observations.

This combined information resulted in the three anchor points/performance levels approach as well as a short definition of each sub-attribute and competency. The one exception to the three anchor points was Character. This attribute only contained two anchor points, following a Go/No Go approach common with assessing character within the Army. An example definition and scale is in Figure 1.

Then Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper, and Deputy Chief of Staff, Army G-1 Lt. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands meet with the senior leadership of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Ky

Talent Management Uses and Implications

The rubric is generalizable and can help push forward the Army’s talent management initiatives in several ways:

  • The rubric provides a mechanism by which NCOs can focus the development of their Soldiers on critical leadership attributes and competencies outlined in the LRM.

  • By outlining behaviors associated with the LRM dimensions, the rubric leads to a better understanding of the dimensions through use and repetition.

  • The NCO using the rubric to make assessments will become more familiar with each attribute and competency, and as the junior NCOs receive feedback, they will also become more familiar with them.

  • Once Soldiers understand what each dimension means, they can better advance along each one.

  • Once a greater understanding of each attribute and competency is achieved, there should be greater consistency in how Soldiers are assessed Army-wide. Consistency in the interpretation of the attributes and competencies is essential for creating a more standardized evaluation system.

The rubric promotes methods by which junior NCOs can be guided more effectively. It encourages observing and noting specific behaviors which can then be discussed with the Soldier to facilitate their development. By collecting information on distinct behaviors, feedback can be more specific and more actionable. Embedding the rubric into a mobile application will allow leaders to quickly make observations and give feedback. Also, if used over time, the rubric allows leaders to watch the progress of individual Soldiers, as well as units, across periods of time or events.

Possibilities

By continuously assessing Soldiers on the same attributes and competencies, leaders will be able to hone in on their strengths and weaknesses. At the group level, data can be aggregated to obtain valuable diagnostic information about a unit like a platoon or brigade. For example, if all Soldiers within a platoon are consistently rated negatively on certain attributes and competencies, leaders can create target interventions to promote growth. It may be that unit leaders need additional training related to mentoring Soldiers. Or perhaps the data will inform the company commander that platoon members need to be redistributed across platoons to better leverage the talents of individual members in that group. Ultimately, by examining observations at the unit level, multiple inferences can be drawn to further ensure each unit is in the best position possible for mission success.


References

Department of the Army. (2012). ADRP 6-22: Army leadership. Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/adrp6_22.pdf

Department of the Army. (2015a). FM 6-22: Leader development. Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/fm6_22.pdf

Department of the Army. (2015b). DA Pam 623-3: Evaluation reporting system. Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/p623_3.pdf

Department of the Army. (2016). U.S. Army talent management strategy: Force 2025 and beyond. Retrieved from https://talent.army.mil/wp-content/uploads/pdf_uploads/PUBLICATIONS/Army%20Talent%20Management%20
Strategy%2C%20Force%202025%20and%20Beyond.pdf

Talent management: Acquire, develop, employ, retain. (2018). Association of the United States Army. Retrieved from https://www.ausa.org/articles/talent-management-acquire-develop-employ-retain




Complete Definitions and Rubric

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Rubric definitions

Leads

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Develops

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Achieves

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Character

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Presence

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Intellect

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Command Sgt. Maj. Jason P. Dein is an infantry senior sergeant in the United States Army. Dein is currently working towards his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. He is the command sergeant major for 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Victor Ingurgio holds a doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Oklahoma and is a senior research psychologist with the Army’s Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, Fort Benning, Ga. He has conducted research and applied human factors principles and techniques for NASA, FAA, TSA, DoN, and DoD/DoA systems for over 22 years.

Krista L. Ratwani holds a doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology from George Mason University. She is currently the senior director of the Learning and Training Systems Division at Aptima, Inc,. where she leads research and development efforts focused on creating the components of learning experiences that facilitate effective lifelong learning.

Frederick Diedrich holds a doctorate in cognitive science from Brown University and is currently an independent consulting principal scientist. His work focuses on methods of instruction and assessment designed to deliberately support development in areas such as social skills, character, initiative, and critical thinking. Previously, Diedrich was CEO at Milcord, LLC, as well as president at Aptima, Inc.

Scott Flanagan is a retired Army master sergeant and served 20 years active duty in Special Forces and Special Mission Unit assignments. Flanagan’s Army career includes operational, instructor, and research and development assignments including multiple combat deployments to the Middle East. As a consultant, Flanagan has extensive experience working with the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization and the Asymmetric Warfare Group.

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