It may be called human resource management, human resource development or talent management. Whatever term you use, recruiting, retaining and managing talent is at the heart of every organization.
An organization can choose to manage its talent inclusively or exclusively. Inclusive talent management means that every employee has the same opportunities for education, assignments and promotions. In exclusive talent management, individual selections are competitive and there are doors to future promotions.
The Army suffers from a disconnect between its Talent Management Task Force’s utopian vision of the Army’s talent alignment process and actual talent management.
The talent market is frustrating for soldiers and units. According to the Assignment Interactive Module (AIM), a database that collects information on soldiers’ career preferences, backgrounds, skills and expertise, “Marketplaces are designed to allow officers the widest choice and preference for assignments consistent with Army readiness requirements”.
Instructions for agents using AIM include preference for all jobs in their market and communicating with units to allow the agent and unit to make informed preference decisions. This is an inclusive way to manage talent, but promotions, schools, and command selections create an exclusive talent pool. Each promotion, command, or school selection distinguishes officers and develops their abilities differently.
Manage exclusive talents
The split between the ideal talent management process and the Army assignment process creates problems for soldiers, units, and assignment managers. There will never be a solution without problems, but the Army can solve system and process problems to manage the proprietary talent pool.
The first problem is the use of self-proclaimed and unquantifiable knowledge, skills and behaviors. Allowing a soldier to choose their attributes does not accurately describe the individual’s capabilities. Some officers will limit their selections, while others may enhance their abilities.
Also, AIM is not user friendly to find and select different knowledge, skills or behaviors. The concept allows units to match their needs to a soldier’s abilities, but units rarely update job descriptions with the attributes they want. The overall effect is to waste soldiers and units time.
If the Army is to use its knowledge, skills and behavior framework, there must be a mechanism to verify an individual’s attributes. Non-military organizations use certifications as the primary mechanism for determining a person’s skills. The Army needs to determine how to implement a similar certification process as part of its talent alignment process.
AIM also uses non-binding labels to differentiate jobs, which confuses the system. Assignment managers mark an officer based on their assessment of how that officer performs. These tags include JDAL, KD, OCT, and Former BDE/BN Commander, denoting Joint Assignment List, Key Development Positions, Observer Coach/Trainer Experience, and Brigade Command/Brigadier Experience, respectively. battalion. This information should tell a soldier which jobs they are eligible for and allow a unit to easily identify people for their position. Unfortunately, units do not add these labels to job descriptions and officers favor jobs for which they are not qualified.
Instead, the military should move to binding tags to determine eligibility for certain jobs. Joint Duty, Key and Development, Observer/Controller, and Former Commander designations shall be enforceable. This means that officers with these tags are the only ones allowed to apply for jobs with the same tags, which reduces the number of talent mismatches and recognizes that the military uses proprietary talent management.
Green ticks and unique resumes are also part of the selection process.
When selecting, a green tick in the unit interest column influences the ranking of assignments more than it should. While advice to officers is to rank assignments according to their desires, it is human nature to seek out belonging. Why would an officer prefer a unit that doesn’t want it?
At the last market I attended, I spent too much time checking the status of checkmarks. When I didn’t see green checkmarks on places I wanted to go, I moved on to units that showed interest in me. As a hiring manager, I used that same logic to rank those who wanted the job above those who didn’t.
The biggest problem with the green tick is: it’s vague. It tells the officer or unit that the other prefers them over a percentage of the total ranking, but it doesn’t specify where they are in the hierarchy. Instead of showing a tick for interest, it should give the officer and unit the current preference rank. Knowing where you fit in the unit or the officer’s preferences will help both make informed decisions.
Finally, the system is limited to a single CV for all jobs. Multiple resumes are one of the main tenets of applying for a job. CV training courses instruct participants to prepare a unique CV for each job application. The candidate adapts his CV to the requirements of a specific position.
Under the current system of the Army Talent Alignment Process, officers can only create one resume. The agent must adapt the CV to the type of job he wants or create a universal CV. The system should allow agents to customize their resumes and share specific resumes with jobs listed on the market.
The most significant process issue with the Army’s talent management process is process education. On the one hand, units need to understand how to create a validated requirement and enter the market. Additionally, units need to know how to complete market work and add necessary tags and attributes.
On the other hand, officers need to understand the difference between preference and choice. The current process appears to erode the concept of selfless service in the military. Units and officers need to understand the other assignment factors and how they influence the supportability of a market match.
In the current process, other affecting factors are not taken into account in the market and are resolved during the post-market review. Assignment managers still have a role in the talent management system because of these factors. For example, many soldiers do not understand how the Exceptional Army Family Member Program works or their role in keeping their records up to date. This requires an assignment manager to ensure that the facility can meet a family’s needs.
Since all assignments are on the market, the selection of officers and units can be a talent mismatch. This is when an agent matches a job that is above or below their current skill set. For example, a senior CWO 4 could base their decision on location and select a position designed for a junior CWO 2. The unit would benefit from a senior officer and select the officer, making a match. However, the second-order effect of this is that a junior officer must now complete a senior officer requirement.
This problem is compounded by a misalignment of the market calendar with centralized selections. Army councils select individuals for promotions, battalion or brigade command, attendance at mid-level education, and senior service colleges. However, council results are not released on a schedule that supports the Army’s talent alignment process.
Instead, assignment managers must break market matches and find alternates to meet the requirements when an individual is selected by one of these councils.
The Army must synchronize selections with the Army Talent Alignment Process assignment schedule. This would force all Army selection boards to meet sooner or find a way to streamline the process and reduce processing and approval times. Officers competing in a market should not wait for a promotion, school, or command council result. Instead, board results should inform the market about who is available to move and at what rank.
Finally, the process should require agents to accept the contract assignment. If an officer chooses to compete in the market and preferential assignments, he should not be allowed to retire or be released from active duty instead of fulfilling that assignment. This change would reduce turbulence in the market, but it would require a change in Army policy.
There is a disconnect between the architects of the Army’s talent alignment process and the agency responsible for implementing it. The system ignores many human resource management requirements and treats the talent population inclusively, but selects individuals through an exclusive advisory process. The disconnect leaves officers and units wondering if the system manages talent better than the old way of managing assignments.
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Colonel CJ Phillips, assistant chief of staff for plans, III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas, is an Army strategist with 24 years of government service. He is pursuing a doctorate in strategic leadership at Regent University, Virginia.