It can be called human resource management, human resource development or talent management. Regardless of the term used, recruiting, maintaining and managing talent is a focus of all organizations.
An organization can choose to handle its talent inclusively or exclusively. Inclusive talent management means every employee has the same opportunity for education, assignments and promotions. In exclusive talent management, individual selections are competitive, and there are gates to future promotions.
The Army suffers from a disconnect between its Talent Management Task Force’s utopian view of the Army Talent Alignment Process and the actual management of talent.
The talent marketplace is frustrating for soldiers and units. According to the Assignment Interactive Module (AIM), a database that collects information on soldiers’ job preferences, background, skills and expertise, “Markets are built to allow officers the widest choice and preference of assignments consistent with Army readiness requirements.”
The instructions to officers using AIM include preferencing all jobs in their marketplace and communicating with units to enable informed preference decisions by both the officer and the unit. 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 sets officers apart and develops their abilities differently.
Managing Exclusive Talent
The division between the ideal talent management process and the Army assignment process creates issues for soldiers, units and assignment managers. There will never be a solution without problems, but the Army can address system and process issues to manage the exclusive talent pool.
The first issue is the use of knowledge, skills and behaviors that are self-professed and not quantifiable. Allowing a soldier to self-select their attributes does not accurately depict the capabilities of the individual. Some officers will limit their selections, while others may embellish their abilities.
Additionally, AIM is not user-friendly in finding and selecting different knowledge, skills or behaviors. The concept allows units to match their requirements with a soldier’s capabilities, but units rarely update job descriptions with the attributes they want. The overall effect is to waste soldiers’ and units’ time.
If the Army wants to use its knowledge, skills and behaviors framework, there must be a mechanism to verify an individual’s attributes. Nonmilitary organizations use certifications as a primary mechanism to determine a person’s skills. The Army must determine how to implement a similar certification process as part of its talent alignment process.
AIM also uses unbinding labels to differentiate jobs, which confuses the system. Assignment managers tag an officer based on their assessment of that officer’s manner of performance. These labels include JDAL, KD, OCT and Former BDE/BN Commander, denoting, respectively, joint duty assignment list, key developmental positions, observer coach/trainer experience and brigade/battalion command experience. This information should inform a soldier as to which jobs they qualify for, and allow a unit to easily identify people for its position. Unfortunately, units are not adding these labels to job descriptions, and officers are preferencing jobs they are not qualified to fill.
Instead, the Army should transition to binding labels to determine eligibility for some jobs. The joint duty designation, key and developmental, observer/controller and former commander designations should be binding. This means officers with those labels are the only ones allowed to apply for jobs carrying the same tags, reducing the number of talent mismatches and acknowledging that the Army uses exclusive talent management.
Green checkmarks and single resumes are also part of the selection process.
During selection, a green checkmark in the unit interest column influences assignment rankings more than it should. While guidance to officers is to rank assignments based on their desires, it is human nature to seek belonging. Why would an officer prefer a unit that does not want them?
In the last market I participated in, I spent too much time checking the status of checkmarks. When I did not see green checkmarks on the places I wanted to go, I moved on to units that showed an interest in me. As a hiring official, I used this same logic to rank those who wanted the job above those who did not.
The biggest issue with the green checkmark is: It is vague. It tells the officer or the unit that the other one prefers them compared to a percentage of total rankings, but it does not clarify where they are in the hierarchy. Instead of showing a checkmark for interest, it should give the officer and the unit the current preference ranking. Knowing where you rank in either the unit or the officer’s preferences will aid both in making informed decisions.
Finally, the system is limited to a single resume for all jobs. Multiple resumes are one of the critical tenets of applying for jobs. Resume training classes tell participants to prepare a unique resume for each job application. The applicant tailors their resume to a specific job’s requirements.
In the current Army Talent Alignment Process system, officers can create only one resume. The officer must tailor the resume to the type of jobs they want or create a universal resume. The system should allow officers to tailor their resumes and share specific resumes with jobs listed in the market.
The most significant process issue with the Army talent management process is education about the process. On one hand, units must understand how to create a validated requirement and get into the market. Additionally, units need to know how to complete the job in the market and add necessary labels and attributes.
On the other hand, officers must understand the difference between preference and choice. The current process seems to be eroding the concept of selfless service in the Army. Both 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 assignment factors are not considered in the market and are resolved in 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 Army Exceptional Family Member Program works or their role in updating their records. This requires an assignment manager to make sure the installation can accommodate a family’s needs.
Since all assignments are in the market, officer and unit selection can be a talent mismatch. This is when an officer matches a job that is either above or below their current skill set. For example, a senior chief warrant officer 4 could base their decision on location and select a job designed for a junior chief warrant officer 2. The unit would benefit from a more senior officer and selects the officer, making a match. However, the second-order effect of this is that a junior officer must now fill a senior officer requirement.
Compounding this problem is a misalignment of the market schedule with centralized selections. Army boards select people for promotions, battalion or brigade command, intermediate-level education attendance and senior service colleges. However, board results are not released on a schedule that supports the Army Talent Alignment Process.
Instead, assignment managers must break market matches and find alternates to fill requirements when an individual is selected by one of these boards.
The Army must synchronize selections to the Army Talent Alignment Process assignment schedule. This would require all the Army selection boards to convene sooner or find a way to streamline the process and reduce the processing and approval timelines. Officers competing in a market should not be waiting for a promotion, school or command board result. Instead, board results should inform the market about who is available to move and at what rank.
Finally, the process should require commitment from officers that they will take the assignment from the market. If an officer chooses to compete in the market and preference assignments, they should not be allowed to retire or release from active duty instead of fulfilling that assignment. This change would reduce turmoil in the market, but it would require a modification to Army policy.
There is a disconnect between the architects of the Army Talent Alignment Process and the agency responsible for implementing it. The system does not consider many human resource management requirements, and it treats the talent population inclusively but selects individuals through an exclusive board process. The disconnect leaves officers and units wondering if the system manages talent better than the former way of managing assignments.
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Col. C.J. 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.