Talent Management: Allowing people to do what they enjoy and are good at leads to better outcomes for everyone

Different people excel at different things. There are some tasks that some people will never ever be good at, regardless of how much training they have or effort they put in to it. Consider someone who has a really difficult time with attention to detail – they’re probably not the best person to release message traffic nor will they be a very good admin officer. Some people are terrible at relating to others and make terrible leaders, yet we force them to assume leadership roles. Hate doing paperwork? NATOPS probably isn’t a good fit, even though it’s generally reserved for the best aviators.

There’s two things at play here:

1)      The Navy’s career advancement program requires a breadth of roles for all people, focusing and rewarding more for different experiences rather than high performance in one area of focus.

2)      There’s zero effort to identify people’s true strengths, zero effort to explicitly state what strengths people need for different roles, and zero discussion with people before being placed in a role.

This isn’t a good system. Some people will excel in many different roles, or just get lucky and get the roles that they’d naturally have been good at. Many people, however, will find themselves in a position they’re not very capable at. They will respond in two ways: work hard to overcome their deficiencies and be marginally successful in the role, or do terrible in the role and their career never really recovers. This happens all over the place and at different times – I recall a JO Comsec Officer who had difficulty understanding process and paying attention to details. He was fired and that was that. One year into this person’s career, it was over – he could never recover from failing at a job he would never have been successful at anyways. That’s an example of what’s bad for our people.

We see this also at the O-4 level, where the career funnel almost mandates you take your turn as the MO or Ops O. What percentage of O-4s do you think were really good at those roles? It’s less than half. This is an example of what’s bad for the Navy. Another example are those roles to PMA-XXX where somebody would influence long-term strategy, tactics, and procurement. There’s virtually no screening for ability before those roles and they have the potential to be hugely impactful for the entire community – bad for the Navy.

Leaders that have been successful through this system will argue that it’s a testing platform to figure out who’s the most adaptable, and it’s also is a great learning opportunity when you fail. That’s true. But if the penalty for failure is a derailed career, I’d argue that failure isn’t celebrated as a learning opportunity but is something to avoid at all cost.

There’s a much better way to do this. When people get roles they’re going to be good at and like doing, it’s really good for the Navy. It’s also really good for the person, because they’ll get high performance marks. It’s also really good for management because they don’t have to have as much oversight. Everyone wins.

A VP skipper can implement this within the squadron. The only thing he/she would have to change is the evaluation system. You’d have to eliminate the “X JOB” = #1 ranking philosophy and you’d have to ensure the person behind you that will eventually write the final fitreps is onboard with this philosophy too. And each XO could be very transparent about the skills needed for people to be successful at follow-on orders and try to place people accordingly.

There’s tons of people that agree the career progression in the Navy needs to be revamped. There was an 80+ page paper written by some ex-Army officers at Harvard. No company in the world manages their talent the way we do. I remember speaking to a VP O-6 about this. I was really disappointed that he generally agreed with me but he said, “I don’t think there’s a better way to do it.” Knowing what I know now, he was blind to his own bias. He considered himself very successful, and automatically attributes it to the system of career progression. But consider how many skippers are getting fired and how broken our senior ranks seems to be.

There’s one really easy way to make this better – make PERS more transparent. Have job postings. Have some writeups about what the job entails and what kind of skills you’d need in that role. This isn’t that difficult to do.

Highly skilled people leave the VP Navy because of this broken system.

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  1. A Retrospective on the P3Reform Project | p3reform
  2. Final Thoughts | p3reform

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