Task force aims to 'broaden' officers, manage talents
May 19, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 19, 2010) -- Nine years of war have made it difficult for officers to gain the broad level of experience needed to run the Army, according to Col. Chris Robertson and his task force.
Robertson is director of the Officer Personnel Management System, or OPMS Task Force, at the Human Resources Command in Alexandria, Va. He is working to devise a system that will help officers develop broad talents for the future.
"Constant deployments build exceptional tactical leaders," Robertson said, "but wars are not won on tactical success (alone). So you've got to build leaders for the future, too."
He said in order for the Army to succeed as an institution over the long term, it needs to change. He said it can't throw all its resources into the war indefinitely. It needs to allow officers the time for "broadening."
"Right now I'm concerned that we're building a good bench of linemen," Robertson said in the way of an analogy. But when it's time to run an option play, he's afraid that there won't be anyone available.
"It takes a lot of different players to build the team," he said.
Robertson explained that everyone needs to know how to block and tackle - but somebody needs to know the specialized skills. And someone needs to know the whole game in order to run the team.
"We want to take (officers) out of their branch experiences and place them in ... an area that is a little uncomfortable for them - maybe Army staff, joint staff, TRADOC - any of those types of assignments that are outside their typical branch experience is a broadening experience," Robertson said.
He said broadening includes fellowships and internships "on the higher end," but it also includes teaching cadets or working interagency, intergovernmental and multinational assignments.
"The tyranny of time is always a tough one with us," Robertson admitted, talking about not only deployment, but time requirements for promotions. But he added that officers need to look at things from different angles in order to develop into senior leaders.
Another innovation that Robertson would like to achieve with OPMS is "talent management."
He said one challenge that the Army has now is that it can track assignments and courses, but not unique experiences and contacts. He said the Army needs to further identify individual unique skills that it can use down the line.
"We need to bring ourselves up to the 'graduate level' of personnel management," Robertson said.
In order to do that, he is working with other commands, other services, and even corporate vice presidents from a wide variety of companies. He's interested in how the private sector identifies and manages talent. He said a lot can be learned by meeting with a group of corporate VPs in an informal setting, with the promise of non-attribution.
"We're looking at industry and taking their best practices back to the Army," Robertson said.
One advantage corporations have over the Army, though, Robertson said, is that companies can go out and hire an expert. The Army must train that expert from the bottom up, over the course of a career.
Robertson said HRC now locates specialized skills largely on an "ad hoc" basis, by networking with other officers in that career field and finding out who has specialized experience. Special talents are often found through peer recommendations, he said.
"We have certain data bases that carry some of this information," Robertson said. "But ... a lot of it is stove-piped - it's not necessary brought together. Nor do the data bases contain all of the information that we really need to better manage a population."
It's not just a software solution, either, Robertson said. Part of what he is trying to do is change the culture of the organization.