Oct. 15, 2014 -- HON Carson opening remarks as member of panel on "The Human Dimension" at AUSA

By U.S. ArmyOctober 20, 2014

Carson: Changes needed in Army's 'archaic' retention, promotion system
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Institutional agility and talent management.

Thank you General Brown and thanks for letting me be part of this panel. I've worked with everyone up here on many issues and it is great to see you all again and to Ori Brafman -- if you haven't had a chance to read his book 'The Stafish and the Spider', it is critically heralded but perhaps speaks to some of the international issues that we face today better than any other book than I can think of even though it does not specifically address ISIS or al Qaida at great lengths. Thank you for being part of this panel as well.

Let me start by saying I take by assumption two things: first of all that the work that General Brown is doing is critically important to the U.S. Army. And I also take as an assumption that the theoretical underpinnings that Dr. Sams is talking about and implementation of these ideas that General Wendt is talking about are also extraordinarily important and that the Army will excel in these things because all of us in this room recognize how important they are to our future.

Let me instead talk about, as General Brown teased, the institutional requirements to make these lasting changes. Because my fear is not that we will not get these kind of academic questions right or that we will not have places throughout the Army in which we can see their success be manifested, but instead that we will not have in place a personnel system that across the board recruits, retains and develops the Soldiers we need for the 21st Century.

So, let me start with an anecdote. And then illustrate that anecdote with three further statistics and then talk about the kind of structural reforms that I think are needed if we are going to achieve all of the things that General Brown has talked about.

I had the chance recently to talk to a young officer who was part of the Ranger Regiment. And like so many of the young company commanders in the Ranger Regiment, he was accomplished academically. He was one of the kind of people that General Wendt spoke about who brings intellectual acumen and physical prowess - exactly the kind of person we would think we should be grooming to be a future leader in the United States Army. And he was, to be frank, somewhat disenchanted with his status. He was having to leave the Ranger Regiment and he had a by-name-request to go with a brigade commander to go out to Fort Carson and he was working with HRC to try to have that be executed and he found it impossible to do so. Instead the U.S. Army offered him three other places to go -- places that are fine posts, fine installations, but didn't really satisfy his family needs and what he wanted in his own career. And he was telling me that this story was not a unique one to him. In fact it was ubiquitous throughout the Ranger Regiment. He said he had served in his two years there with sixteen captains, ten of which had left the U.S. Army. They left the U.S. Army not simply to go back to some small town or even a big city from which they came; they went to places like Harvard Business School, Michigan Business School, Stanford, Wharton, NYU. Ten of the sixteen captains he had served with had gone to those five amazing institutions to pursue a career in business. All of them, he said, could have been enticed to stay in the U.S. Army if they had been given perhaps a more individualized career path. This officer was able to convince HRC to leave him in the Ranger training battalion where he ably served and he said that he had five captains that he served with there who got out of the U.S. Army, four of whom went to Harvard Business School and the other went to University of Michigan to get an MBA, as well.

So, this is the future, and this is the future of the Army that we should be grooming, but a future, that, in many ways, seems to be receding before us. At the same time we increasingly emphasize that this is exactly the type of young man and young woman that we have to have to compete in the complex, complicated world that General Brown is so able to articulate in full.

Let me offer three statistics that may seem unrelated at first but really go to the same point.

I work at the headquarters, of the department of the Army, that vast sprawling empire and one of the amazing things perhaps is that for a layperson like me, who comes in a civilian, from the outside, is the rapid transition of Army officers through HQDA, even at the very highest of levels. Research has been done by West Point, the Office of Economics Manpower Analysis there, Colonel Lyle who is perhaps present in the audience today. His research shows that 50% of the officers at HQDA stay for less than one year. Less than one year -- before being transitioned out into a new position.

Eighty percent of the jobs in the U.S. Army at O6 and higher are part of the Institutional Army, part of MTOE units, not part of the operational force. Eighty percent of those jobs are in MTOE units. They are filled, by and large, 60-80% according to Colonel Lyle's own research again, by combat arms officers. Our most able folks, in many ways, people who we should be promoting, but people whose career choices over time, because of the way the promotion system is designed, have not always given them the broadening experiences that they need to exceed in their admittedly extraordinarily brief time working in the Institutional Army.

Finally, 55% of brigadier generals in 1995, ten years ago, 55% of them had Masters Degrees or higher from in-resident civilian universities or colleges. Today that number is 30% and declining. Now no doubt the exigencies of war have contributed to the fact that so many of our fine officers have not had the chance to go get in-resident civilian education. But nonetheless, there are institutional factors which militate against going out and spending time at a civilian university at a time when one must be moving to a new assignment in order to get promoted.

So what to make of that anecdote and those three statistics I gave you.

Well, let me quote one other young officer - someone who, to use the term that Ori Brafman did is indeed on the edge of that network -- who said to me 'the Army is not doing a great job at ensuring it's top talent is identified, given appropriate developmental assignments, given unique counseling and mentorship opportunities, and treated as the future of the Army's leadership and not just a peg that needs to fill a hole.'

What those statistics I gave you show is that we have incredible turnover at the highest levels of the U.S. Army. Jobs with incredible scope, jobs of enormous importance, in which we bring people in without necessarily the broadening experiences to excel and never keep them long enough to actually learn on the job. It shows that while we are picking the right officers for promotion, we are not always giving them the right broadening experiences, the right depth to excel in the jobs once we promote them into positions of increased responsibility. It shows that we are not getting enough of our officers into the kind of civilian institutions that which they will be exposed to divergent ideas from students and professors and in turn expose those students and professors to the divergent ideas that are part of the unique Army culture. And it shows that despite our rhetoric to the contrary, we are not fully grappling with the talent revolution that is a staple of the business literature and also of Military Review, Parameters, other military journals where our young officers talk about all of the problems in our personnel system, that we -- despite our homage to this notion of a talent revolution -- are not fully grappling with it.

So, what better evidence then two small things that I encounter every single day -- OERs and ORBs. Think of our Officer Record Briefs. They are little more than accounting data really. Your height, weight, religion, assignments, where you have been educated, things like that. They don't tell you about any of the idiosyncratic skills that you might have picked up along the way. The fact that you taught yourself Swahili, or Urdu, or some language like that… you receive some kind of computer programming certificate -- all on your own time -- not paid for by the Army -- the things that the Army could use -- in important ways, if we knew more about it. That type of personnel rich important data is not really captured but it is critical if we are going to do all of the things that the panelists have talked about today.

And the OERs, of course, a source of long-standing criticism from everyone in the Army, filled with inflated language, only capturing a narrow band of competencies, despite our best efforts to change them -- to make them better -- they still hardly differentiate one Soldier from another. These are just two examples of our inability to capture the kind of granular data about Soldiers that allows us to promote and to develop and to retain the kind of personnel that we really need.

Now this is not the result of any one individual failing, I would say. It is not that the senior leaders of the Army have made bad choices. It is because we have a system in place that is archaic -- that now works against us -- rather than helping us.

A promotion system that is based on the amount of time that you have served -- that is up or out over time -- a system based in the industrial age, 1947 updated in 1980, with a few refinements along the way. But a system universally criticized… by Soldiers, by Sailors, criticized by all the think tanks in town, by academics, by every single person who has looked at it. You will nary find a single source anywhere that defends the current way that we run our personnel system except many people will lament how hard it is to actually change it. As a concept- no one defends it at all.

That system has to change. We have to move to a promotion system based on competencies, where 'in the zone' for major doesn't happen at ten years or lieutenant colonel at sixteen or colonel at twenty two, when you've reached certain competency benchmarks -- when you've learned that language that General Wendt talked about -- when you've gone to that civilian university to get your masters degree -- when you have been in developmental assignments -- when you've been on the Joint Staff -- when you've served with our international friends and partners -- these are the kind of things that must be benchmarks that we then promote people on. So perhaps we promote lieutenant colonels at fourteen or sixteen years or perhaps we keep people in the army for many more years past the time that they would be notionally passed over for promotion twice, which today federal law requires us to separate you for with few narrow exceptions. These are the kinds of things that we have to do if we are going to have a better personnel system. We have to have ORBs that capture all of that rich data I mentioned. We've had experiments in that way - the green pages that the Corps of Engineers used that most in this room are familiar with. That project has now been put on ice. Perhaps waiting to be brought back to life in the future as we get big IT systems put in place. But that was the first attempt to have what Tim Kane in a recent book called "Bleeding Talent" -- the name describes the thesis -- said about trying to match up a world where we put forth our capabilities - a officer or a Soldier does - and the commands would pick from those capabilities who they wanted. If you didn't want to go to Korea -- perhaps your wife or husband did not want to go there -- you had young kids at home -- then you wouldn't have to go there, you could be matched. And someone who aspired to go there who had perhaps a unique skill that that command wanted -- could be matched up with that duty station as well.

Think of imagining lateral entry into the Army. Not into combat arms, perhaps, where you have this robust training mechanism that teaches you new skills when you move up the ladder, but in technical competencies, lateral entry into the army makes eminent sense. Direct commissioning, as other services do -- more expansively that we do in the U.S. Army.

Seamless moves between the reserve component and the active component as well -- where perhaps, for family reasons, one needs to leave the active component for a few years and can come back later on when as children are older, as life has become settled in some way.

All of these reforms must be put in place across the entire force -- across the National Guard, across the Army Reserve, across the Active Component, and also across our Civilians -- all 250,000 Civilians who are pivotal to our success.

If we don't don these kind of things, all of the matters that have been discussed here today, said will come for naught. Because they will be like those officers I mentioned from the Ranger Regiment who are now at our countries very best universities.

So that young Soldier that I told you -- I mentioned a moment ago -- I didn't have a lot to say to him. And it, too, would have been for naught, because he too is at Harvard Business School himself. He got out also.

We cannot let this be the future of the U.S. Army. But it is the future that will be ours is we don't make a change.

It could perhaps start -- the implementation being very difficult -- in a functional area. Perhaps in General Wendt's special forces, or in foreign area officers, or among the strategists. There are ways to implement this in a small scale that doesn't threaten the way that things have been done for -- well, now almost seventy years. But they have to be done. A new personnel system.

Imagine those iconic companies that no doubt those graduates of our business schools will go to -- the Apples , the Googles, JP Morgan-Chase's. Imagine we went to them and said -- yes you have this amazingly flexible personnel system in which you hire people in days, if not hours, in which we train you and give you incredible human capital investments over time -- and we are going to change that for you -- to where we grade you by year group over time and its up or out and if you are passed over for promotion twice then you have to get out entirely and we are going to tell you where to move at all times, and you have very little say in that, and we're not going to develop an individualized career path for you. Imagine if we went to them and said you should trade your system for that one. Well, they would say no to that. We should say no to it as well. That's what we must do. And that is what we have to do if we are going to be successful.


Click on the link under "related links" to the right to watch the video of these remarks delivered by HON Carson as member of panel on "The Human Dimension" at AUSA, Oct. 15, 2014.

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Carson: Changes needed in Army's 'archaic' retention, promotion system

Under Secretary of the Army

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