By Brice H. Johnson, Army Management Staff CollegeFebruary 19, 2019
If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make any noise? If professional leadership and leader development training is not required, has no cost to an organization and an Army Civilian Corps (ACC) professional attends, does it have any value?
The first question is often discussed in introductory philosophy classes, and while a great discussion point, can be answered, beyond reasonable doubt, scientifically. Falling trees produce sound waves. The second question should, arguably, be discussed among Army leaders at every echelon with a specific focus on the Army's Civilian Education System's (CES) myriad of professional development opportunities open to all members of the ACC. This discussion is necessary and relevant due to recent changes in CES regulatory attendance guidance. The second question, currently, cannot be answered scientifically but anecdotally and through logical inference--the professionalization of the ACC, one-CES-graduate-at-a-time, cannot help but to add value to an organization.
News flash! CES is centrally funded and has no direct costs to ACC students' home station organizations. CES is centrally funded by DA G3/5/7 DAMO TRV under the Civilian Training (TCIV) Program Evaluation Group (PEG). There could be a perception of indirect costs to organizations, as sending an ACC professional to CES training will result in two, three or four weeks away from assigned duties.
Instead of viewing employee absence as a liability, Army leaders should consider embracing the opportunity. What would the organization do if the employee was sick for two, three or four weeks vice attending CES professional development for the same time period? Arguably, a different employee would have to step forward and assume the duties and responsibilities of the absent person. That employee, in effect, has just received some professional development and broadening experience, which could improve the overall effectiveness of the organization as employees are cross-trained and gain deeper appreciation for the duties and responsibilities of other supervisors and peers. Additionally, known or scheduled absences allow for prior planning and formal handoff of duties and responsibilities.
What characteristics and skills would the ideal ACC employee possess? When asked, typical uniformed and ACC supervisors' responses include dedication, commitment, the ability to think critically, the ability to communicate effectively, the ability to solve problems, the ability to resolve conflicts, and the ability to manage time and resources more effectively. If the CES leadership and leadership development opportunity could improve an individual employee's skills and abilities in any of the above mentioned areas, would that create value in your organization?
The CES creates value for its individual student members of the ACC and their organizations directly and for the Army as a whole indirectly. CES graduates gain knowledge, tools and techniques that improve individual performance. They also gain leadership skills, approaches and perspectives that can improve their home station organization's ability to accomplish its mission while, at the same time, improving the organization.
CES curriculum underpinnings include critical thinking, effective communications and problem solving. The value of CES attendance is an ACC CES graduate employee who returns to his/her home station organization with an improved perspective on dedication, commitment and what it means to be a member of the profession. Graduates also return with sharpened critical thinking skills, an enhanced ability to communicate effectively, and improved skills and ability to solve problems. Additionally, CES graduates will return with a greater sense of self-awareness, improved skills and ability to resolve conflicts in the work place, and the ability to manage time and resources more effectively.
If the above assertions are true and accurate, it begs the question framed at the beginning of this article. Why would an ACC supervisor find value in sending an employee to centrally funded leadership and leader development training that is not mandatory? It also begs the follow-on question, "Why are CES student seat allocations being under filled?" There may be a myriad of reasons for a recent trend in CES Intermediate and Advanced Course under-subscription. Possible causes are a recent change in regulatory requirements, lack of strategic messaging about Civilian Education System programs and opportunities, time required to complete distributed learning pre-requisite training, or lack of support from organizational leaders.
Army Regulation 350-1, Army Training and Leader Development, addresses CES attendance requirements in Chapter 4. The most recent version of AR 350-1 was published 10 December, 2017, and this version contained a significant change in the wording of CES requirements. Specifically, the previous version specified the Foundations Course as required for all new Army Civilian employees hired into full-time, permanent positions after 30 September 2006, and mandated completion of the Supervisor Development Course within the first year of placement in a supervisory position in accordance with the 1-year supervisory probationary period. Supervisors are required to complete this course as refresher training every three years. These two regulatory requirements are unchanged in the updated regulation.
However, the updated regulatory guidance for the Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced Courses previously read "required leader development course for all Army Civilians in grades (GS 1-9 for Basic, GS 10-12 for Intermediate, GS 13-15 for Advanced) or equivalent." The 2017 version of AR 350-1 now reflects the BC, IC, and AC as required for supervisors and encouraged, but not required, for those non-supervisor employees who seek supervisory and/or leader positions (aspiring leaders).
Army DA G3/5/7 DAMO TRV, TRADOC, Army University and the Army Management Staff College have all made concerted efforts to publicize the CES program. However, it is not uncommon to talk to ACC professionals in the workforce that have no idea that fully funded leadership and leader development opportunities are open and available. ACC and Army leaders routinely call AMSC and remark that they have more employees competing for slots in the course than are available. However, they do not know that 45 days prior to the start of every resident CES course, unfilled student quotas are open to all applicants.
DL prerequisite training time requirements
All resident CES programs are blended learning. This means that in order to qualify for resident attendance, students must complete a distributed learning (DL) prerequisite phase I course. The phase I courses are rigorous, consisting of 76 hours for the BC, 60 hours for the IC, and 106 hours for the AC. A frequently asked question about CES DL prerequisite training is can it be completed during duty hours, or do supervisors have to allow employees to use duty hours to complete CES DL training? By regulation AR 350-1, employees may take courses when approved by the supervisor when it does not interfere with accomplishment of assigned work and when completion of the course will equip the employee for more effective work in the agency and that supervisors and managers are responsible for establishing guidelines that allow employees' duty time to complete portions of approved training courses funded by the Army.
To further address concerns from the field about the length and difficulty of CES DL prerequisite training, AMSC has greatly enhanced user friendliness of DL course offerings. All prerequisite training modules now have pre-test in which employees can test out of knowledge areas in which they are knowledgeable and conversant. Each module has a down loadable deskside reference that will enable the student to read and understand the module material prior to taking the module post-test if necessary. Additionally, the deskside references can be downloaded for use during the resident phase of the course and as a job aid in the workplace. These AMSC DL initiatives have and will continue to greatly alleviate the time pressures associated with DL prerequisite training completion.
Lack of Support from Organizational Leaders
A fairly common comment from ACC supervisors in various leadership and managerial forums is that ACC professionals are hired for positions based on possessing the skills needed to successfully fulfill the duties and responsibilities of the position as outlined in the position description. Therefore, no additional training is necessary. Additionally, it is often postulated that because a large majority of ACC employees are former military members, they already possess the required leadership skills necessary to lead and supervise the ACC workforce.
ACC hiring actions are built around knowledge, skills, and abilities and ACC professionals are, in fact, hired with the KSAs necessary to preform proscribed duties. However leadership in and of the ACC is unique in that supervisors and managers must understand merit system principles, prohibited personnel practices, Title V laws, collective bargaining unit agreements and a myriad of other unique parameters. It is difficult to articulate and assess these unique leadership requirements in the KSA-based USA JOBS hiring process.
The assertion or belief that former military leaders need no additional leadership or leader development training is sanctimonious, as the number one most common and emphasized unsolicited comment from students graduating from resident CES courses is, "I wish I could make my supervisor attend this training!" Upon further dissection and analysis, these comments generally are centered on a perception that ACC supervisors, many of whom are former military leaders, lack requisite ACC leadership abilities in the areas of effective communications, conflict resolution, employee engagement, and counseling, coaching and mentoring. The students leaving the course recognize the value of these concepts, and in many cases perceive they are lacking in their organization's leadership.
If professional leadership and leader development training is not required, has no cost to an organization and an Army Civilian Corps (ACC) professional attends, does it have any value? The short answer is a resounding "YES." CES is a centrally funded leadership and leader development opportunity available to all members of the ACC. The CES enables ACC employees and leaders to ignite their leadership potential while providing Army organizations with ACC leaders who are better equipped to lead teams, organizations, and the enterprise. Dedicated and committed professionals who think critically, communicate effectively and solve problems are value added to any organization.
(Brice H. Johnson is the Director of the Department of Organizational Leadership at the
Army Management Staff College located in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.)