FORT KNOX, Ky. — Sergeant Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston visited Fort Knox Nov. 18 to check on the progress of a new prototype he had called for earlier in the year.
As Grinston toured the site, 28 sergeants major from across the Army wrapped up the first-ever Sergeants Major Assessment Program, or SMAP, with one of their final assessments — a double-blind interview with a panel of senior leaders and a psychologist. They had spent the week participating in feedback sessions and testing their physical, cognitive and non-cognitive skills to vie for coveted battalion command sergeant major positions.
Grinston said this newest of three such assessment programs had been in the works from the start of discussions about rethinking talent management.
“As the Chief of Staff of the Army talked about talent management, we all wanted to do better with talent management,” Grinston said. “All along, even for the Chief and the Secretary [of the Army], when we looked at talent management, it was never going to stop at the battalion commanders’ assessment. This was something we were going to use for everyone.”
Known as BCAP, the battalion program launched at Fort Knox Jan. 15 and ran until Feb. 9, assessing close to 800 lieutenant colonels and senior majors for battalion command slots. Army Talent Management Task Force cadre returned in September to launch the next program, called the Colonels Command Assessment Program, or CCAP, for those seeking brigade command slots.
This week, the senior noncommissioned officers conducted their assessment on the tail end of expanded BCAP testing, which included officers from the Army Acquisition Corps as well as Air Force and Navy officers. The Navy and Air Force are looking to implement a similar program.
Grinston said interest in the assessment process makes sense for the future of all commissioned officers, but there were challenges facing noncommissioned officers.
“The vision was, we’re going to do it here, but how do we assess and do better at talent management all the way the way through [the noncommissioned officer ranks]?” said Grinston. “I’ve said this several times, how do we select a better sergeant, and then get them to be a better staff sergeant and sergeant first class?
“That’s the total vision for the enlisted corps; how do we build and do assessment and talent management better all the way from the beginning to the end of the career?”
Grinston said one way they get there is through another initiative he created called “This Is My Squad.” Sometimes known as TIMS, the goal “is to build more cohesive teams throughout the U.S. Army,” according to a September 2020 article in the NCO Journal.
The “squad,” as Grinston refers to it, isn’t about building a better infantry or Ranger unit.
“It’s about building a better leader,” said Grinston. “When I say, and I always say, ‘There’s a leader in the middle,’ this leader just happens to be in the middle of the Sergeants Major Assessment Program as a battalion sergeant major. He is still the leader in the middle. The battalion sergeant major, then, would be the squad leader.”
One member of the task force who has been at the hub of developing sergeant major assessments, NCO Team lead Sgt. Maj. Rob Haynie, said Grinston initially wanted to know at what rank they should begin assessments. After discussion, a suggestion was made to align assessments up with first sergeant positions.
“In April, the Sergeant Major of the Army and the Senior Enlisted Council turned us back around and wanted us to look back at first sergeants — the first sergeants being the most influential NCOs in any organization,” said Haynie. “They instill discipline; shape the culture in the organization. They manage personnel. They look after the health and welfare of Soldiers. They coach and lead and teach … and mentor squad leaders.”
Haynie said first sergeants, averaging a dozen or more years of military experience, are also critical in assisting company commanders, who generally are captains with about four to six years of experience.
While first sergeants will receive decentralized assessments, Grinston said his focus remains on sergeants major desiring battalion command positions for the centralized Fort Knox assessments.
“We saw an opportunity to do [assessments] simultaneously, where we could do Sergeant Major Assessment Program, and then in December, we’re going to do the talent assessment prototype at Fort Bragg [North Carolina] for first sergeants,” said Grinston.
Major Jed Hudson, action officer for Enlisted Talent Management, said the assessments are not meant to be a selection process for specific jobs.
“Neither the Battalion Commander Assessment Program nor the Sergeant Major Assessment Program are aligning into specific jobs,” said Hudson. “The BCAP, and likely the SMAP if it goes forward, is primarily a filter out, determining those who are not yet ready; then for those who are ready, it’s a restructuring of the [Order of Merit List].”
The Order of Merit List, or OML, determines when and in what order officers get promoted.
Grinston said the path for these assessments leads to the entire enlisted force, from the moment of enlistment through retirement.
“The ultimate goal,” said Grinston, “is to have great, diverse, inclusive leaders at all levels that we broaden all the way around, all the way through the whole program.”
Haynie said data sits at the heart of it all.
“Looking [ahead] at NCO talent management, we are gaining more data about our NCOs and actually aligning those talents into the right positions over time,” said Haynie. “This is taking the information beforehand and putting those right NCOs into those right positions.”
One of the 28 who took part in the assessments, Sgt. Maj. Bree Kotula, sergeant major for the Proponent Office in U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Lee, Virginia, said the experience was excellent.
“Typical boards are your [Enlisted Records Brief], a picture, maybe some of your [Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Records], your awards — and that’s it. They’re just seeing the paper,” Kotula said. “This way was a better way to get a complete look the Soldier moving forward. It allows the leader to find out what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
After assessing the program for himself, Grinston said SMAP, like BCAP and CCAP before, is shaping up to be an excellent step in the right direction toward modern, holistic talent management and career progression.
“Any time we can do better to pick better leaders, whether that’s officers or NCOs all the way from sergeant to sergeant major to the nominative sergeant major,” said Grinston, “that’s good for the Army.”