FORT POLK, La. — Winning the “fight for talent” is important for any organization. When you are the U.S. Army’s premiere training center for Soldiers heading into combat, it becomes an even more paramount task, as it takes the best to train the best.
That’s the goal of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk — recruit the most talented Observer, Controller/Trainers and leaders — to the sprawling post in south central Louisiana.
Brig. Gen. Tom R. Drew, commander, Army Talent Management Task Force, visited the JRTC and Fort Polk April 27-28 to share with commanders, officers and senior enlisted Soldiers the importance of managing the Army’s talent and retaining top quality Soldiers.
“We’re limited by structure in the Army,” Drew said. “At this time, we’re capped at 497,000 on the active component. To have the best Army you can, you must have quality Soldiers stay in. You must incentivize the right people.”
Drew said failure to do so might keep the 497,000-person Army, but they’re not going to be as good as they could be.
“That’s why I think we have to look at individual Soldiers, their attributes, knowledge, skills and behaviors, find out who are the top Soldiers, and that’s who we’ve got to keep if we want to have the best Army as they promote and get more experience,” he said.
Drew said identifying talented Soldiers and placing them in assignments that not only benefit the individual Soldier, but also the Army, is a data question. He said that’s being worked on at his task force.
“Once the structure of the Army says here are the attributes, knowledge, skills and behaviors and talents required in these positions, I can see what the supply is of the Soldiers that can fill that position,” he said. “I think at that point you can help make sure that the individual units have the same talent for that skill.”
Drew said that’s more important in some assignments, such as the JRTC, than in others.
“Right now we don’t have the ability to do that, but in about 9 months I’ll be able to see it a little better,” he said. “It’s going to take us a little while on the structure side, to define those attributes we’re looking for with every position in the Army; we’re doing that coding right now.”
Once that data is available, Drew said the task becomes easy.
“I can make a report and ask what talent do we have a surplus of,” he said. “I don’t really care about branches and other things, but if it’s leadership or whatever attributes you’re going to assess, I can see where we have a deficit and where we have a surplus.”
Drew said that would allow him to place leaders in areas that need leadership regardless of branch or occupational specialty.
“We’re going to upscale them where they are needed so I get an inspirational leader in the right place,” he said.
Drew said he understands there are some assignments that seem on the surface to be more favorable than others. But he added he’s never been stationed anywhere during his nearly 40-year Army career that he didn’t learn something.
“That’s part of this market; if we give the Soldiers the flexibility of, ‘hey, listen, I know you don’t want to go here, but I promise you, for your career development, if you want to achieve those goals you’ve set, I need you to go here, because you need this experience. You need to see your profession from this vantage point,’” he said.
Drew said that makes the assignment more palatable and less adversarial.
Drew said forced distribution — a method of performance appraisal currently used in the Army — is not the answer to keeping the best and brightest Soldiers in the Army.
“The forced distribution in our efficiency reports is a disadvantage,” he said. “If you believe the premise that we are going to send our best and brightest, and have them all compete together, realize that with forced distribution it’s going to be a disadvantage to half of them.”
Drew said that is especially true for ranks such as major and E-8.
“We have to get more sophisticated,” he said. “I can still use the forced distribution method to stratify those to certain locations, but I need a way to look at that rotation and the pool of people, and their evaluations before they came to this assignment, and then again as they are leaving, and then I can value those in a different way than just ‘you got this No. 2 block,’ for example.”
As for bringing talented Soldiers to the JRTC and Fort Polk, Drew said there needs to be an advantage to coming here.
“If you want the best, the No. 1 sergeant first class, the No. 1 command sergeant major, if you want them here voluntarily, the incentives are going to have to align with what you want,” he said. “So what incentive are we going to give them? It better be something that actually results in them saying, ‘I want to go there. Yes, I know that it might not be where I really wanted to go, but it has opportunity and it will benefit my Family and career. If we can get to that, then I think we will have the right people.’”
The JRTC and Fort Polk leadership is certainly doing its part to make Fort Polk a station of choice with quality of life improvements in housing, recreation and Family activities. Brig. Gen. David Doyle, JRTC and Fort Polk commanding general, is currently visiting Army posts to recruit the Army’s best.
Drew said as the future of the Army and its equipment is studied, there will be change.
“The most stable thing in the next 15 years will be change in how personnel actions are handled,” he said. “What things meant in the past may not mean what they mean in the future. The NCOER (Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report), the OER (Officer Evaluation Report), that’s not a very thoughtful way to see your version of an officer or NCO. We can do better and I think we will.”