Lightning Combine: An Army People Strategy approach to talent management

By Col. Mark Denton and Lt. Col. James Mike BlueAugust 13, 2021

Lightning Combine:  An Army People Strategy approach to talent management
(Left to right) Capt. Jeremy Labranche and Capt. Christopher Soldovieri participate in the dead-lift event during the 207th Military Intelligence Brigade-Theater's Lightning Combine to assess officers eligible for company command. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Maurice Smith) VIEW ORIGINAL
“Talent management is transformational, increasing organizational agility, focusing on productivity, and manifests as readiness and lethality.” — Army People Strategy

VICENZA, Italy — In July 2021, the 207th Military Intelligence Brigade (Theater) planned and executed its first “Lightning Combine” to assess officers across the entire Vicenza Military Community eligible for company command.

While the combine’s primary objective was to identify the candidate best suited to take command of the next available company, the most important goal was to identify individual developmental needs of the competing officers.

As the 207th MIB(T) sought to make the right selection for company command in line with the Army People Strategy, the combine was developed in part with the strategy’s lines of effort (acquire, develop, employ, and retain) and also modeled after the Army’s Battalion Commander Assessment Program.

The event was a deliberate, weighted mix of physical, cognitive, and non-cognitive events to attain a holistic picture of where the officers were in their maturity and readiness to command.

Lightning Combine:  An Army People Strategy approach to talent management
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Lightning Combine:  An Army People Strategy approach to talent management
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During the week prior to the assessment day, command candidates received a link to an online emotional intelligence test and a two-page writing assignment. Board members used both data points to formulate questions presented to the candidates during a formal board. Apart from helping the board understand the candidates better, the emotional quotient (EQ) test was a mechanism to support the development of these junior officers by identifying areas of needed growth in an important leadership dimension.

The combine included a four-mile ruck march and components of the Army Combat Fitness Test. While the physical aspect of the event only accounted for ten percent of the overall grading criteria, several board members observed the way candidates interacted with their peers and the supporting junior NCOs and officers. These observations were included in the formal board question and answer section.

The final event in the combine was a formal board. The brigade commander, serving as the board president, was supported by both voting and advisory members of the board. Advisory members included the brigade’s command sergeant major and command chief warrant officer (CCWO). To ensure that Military Intelligence officer Key Developmental (KD) assignment selection was a community decision, voting members included subordinate 207th MIB(T) battalion commanders and the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF) G2, who directly supports the intelligence talent management of both the two-star headquarters and the subordinate 173rd Infantry Brigade (A).

Lightning Combine:  An Army People Strategy approach to talent management
207th Military Intelligence Brigade-Theater's Lightning Combine board members, left to right: Capt. Christopher Soldovieri; Capt. Ashley Barber; Capt. Derek McCarty; Chief Warrant Officer 5 Andrew Kelsay, command chief warrant officer, 207th MI BDE-T; Command Sgt. Maj. Heath Heslop, 207th MI BDE-T; Col. Mark Denton, commander, 207th MI BDE-T; Capt. Patrick Njeru; Capt. Jeremy LaBranche; Lt. Col. Mike Blue, commander, 307th MI Battalion; Lt. Col. Christian Gregoire, commander, 522d MI Battalion; and Lt. Col John Wiebeld, chief, G2 Intelligence Control Division (ICD), U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa. The Lightning Combine assesses officers eligible for company command. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Maurice Smith) VIEW ORIGINAL

One of the most challenging aspects of any assessment program is the balance between both subjective and objective analysis. To ensure effective integration of data collected throughout the selection program, the brigade S1 served as the central point of data collection and was responsible for presenting the board with the final weighted scores across all events. While the method effectively limited potential bias of voting members, it also led to an informed board discussion to support the brigade commander’s selection. This mix of objective data analytics and subjective leader discussions resulted in a clear consensus across all board members on the selected officer.

Through a deliberate after action review, the brigade identified key lessons learned to strengthen the overall selection process, as well as the brigade’s Talent Management and Leader Development Programs.

  • Emotional Intelligence Feedback: The EQ assessment used during the event only provided raw scores for each candidate. While an important data point, the output of the online assessment did not give enough specific data in each EQ component to support pinpoint board questions nor did it highlight specific areas for individual officer self-development. Moving forward, the brigade plans to work with the Combined Arms Center and Army Talent Management Task Force to integrate a better online assessment model.
  • Transparency & Feedback: A past issue within the Vicenza military community was the stove-piped processes of selecting KD assignments for Military Intelligence officers and the lack of individual feedback to non-select officers. To avoid this, the brigade disseminated the assessment concept of the operation and program of instruction to all elements that had Modification Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE) MI captains. In addition and within 72 hours of the assessment and selection, the brigade commander met with each officer to provide direct developmental feedback from the consolidated board findings.
  • Expansion & Future Boards: Moving forward, the brigade plans to execute at least three combines per year in line with Company Command transition timelines in order to project KD slating and drive leader development of junior officers. The brigade is also assessing the feasibility of conducting a similar event for senior NCO selection to detachment and company first sergeant positions.

The 207th MIB(T) Lightning Combine emphasizes the importance of Brigade-level internalization and deliberate integration of the Army People Strategy and the Army’s battalion commander selection process. This event strove to provide a total Soldier snapshot of each candidate and ensure identification of the best officer competing. To build cohesive intelligence teams that are trained, disciplined, and fit to win in the future operating environment, brigade and below elements must continue to creatively identify talent and put them in the right positions at the right time. More importantly, we must use new processes to continuously drive individual leader development at echelon.

Col. Mark Denton is the commander, 207th Military Intelligence Brigade-Theater, Vicenza, Italy and Lt. Col. Mike Blue is the commander, 307th Military Intelligence Battalion, Vicenza, Italy.