AUSTIN, Texas – Supporting Army Soldiers and Civilians with the best systems possible remains a core tenet of Army modernization activities.
To ensure the right people are in the right places to enable leap-head innovation, Army Futures Command (AFC) is identifying ways to make its workforce management structures more modern, flexible and attractive to top talent.
A significant milestone in AFC’s talent modernization push is a recent Science and Technology Reinvention Laboratory (STRL) designation, which confers additional authorities to implement innovative workforce management practices and reinvest in lab facilities and IT. More than half of AFC’s subordinate organizations were already part of existing STRLs, and the remaining organizations now form a new AFC STRL.
STRL designation is a key enabler for AFC to develop the workforce of the future. Under this designation, the AFC STRL will design a new personnel management system and take advantage of previously unavailable budget, infrastructure and IT flexibilities specifically designed for science and technology organizations.
To determine how to most effectively shape and implement new systems following the STRL designation, AFC recently launched a Modernization Demonstration (Mod Demo) program. Still under development, the Mod Demo will bring the remaining components of AFC into the STRL way of managing personnel and inform how existing systems will evolve to meet next-generation staffing needs.
AFC is tackling the project with the help of a dedicated group of internal staff. Between August 2021 and February 2022, a small team – each from a different area of the command and with unique insights and background to offer – met daily by video chat to work on building the Mod Demo. Priorities included assessing the current landscape of human capital systems, to include other STRLs; identifying changes that would benefit command personnel; recommending streamlined plans and processes for implementation; and incorporating nuanced feedback from leadership.
Once final and approved, the Mod Demo will enable AFC to “better attract, motivate, train and retain a top-performing science, technology and modernization workforce,” said Nora Eldredge, team lead for Phase 1 of the Mod Demo. Eldredge and her teammates were recently recognized for their contributions to the Mod Demo with Department of the Army Civilian Service Commendation Medals; “It was a team effort,” Eldredge said, adding that participation in the initial stages of the project was “wonderful.”
“I am very pleased with the progression of the AFC Modernization Demonstration Project and grateful for the outstanding work of the team members who contributed to the effort,” said Kate Kelley, Chief Human Capital Officer at AFC and the senior leader champion for the overall effort. “AFC is committed to innovating in ways that improve the experiences of Soldiers and Civilians. I look forward to the continued momentum of the project and engaging in additional talent modernization efforts.”
Developing the initial elements of the Mod Demo involved envisioning a holistic personnel system, determining if new personnel flexibilities were beneficial and legally feasible, getting agreement on attributes from a board of directors and command attorneys, and documenting the personnel system in a Federal Register Notice (FRN).
One of the primary challenges was understanding and addressing the various needs of the multiple organizations that make up the new AFC STRL – a requirement that demonstrated the benefits of having additional options and flexibilities. “Since the FRN encompassed all aspects of a personnel system, everyone on the team learned something outside of their field of expertise, even the HR experts on the team,” Eldredge said of the experience.
She noted the project remains ongoing – another team will replace hers to carry out follow-on steps, including proposed plans for implementation – but anticipates the end results will be worthwhile.
“To me, the bottom line is that for AFC to recruit, hire and retain the top technical talent needed to meet future goals, it needs a talent management framework that has the ability to bring in that talent and reward top performers in a manner that is more in line with private industry.”