MARCH 1, 2021 – The Army continues to expand talent management plans for senior noncommissioned officers that could one day incorporate junior NCOs, as part of the service’s ongoing effort to place the right leaders in the right jobs.
Following the rollout of command assessment programs for lieutenant colonels and colonels, the Army Talent Management Task Force is now focusing to harness enlisted talent.
In November, the Sergeant Major Assessment Program was initially tested at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to evaluate nearly 30 brigade-level sergeants major for future senior assignments.
Earlier this month, the sergeant major of the Army decided to implement the program at the brigade level this fall, with plans to extend it to the battalion level the following year, said Maj. Jed Hudson, the task force’s action officer for enlisted talent.
“Now we’re going to have an opportunity to really use objective assessments to complement the current subjective evaluations that are already used as we select battalion and brigade command sergeants majors,” he said Wednesday during an Association of the U.S. Army Noon Report.
The First Sergeant Talent Alignment Assessment also held a recent pilot with about a dozen master sergeants from the 82nd Airborne Division and 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“99 percent of them said it was a great initiative and they felt it had a more holistic look at an NCO to match up with those positions,” said Sgt. Maj. Robert Haynie, the task force’s NCO team lead.
Additional pilots are being scheduled with 1st Infantry Division, 10th Mountain Division, and potentially with units in Alaska later this year, he added.
Leaders believe if the best individuals can fill first sergeant slots, it could help bolster the Army’s “This is My Squad” initiative, which aims to build cohesive teams at the squad level.
“That company-level first sergeant really coaches, teaches and mentors and puts those squad leaders into those right positions,” Haynie said. “Having the right NCOs with the right characteristics helps us get after that.”
Similar to the officer assessments, both enlisted programs plan to use objective methods to prevent unconscious bias, such as behavioral-based interviews that are double blind using a standard rubric of questions for each person, Haynie said.
The First Sergeant Talent Alignment Assessment also collects details on an individual through an assessment battery that measures a variety of their attributes, such as ethics, decision making, and general intelligence.
Those details are then seen by local commanders along with the normal data previously used, including evaluations, military and civilian education and military occupational specialties.
“They still have the authority to make the decision, but [now] they have the information to make an informed decision,” Hudson said.
The Assignment Satisfaction Key-Enlisted Module, or ASK-EM, is also now fully operational and is in its second iteration, which is on track to assist about 9,000 NCOs through their permanent change-of-station process, Hudson said.
ASK-EM, which is run by Army Human Resources Command, allows NCOs from E6s to E8s to access a marketplace where they can enter their preferences and see available positions, while providing them more predictability on when they’ll move.
During the initial run of ASK-EM, about 25% of NCOs were able to receive their first choice of duty station, while roughly half had one of their top five choices, Hudson said.
In comparison, the first assignment cycle of the officer’s marketplace, called the Army Talent Alignment Process, saw 47% of roughly 13,000 officers receive their top choice last year.
“We think there’s no reason that the noncommissioned officer marketplace won’t be able to emulate that type of success,” Hudson said.
The major said he recently spoke to a master sergeant with the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade, who informed him that he was able to get his first choice at U.S. Africa Command.
“One thing he told me, though, you still have to preference based on what skills you have,” Hudson said. “Are you qualified for the job and is it right for your career?
“So if you’re only preferencing based off location, especially junior NCOs who may not understand the career implications as much, there’s a chance that they will not set themselves up for success.”
The enlisted marketplace will shift the decision authority from assignment managers to local commanders, so they can better decide on what they require from a list of individuals.
“The assignment manager remains in the process as far as an advisor and a mentor to the individuals who are moving,” Hudson said. “It allows people to really have transparency on all the talent available and the individual [to have] transparency on all the assignments available.”
While senior NCOs may mostly benefit from the initial enlisted programs, Haynie said they will eventually trickle down to junior NCOs.
“We are moving forward with ‘people first’ and really putting our money where our mouth is and doing these initiatives,” he said. “This is going to continue.”
By Sean Kimmons, Army News Service