Army Organizational Issues that Prevent Talent Management

There’s a lot of talk about recruiting and retention in the Army these days, as we try to build the right force for whatever lies in the future. Without a doubt, we need to have the right people in the right places. But too often we are hidebound by organizational issues or habits that keep us from bringing in the best and brightest. Some introspection – after my stupid brain woke me up at 0430 for no good reason – led me to jot down a few themes. While perhaps specific to my organization, they may also ring true for others.

Recruiting Talent. Do we create a sense of belonging? Do we, as an organization, portray an image of a place where someone can see themselves? Think of the ideal potential 18-22 year old recruit: talented, smart, driven, with all the options open to them in the world. We want them to be able to look at our organization and think “Yeah, I could see myself doing that.” Do we truly portray an inclusive organization that is welcoming to all, regardless of gender, creed, race, or sexual orientation? And not just in our advertising, but in who we are and what we do. The Fort Hood report indicates that we have a long way to go with that.

Talent Management. Once people are in, do we ensure that we are giving them adequate mentorship and career management? Too often, Army leaders confuse micromanagement for mentorship. That ain’t it. How are we challenging leaders to grow and develop in their careers and be successful while balancing family life? Are we providing leaders with a solid ethical foundation – and do our leaders model that? Does the system reward innovation or does it reward those leaders who conform to existing norms? Do our smart junior leaders feel like they’re fighting the system rather than benefiting from it? If they do, we will see them choose the exit rather than staying.

Talent Retention. Are leaders providing a clear organization mission, vision, and endstate that is achievable and can be communicated to everyone, from E-1 to O-6? People are more likely to remain in an organization where they feel a sense of belonging and a shared mission that resonates with them. If they feel like the organization is stagnant, they’ll vote with their feet. How are we retaining our best leaders? Are promotions merit-based or time-based? What incentives do we use beyond free college and healthcare? Really talented people can find those elsewhere, so retaining them is more difficult than retaining mediocrity.

This is by no means an all-encompassing summary of our personnel issues. Nor is it true for all elements of the Army. Some reading this might see nothing in here that reflects their unit. And that’s good. But I wanted to put these out here as items to reflect on, as we always need to be looking out for the future of the organization. We can only improve if we acknowledge our failings and organizational pitfalls. And in our business, the price of failure is steep.