Army National Guard AMEDD Officer Talent Management
Franklin C. Annis
While the U.S. Army has developed materials for the management of Army Medical Department (AMEDD) personnel, they have done so with the focus on the “big” (Active Duty) Army. Although policies and regulations provide guidance to the Army National Guard, they often do not take into account the problems associated with our “little” armies. The National Guard assumes more risk within their AMEDD community as both the talent pool and possible assignment billets are limited. Unlike the “big” Army where career advancement is typically limited only by the capabilities of the personnel, the Guard faces real challenges in communicating what are reasonable career expectations and realities if personnel choose to say within the limits of the state organization. If personnel are mismanaged or expectations poorly communicated, the Guard can face critical AMEDD personnel shortages that may result in years of capability gaps while suitable replacement personnel are developed. It is due to these unique challenges of the Army National Guard AMEDD community that we must not only understand regulation and policy but also have an intentional philosophy and design to the management of AMEDD personnel talent management at the state level.
We will begin our examination of talent management by first examining the philosophy behind this program and how talent management might be best applied to AMEDD Officers of the Army National Guard. Once we gain understanding of the appropriate talent management philosophy, we can further explore how this philosophy could be put into practice.
The most valuable and costly resource that the Army National Guard possesses is its personnel. We must strive to continually improve the quality of our personnel development through talent management. Talent Management is defined as a:
[D]eliberate and coordinated process that aligns systematic planning for the right number and type of people to meet current and future Army talent demands with integrated implementation to ensure the majority of those people are optimally employed. Talent management extracts the most productivity and value from an organization’s greatest asset – its people. Army talent management integrates people acquisition, development, employment and retention strategies. It begins with entry-level employees and aligns their talents against the demand for them during their entire careers, to include positions at the very top of the Army. (U.S. Army Office of Economics and Manpower Analysis for the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Manpower and Reserve Affairs, 2018, Para. 4)
Through targeted recruitment, retention, and development of AMEDD personnel in our states, we can build combat power that will allow the U.S. Army to stay a dominate force on the modern battlefield and support our local communities in times of natural disasters. In the field of the Army Medical Department (AMEDD), quality talent management is critical in recruiting, retaining and developing skilled medical providers capable of providing world-class medical care in austere environments.
Talent Management is Intended for the Entire Community
Often, when leaders talk about talent management, the image of selecting the most talented personnel for the most coveted positions comes to mind. While this is definitely part of the talent management process, true application of talent management impacts the entire community. What are you doing for average or under-preforming officers? Is your organization mentoring them concerning their perceived strengths and weaknesses? Are they being placed in positions where they can work to improve their skills and abilities? Have they been provided the opportunity to receive the training required for their specialty or position? Are they being provided support in their self-development activities? It should not be surprising that weak leaders who are not placed in developmental positions remain weak leaders. Similarly, Officers who are denied training opportunities will struggle to display the competency expected as a result of such training. Therefore, when discussing talent management, we must understand this term to imply a method of assessing, mentoring, and assigning individuals to developmental opportunities to increase the functionality of the entire community.
One of the first steps in designing a career management system is to determine the needs of the organizations and the realistic skills, knowledge, and behaviors of the officers to meet these needs. While this section will slightly overlap a future section that addresses the design of a talent management system, it is important to have a philosophical understanding of the “types” of personnel needed in the various positions in an organization. What are the skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed to be successful as a Company Commander in a Ground Ambulance Company? What are the skills needed to be successful as the S-3 officer for the Multifunctional Medical Battalion? Try to avoid the natural tendency to default to a perfect model. It would be wonderful if all our officers could max their fitness tests, while finishing post-graduate programs, and complete years of combat deployment experiences prior to assuming key staff and command positions, but that is not realistic. This exercise is intended to identify what minimum requirements are needed to make an officer successful. There may be units or positions within your organizations that require more physical fitness and other positions might require better communication skills. Having a true assessment of requirements of the various positions within your organization will go a long way when trying to determine who in the talent pool best meets or exceeds the requirement of a selected position.
When framing these archetypes, it is useful to use the leadership dimensions listed in the Leadership Requirement Model (LRM). This will help in crafting archetypes by utilizing commonly understood definitions and concepts. A full explanation of the Army requirements model can be found within ADP 6-22.
In the Army Leader Development Model, it is asserted that there are three domains of leader development: the operational domain, the institutional domain, and the self-development domain. The Operational domain could be reduced to “on-the-job” training and experience. This is the knowledge we gain through the active engagement of the duties we are assigned. The Institutional domain is all the development that is acquired through attending education and training courses in either the military or civilian educational systems. There are typically rigid education and training requirements required for promotion and assignment to select positions. An example of Institutional domain requirements is the requirement to complete the AMEDD Captain’s Career Course prior to a 70-series officer being promoted to the rank of major. Another example is the requirement to have completed a Doctoral degree in clinical psychology, counseling psychology or other subspecialty before being awarded the Clinical Psychologist (73B) Area of Concentration (AOC). Finally, the Self-Development domain could be reduced to all the learning activities officers are willingly engaging in to improve their skills, knowledge, and behaviors that was not directed by the Army.
We must remember this foundational model as we go about the business of talent management. We should be more worried about the development aspect of talent management than we are in simply filling holes in our organization with “faces.” The best officers have a good mix of operational, educational, and self-development experiences to aid in their development and growth in their professional and leadership abilities.
We must be mindful when we see unbalanced officers within our formations. Some officers may become too focused on coveted operational assignments and delay institutional domain requirements until there is absolutely no way around them. There have been several times in my career that I have seen captains only attend Captain’s Career Course after being recommended for promotion to major. It does the Army National Guard no benefit to have officers attend courses to learn the foundational knowledge of a select rank or specialty after years of being assigned at the rank or specialty in the operational force. Conversely, some officers have been known to spend so much time volunteering for additional training and educational courses that they become too far removed from the operational experiences that would allow them to test their acquired knowledge.
In addition to balance between the operational and institutional domains, all our officers should be engaging in self-development activities. Out of the three developmental domains, self-development is by far the most difficult to assess, and as a result, is often not assessed at all. However, we have reached a point in the evolution of warfare that it would be impossible to train or educate AMEDD officers for all scenarios or duties they may likely be assigned on the battlefield. Self-development is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of leader development and, therefore, should be encourage as much as possible. Leaders should expect self-development as a personnel obligation from all officers within our profession.
Support Proactive Action
The goal of talent management boards is to empower officers to take significant degrees of proactive action. By projecting future assignment and developmental needs of officers 12 months ahead of the planned rotation, officers have the opportunity to learn about their future unit/assignment and complete any institutional requirements BEFORE arriving at the unit. This provides significant advantages to the National Guard as an organization. First, it encourages the use of peer-learning as officers have significant time to conduct “left seat/right seat” orientations before assuming control of a new team. Secondly, by identifying institutional requirements with substantial lead time, there is a strong likelihood that training can be completed before arriving at the new unit. Not only does this allow officers to start off at their new assignment “on a good foot” with the institutional knowledge of their new role, the receiving unit acquires an officer that is already qualified in their duty AOC. This will reflect positively as an increased level of readiness of our medical units.
The desired end state for Army talent management is: “A ready, professional, diverse, and integrated team of trusted professionals optimized to win in a complex world” (U.S. Army Talent Management Strategy Force 2025 and Beyond, 2016, p. 4). This system would balance the interests of the individual whenever possible when meeting the needs of the organization. It is a comprehensive model of decision-making processes regarding individual moves, as well as an integrated system of mentorship within the organization to support continual development of our Soldiers and leaders.
With an understanding of the larger philosophical concept of the functions of AMEDD talent management, let us move on to how these ideas could be practically applied within our formations. A carefully designed system for talent management will maximize our chances of success in these principles to our AMEDD force. To be successful, we must understand possible design features in constructing a framework for talent management at the state level.
The first step in designing a talent management pool is to plot out the positions that individuals of various AOCs can occupy with in a state. It would be appropriate to include the AOC immaterial positions (05A/01A) AMEDD personnel are likely to occupy and include a category for broadening assignments outside the AMEDD community. Below is an example of a 70-series map for a state that has both a Ground Ambulance Company and a Multifunctional Medical Battalion within the state Medical Detachment force structure. It will be important to note if any of these positions are reserved specifically for Active Guard Reserve (AGR) personnel, as AGR and traditional Guard soldiers will require a different approach to talent management. On this diagram, common career flowlines have been added. While this chart displays all 70-series positions in a state, it is important to identify the limits of each AOC within this model. Limitations may include questions such as where are the 70D positions? What is the maximum rank that can be reached by a 70K? etc.
Plotting out the positions within your organization will assist in determining the true size of the population that needs to be managed in both the number of personnel and the number of specific AOCs. The results of this analysis will help in determining the structure and number of boards needed to conduct talent management for this community. In some cases, such as a small state with limited Behavioral Health providers, this community might be able to be managed at a single board. In other cases, such as large states with considerable numbers of 70-series officers, there may be a need for several boards that focus on various rank levels to appropriately manage the larger community.
Design of the Boards
There are many factors that go into the design, structure, and levels of talent management boards. The individuals selected for membership of these boards must have the ability to accurately assess the talent of the reviewed officers in terms of both their professional competence and leadership abilities. It is also important board members are familiar with the officers they are discussing for the best results. The further removed an individual is in terms of a relationship with the rated officer, the less likely they will have the knowledge to accurately assess the various aspects of talent of the rated officers. The intent is for boards to be more than just an Officer Evaluation Report (OER) review of unknown officers. To truly embrace talent management in its entirety, we want our boards to be a discussions about officers that are personally known to the members of the board so they can truly discuss the perceived professional and leadership abilities of the reviewed officers.
Below are examples where the size of the rated officer pool and positions within the organization may dictate different approaches to the design of talent management boards.
Example 1 is a small state attempting to manage their Behavioral Health Officers. In this scenario, the state has four positions for Behavioral Health Officers. A total of seven personnel have been recruited (over-strength) for these four positions. The current operational practice is to have all these individuals drill with the state Medical Detachment. With this limited number of individuals and all of these individuals drilling in the same location, this community can be easily reviewed by a single talent management board. Recommended participants for this board would include the senior Behavioral Health Provider (who can speak to clinical proficiency), the Medical Detachment Commander (who can speak to perceived leadership abilities), and the State Surgeon (due to overall importance of the Behavioral Health mission). The Medical Detachment Health Services Human Resources Officer (70F) maybe included in this board as a non-voting member to function as a recorder and Subject Matter Expert (SME) on applicable regulations and policy. Again, because all board members and rated soldiers drill with the same unit and the senior Behavioral Health Provider functions as senior rater for this community, there is a significant amount of quality exposure and knowledge of these rated officers to the board members. The senior Behavioral Health Provider would be responsible for ensuring the results of the board are relayed through counseling to the rated officers with the appropriate mentorship to help all officers improve their performance and work towards their goals.
Example 2 is addresses management of a larger and more complex AMEDD series, namely the 70-series. Even in a “small” state, the number of possible positions for 70-series officers can easily exceed 20 billets. The rank of these individuals could range from O-1 through O-6, and function could vary in units ranging from a Ground Ambulance Company to the state Medical Detachment. With such a large population of officers serving in different units and levels within the state, quality talent management demands that multiple talent management boards be created. It might be proposed that the Commander of the Multifunctional Medical Battalion (MMB) would control talent management below the rank of O-4. This individual should have knowledge of the junior officers within the Battalion, including the Ground Ambulance Company, as the commander would function as the Senior Rater for a large number of these Soldiers. The Executive Officer and Health Forces Protection Officer (sometimes referred to as the “SPO”) from the MMB could also function as members of the board with support of the 70F officer from the Medical Detachment as recorder and SME on personnel actions. These individuals would have good exposure and knowledge of the junior 70-series officers. This leaves the Battalion commander to manage personnel within the structure and make recommendations for Captains to be transferred into Major billets to the State Surgeon for review. At a Field Grade Level, the State Surgeon, Deputy Commander of Clinical Services (DCCS), Deputy Commander of Administration (DCA), and the senior 70-series officer would form a board to discuss 70-series officers in the ranks of O-4 and above. (I acknowledge the variation in the medical structures between the states. Some states might not have DCCS or DCA positions. However the concept is to have the at least three voting members of the board with at least one member a 70-series officer and the other two being in senior AMEDD positions).
There are several advantages of conducting a tiered level approach to talent management. The largest of these would be engaging mid-level leaders in the process and philosophy of talent management. It could be argued that talent management is most critical in the early years of an officer’s career to provide them a solid foundation to build a successful career upon. Yet, it is uncommon that officers are exposed to any type of quality talent management in the early years of their career. Having majors participate in talent management boards may shape the quality of counseling they can provide to junior officers and hopefully act to improve our corps.
The frequency of the board may vary on the population size and the need for personnel rotations. Conducting a board every six month would be a good suggestion to keep up with changes within the organization. Be mindful on how these boards are scheduled in regard to other talent management systems within your state. For example, it would be good to conduct internal AMEDD boards the month prior to any larger officer career management board within the state that may be utilized to determine promotion of field grade leaders. By doing so, the State Surgeon (or other responsible parties) could come prepared to brief recommendations for promotions and changes of assignments to the larger board process. This will allow our AMEDD community to display the professionalism and seriousness that we take in our own internal talent management. This would also provide our AMEDD leadership with a strong position to advocate for the best interest of AMEDD personnel to be considered for limited school slots or for coveted command and broadening positions.
Know the Regulations/Policy
Whenever dealing with talent management, it is important to know the pertinent regulations and policies. Given all the duties of the individuals likely to establish these boards, it may be helpful to assign a SME that can speak specifically to any concern that intersects with regulation and policy. In the AMEDD community, our 70Fs (Health Services Human Resources Officers) are uniquely suited for this task. If for some reason, no 70Fs are available or an individual’s presence would present a conflict, support can be requested through the G-1.
Pertinent publications related to personnel management include:
- DA PAM 600-3 Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management.
- DA PAM 600-4 Army Medical Department Professional Development and Career Management.
- DA PAM 600-8 Military Personnel Management
Try to avoid the natural tendency to reduce the review of AMEDD personnel to a calculation of quantifiable numbers. There is often a strong desire to use quantifiable measurements whenever possible to remove the perception of bias. Examples of easily quantifiable data include the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) or a weapons qualification score. It is easy to assert that LT Jones with an APFT score of 290 is better than LT Johnson with an APFT score of 210. However, being a fast runner is not the only quality to being a good leader. The purpose of this board is determining who displays the most appropriate talent for the various positions within the organization, and it is a difficult task. Attempting to reduce what should be qualitative measurements into a qualitative sum will not help with this process and will likely introduce more problems than it will solve. For example, if you have a 70-series officer that acquires a doctorate degree, how many points would this degree be “worth” on a quantitative scale and how would that compare to the points awarded for an APFT score. I have seen suggestions to reduce talent management into these types of quantitative sums that inadvertently assert that it would be better to focus on increasing your APFT score than achieving a graduate degree within your field.
While qualitative assessments may result in more perception of bias, the purpose of having multiple senior officers involved in the board can reduce actual bias. The results of these boards in determining short-falls in the required skills, knowledge, or behaviors should be communicated back to the evaluated personnel after every board. While it is inevitable that there will be “hurt feelings” for individuals that are not selected for the positions they desire or recommended for promotions, providing this critical feedback can act as a means to develop a “road map” for these individuals to work towards their specific goals.
The least successful boards are the ones that fail to communicate the perceived weaknesses of individuals as they leave the non-selected individuals feeling like they were working within a “good ole’ boy” system where there was little chance for success. Instead of being given specific areas to address, these individuals were left to guess what went wrong and will likely blame the organization. This results in officers who take little action to improve their unknown-to-them shortfalls. To be successful, talent management systems require this critical mechanism of feedback supported by true mentorship within our ranks.
One practical recommendation, especially when dealing with a large population, is the use of a “sand table” during the board process. Cover a table in a large sheet of paper and draw out the structure within your organization for the AOC in question with spaces for each position large enough for a standard post-it note. Record the data for the personnel on individual post-it notes and place them in their current position within the organizations. A few things will happen, It will become immediately apparent if there is a personnel shortage in the specialty or if too many personnel are positioned in the same slot. Using the post-it notes you can move the personnel around the diagram to test different courses of actions in rotating personnel. Unlike using a digital method, it is a lot harder to miss when personnel were accounted for after a proposed move or if several personnel were unintentionally recommended for the same position.
Data to Track
There is a number of data points that may be useful for a talent management board to have on hand. The minimum data I recommend to have immediately on hand is: Dwell in current position, Date of Rank, Officer Education System (OES) Status, Civilian Education Completed, Cred/Priv Status (If appropriate), and Self-Development Activities. While it is useful to have Officer Evaluation Reports (OERs) immediately available, as discussed earlier, with having raters or senior raters on the board, these individuals should be able to speak to performance of the reviewed officers.
One of the worst scenarios in an organization is when officers arrive at terminal positions and it is not clearly communicated that they have little to no chance to advance within the organization, whether due to performance or structure. This is often disheartening when other opportunities are still available to these individuals, such as Interstate Transferring (IST) or transferring into the Army Reserves. These individuals can be left in suspense for years and often become discontent in their positions. This situation can have a larger impact when other officers see this situation and begin to doubt the honesty or ability of senior leaders to manage talent appropriately.
While this situation typically happens at higher ranks, it can impact mid-grade leaders. The example of the 70D position in a Multifunctional Medical Battalion comes to mind. Very few states have an O-4 70D position within their force structure. Therefore, as soon as individuals are assigned to this O-3 position, leadership should be working with these individuals to develop a plan for them to acquire an additional AOC and have a means of continuing their advancement in the organization BEFORE they become promotable to Major. You could imagine how heartbreaking it may be to take a difficult position within an organization, only to realize you will be surpassed by your peers because no one had taken the time to explain the force structure of the state or display an interest in your personal development.
Explaining that select position may become terminal is not always a major hurdle. Just as we all have different priorities in our lives, some personnel will willingly accept terminal positions. The important point as a leader is to communicate the reality of the situation and present other options to the individual if available, even if this may mean service in another state or in the Army Reserves. While we may always want to focus on the talent management of our state, sometimes leaders must recognize when it is best to utilize talent management in support of the Army as a whole.
Any effective system of talent management must include a voice from the talent themselves. Talent management is a balance between the organization and desires of the individual. This can be conducted in many ways but is often accomplished in the form of a survey. One of the things to stress is to ensure that these surveys are provided well in advance of the board. Questions that would be appropriate to ask would include long-term goals that may require individuals to reflect or discuss these issues with their families or their civilian employer. Some ideas of questions to ask would include:
- What are your military career plans, including timeline for your future goals?
- How do your family, employer, or community influence your professional plans?
- What is your desired retirement date or MRD? Explain.
- List your top three positions you would like to be considered for laterally.
- List your top three positions you would like to be considered for promotion.
- Would you consider assignment outside the state: (One-Time Occasional Tours, National Guard Bureau, etc).
- List civilian acquired skills, languages, professional certificates that may enhance your contribution to the state.
- Please provide any other information you feel is relevant for senior leadership to consider your career planning discussions:
- Depending on the rank of the individual, it may be appropriate to ask the preferred format for their next education requirement (Resident / Distributive Learning).
- Depending on the size of your state, it may also be appropriate to ask if there are any travel limitations (Are you willing to drive 7 hours one-way to drill in order to be promoted?).
This type of information will be invaluable in the talent management process. Unlike “Big Army,” the Army National Guard has to do considerably more talent management in regard to the other major demands, such a civilian employment and educational enrollment, in our Soldiers’ lives. It would be encouraged that raters or other mentors have the opportunity to review the survey answers with personnel before they are relayed to the talent management board. In this way, soldiers will have an opportunity to discuss any concerns they have about how their answers might impact the board and allow mentors to ensure what is written clearly relays what was intended.
It is critical that the talent management boards account for individuals working outside the AMEDD community. Officers absent for extended periods for resident schools, broadening experiences, NGB tours, individual augmentation deployments, etc. still need to be accounted for. There should be projections on return dates and how to reintegrate these personnel back into the structure. Foresight is needed to keep these individuals from being simply “double-slotted.” Not only do we want to take advantage of the new skills sets developed by these returning officers, we do not want to create the perception that they were “forgotten” by the organization.
Remember your aviators. The Aeromedical Evacuation Officer (67J) community is often receives career management from the aviation community. These individuals can fill important 01A, 05A, and 67A positions within our AMEDD force structure. When managing AMEDD personnel, do not forget to account for the talent that may be in the 67J community. These individuals can greatly add to our community through development and experience in non-67J positions. Consulting with the State Aviation Officer about the career management of these officers will provide benefits to both the AMEDD and Aviation communities.
Provide Detailed Guidance to Recruiters
One of the biggest benefits of carefully managing AMEDD talent management within the state is the ability to provide better guidance to our recruiters. For example, finding interested and academically qualified individuals to go into the 70D (Health Services System Management) positions within Multifunctional Medical Battalions is often difficult. However, instead of waiting to see who the recruiters can bring in as 70Bs, and then asking about interest in this field, we can direct recruiters to find individuals with specific interest in Information Technology. We can provide this specific guidance instead of them recruiting anyone that meets the basic requirements for a Medical Service Corps officer. In this way, we could take advantage of the operational experience an individual has working in a civilian equivalent field (Health Informatics, in this example) instead of recruiting someone that is unlikely to have this type of civilian employment. While it is important to fill our ranks and often times we accept individuals that would be less than ideal for our organizations, providing this type of specific guidance will support in proactively managing our force.
As stated before, the findings of the talent management board need to be communicated to the assessed officers in a meaningful fashion. This would be best done during a counseling session with a rater/senior rater or an assigned mentor. Communicating the findings of the board is just as critical as the practice of conducting the board if we wish to see the full benefits of talent management. It is only when we create an environment of open and honest communication with the intent of improving the entire community that we can expect to see the positive impact of talent management. From the best officer to the least, it must be communicated what was perceived to be strengths and weaknesses and plan for future assignments to build upon strengths and an attempt to remove weaknesses. It is a wise recommendation of having a Leader Development Improvement Guide (LDIG) on hand during counseling to allow for recommendations and ideas for further improvement through self-development.
Personnel is and will remain the most valuable asset to the Army National Guard. This is especially true in the AMEDD community where it may take years of training and significant resources before an individual is qualified and deployable. The National Guard AMEDD community faces significant challenges in finding optimal approaches to talent management to ensure the recruitment, retention, and development of personnel. Talent management is an important element to ensure the success of the National Guard and the mission we support. Given the importance of managing our personnel to optimize their success, it is important that we continually review our talent management processes. We should make every attempt to proactively manage our force to ensure the highest level of readiness.
Headquarters (HQ), Department of the Army (DA) (2013). Department of the Army Pamphlet (DA PAM) 350-58 Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/p350_58.pdf
HQ DA, (2015). Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22: Army Leadership. Retrieved from http://data.cape.army.mil/web/repository/doctrine/adp6-22.pdf
HQ DA (2016). U.S. Army Talent Management Strategy Force 2025 and Beyond. Retrieved from https://talent.army.mil/wp-content/uploads/pdf_uploads/PUBLICATIONS/Army%20Talent%20Management%20Strategy%2C%20Force%202025%20and%20Beyond.pdf
U.S. Army Office of Economics and Manpower Analysis for the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Manpower and Reserve Affairs (2018). Talent Management. Retrieved from https://talent.army.mil/