PEO CS&CSS makes a two-pronged effort to maximize the effectiveness of the SRPE and get the most from its workforce.
by Mr. Scott J. Davis
Last quarter, Craig A. Spisak, director of the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center, wrote about the importance of Senior Rater Potential Evaluations (SRPEs) in helping to identify and shape our community’s future leaders. I agree that the SRPE is a very important tool. Our current environment is uncertain and resource-constrained, and it’s often hard to spend the extra time to think critically about our workforce. Yet I’m convinced that we must make the time to shape our most important resource. We owe that to both the Army and our team members. A mechanism like the SRPE that helps us give employees, leaders and future selection boards an honest, transparent and consistent idea of civilian employee potential is powerful.
While our organization’s No. 1 priority is effective program management, we cannot do that without effectively developing our people. Shaping our acquisition professionals—from early mentoring through senior-level assignments—is a serious responsibility we all share. Everyone has a stake in how we recruit, retain, motivate and develop talent across the Army Acquisition Workforce, and every employee, supervisor and leader plays an essential role in the process.
Of course, the SRPE isn’t magic. It is just a tool. What matters is how we use it: how we have meaningful conversations with our civilian employees and how we communicate about our employees. A good tool used poorly—be it an integrated master schedule, a spend plan or a SRPE—usually fails to do the job well. Just as there are recognized best ways to use the tools of acquisition, so, too, must there be best ways to develop our people.
A CONTINUING CONVERSATION
At the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support (PEO CS&CSS), I’ve challenged our human capital team and all of our senior leaders to take SRPEs very seriously in two ways.
The first is to integrate the SRPE into what should already be an ongoing conversation about every employee’s development. We can’t assess someone’s potential unless we understand who they are, what they’ve done and what they’d like to do. We cannot disconnect discussions about an employee’s potential from their career goals or the training, experiences and education they choose to pursue.
This ongoing conversation or cycle begins with the Individual Development Plan (IDP), whereby an employee and a supervisor talk about the employee’s goals for their career, education, training and so on, then lay out a plan. This is where the employee describes where they see themselves and where they want to go. Based on the IDP, the employee and supervisor should make choices about future opportunities.
In the SRPE, the supervisor and senior rater assess the employee’s potential—not just as an individual, but across relevant peer groups. This answers questions about where an employee is and where they can go, based on their potential:
- Are they skilled in the field they’d like to pursue?
- Have they experienced the right program type, phase and category to prepare them for the next level?
- Are they ready for the next step? If not, what training or experiences would get them there?
An honest conversation about the SRPE helps the employee understand strengths and weaknesses, their competitive potential and what they could do to reach their career goals.
After reviewing the SRPE and pursuing training or experiences, the employee and supervisor can return to the IDP and change or continue plans to meet the employee’s career goals, perhaps improving the employee’s demonstrated potential. Because this should be a continuous cycle of communication, nothing on the SRPE should shock or surprise the employee. If it does, communication was clearly lacking, and that needs to be addressed.
MAXIMIZING THE SRPE’S VALUE
The second way we’ve leveraged SRPEs is to think diligently about how we maximize their value for our team members’ assessment and their competitive potential. SRPEs are most effective to the Army and the employee when they provide a consistent, accurate assessment of a civilian employee’s potential for future progress against a substantial set of peers in both grade and function.
Based on feedback from previous centralized selection boards, we understood that inconsistent phrasing, small cohorts, imprecise distinctions or multiple No. 1 enumerations (ratings) in the same organization caused confusion and did not enhance an employee’s competitive potential. Making distinctions meaningful, consistent and accurate is important not only for the board, but also for individual employees.
In PEO CS&CSS, we established the program executive officer as the senior rater for all NH-IV employees, giving us a large pool of comparable associates, both overall and by functional group. It also means that every associate will have a SRPE from the general officer or Senior Executive Service level, which is required for centralized selection list boards and provides a consistent evaluation and enumeration for all NH-IV personnel in our organization.
At the beginning of each SRPE cycle, supervisors think critically about each associate’s experience, training and demonstrated potential before participating in program manager—O-5 and O-6—meetings to negotiate and agree on an organizational order of merit list (OML). Teams develop OMLs within each organization and within each functional area. Then, at the PEO level, senior leaders negotiate a PEO-wide OML to rank our employees overall and by functional area, paying particular attention to ratings of “exceptional potential” in managing the senior rater’s overall profile. This process gives us a clear and fair assessment of potential across the more than 150 associates in our NH-IV workforce, based on discussions and input from all of our senior leaders. The process also collects draft narrative comments and recommendations for each associate’s training or experiences.
To make finalizing the senior rater’s comments as efficient as possible, our staff created a Microsoft Excel-based tool with unique macros that take in the OML and suggested comments. The tool aligns recommended senior rater comments, enumerations and potential training or assignment opportunities based on career fields and experiences. It is tremendously helpful, making the process of completing senior rater comments easier and far more consistent and fair.
HOW A PEO CAN KEEP COMMUNICATION REAL
There’s one additional point I’d like to emphasize about SRPEs and any changes we make in how we recruit, retain, motivate and develop our people: Real communication matters. Shortly after coming aboard at PEO CS&CSS, I conducted a climate survey and found myself both surprised and troubled by some responses. When asked whether their organization’s leadership would treat them fairly, too few of our team members responded positively, and even fewer thought their leadership would represent their best interests or support their career advancement.
Ever since, we’ve made fairness, consistency and transparency major themes of every change we’ve made in the area of human capital, including SRPEs. I’m pleased that two years later, our climate results showed approximately an 8 percent improvement across our O-6-led project management offices.
In the case of the SRPEs, many of our associates and their supervisors had to learn what a SRPE was and how it fit into their development activities, and our approach to consolidated SRPE management took some getting used to. We initiated a deliberate communication campaign, beginning with our supervisors, to ensure a clear understanding of not only what we were doing but why. We first briefed all leaders at the O-6 level, followed by a supervisory all-hands meeting, a discussion on SRPEs during organizational town halls and direct messages to the workforce from me.
I also wanted to position our supervisors for success, so our human capital and communications teams devised a specific guide to shape each SRPE review session. Not every supervisor needed the assistance, but developing our supervisors is no less important than developing the people they supervise. Giving supervisors standard questions to ask improves individual IDP and SRPE reviews, and helps embed consistency throughout our development cycle.
We’re only in our second year with this process, but so far, anecdotal feedback from centrally selected boards is positive. Just as importantly, our workforce appears to be understanding the process well, including their ability to better understand their own potential. This is important, especially as we begin the process this year of formal SRPEs for our larger population of associates at the NH-III level. We have to make sure to use the tools in a way that continues to enhance the way our team members, supervisors and those beyond our organization understand potential and possibility.
Fundamentally, understanding is about communicating, and when it comes to developing our people, that conversation should never end. Talking about goals, potential and opportunities must occur not just at SRPE time, but rather as part of an ongoing, everyday activity. Our people and our Army will be stronger as a result.
For more information, contact Liesel Folden, PEO CS&CSS’ workforce development lead for human capital and assistant PEO for strategic management, at firstname.lastname@example.org or read Mr. Spisak’s column on the importance of SRPEs, “Tough Choices, Powerful Tool,” in the April – June issue of Army AL&T.
MR. SCOTT J. DAVIS is the program executive officer for combat support and combat service support. He holds an M.S. in industrial engineering from Wayne State University and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Michigan Technological University. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve for 30 years, retiring at the rank of colonel in May 2015. He was selected for the Senior Executive Service in 2005. A member of the Army Acquisition Corps, he holds Level III certifications in program management and engineering.
This article is scheduled to be published in the July-September 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.
Subscribe to Army AL&T News, the premier online news source for the Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (AL&T) Workforce.