Managing the Talent of Army Acquisition’s Finest

By July 1, 2014September 24th, 2018Talent Management
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Talent management is more than human resources (HR); it’s a set of integrated HR processes with the ultimate and ongoing goal of creating and sustaining an inclusive, diverse and high-performing organization. Talent management (TM) thus prepares that organization to meet strategic and operational organizational goals and objectives. That’s precisely why the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center (USAASC) Army Director for Acquisition Career Management (DACM) Office maintains a philosophy of putting people first to ensure that Army acquisition TM provides the workforce with the best opportunities, education and leadership development to build a successful career “from hire to retire.”

Craig A. Spisak Director, U.S. Army  Acquisition Support Center

Craig A. Spisak
Director, U.S. Army
Acquisition Support Center

Enhancing civilian and military TM is one of the initiatives that LTG Michael E. Williamson—our new principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, as well as our DACM—believes can make a big difference for the future of the Army Acquisition Corps (AAC) in terms of career progression, productivity and leader development. The Army DACM is responsible for approximately 39,000 acquisition civilian and military professionals. Pursuant to the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act, the USAASC Army DACM Office manages and monitors the entire life cycle of this Army Acquisition Workforce.

Traditionally, the military has the career development and leadership model figured out for our officers and NCOs. The structure of a military career is laid out very well with regard to the sequence of positions, training requirements and leadership development to get to the next level. On the civilian side, that model has developed over time and is a little less structured. The Army’s Civilian Education System starts to address the development of civilian leaders, but we in the acquisition community are taking it a step further, putting particular emphasis on developing our civilian acquisition talent, fostering growth and posturing personnel for success. We can capitalize on military success in this area and expand it to our civilians.

TM covers all facets of ensuring that we select the right people, at the right time and in the right positions when hiring Army acquisition civilians and accessing military members into the Army Acquisition Workforce. Providing these professionals the right types of developmental experiences, training, education and mentoring will create a true professional, which will benefit the AAC over the course of many years.

To have a successful TM program, an organization must provide its workforce with the proper tools. The USAASC Army DACM Office has tools in place to help military and civilian leaders develop the acquisition workforce. But these tools must be integrated into a cohesive plan with strategic messaging among supervisors and acquisition personnel. We are working to ensure this synergy as part of our TM concept.

As the Army DACM Office, we offer educational, training and leadership development programs for acquisition professionals at every career level, from those at the initial entry point to the up-and-coming, fast-moving development journeymen to strategic leaders to Senior Executive Service members. These programs include internships, the Competitive Development Group/Army Acquisition Fellowship, the Acquisition Leadership Challenge Program (Levels B, I and II), Defense Acquisition University Senior Service College Fellowship (SSCF) and the Executive Leadership Program. The idea is that these programs will enhance the individual’s acquisition career progression and simultaneously bring a bountiful return on the “people” investment for the future of Army acquisition.

Another aspect of TM is targeting programs and resources toward specific acquisition capability sets and gaps. Our Human Capital Strategic Plan for Army Acquisition identifies critical skill sets; our attrition analysis helps us target population sets to ensure proper recruitment and retention planning—so, for example, if we have trouble providing contracting or science, technology, engineering and math capabilities, we target some programs specifically to those areas.

With the creation of the Section 852 Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, we have another great tool with which we can create pilot opportunities to test education, training and leadership development programs to determine their long-term viability. Our ultimate goal is to gear our acquisition education, training and leadership development programs and our precious resources to the most critical needs and ensure that the personnel who show outstanding performance, leadership potential and a promising future are poised for success.

One of our ongoing challenges is getting our best and brightest civilians to compete for our Centralized Selection List (CSL) project and product manager senior positions. With this challenge in mind, the USAASC Army DACM Office is launching a project/product director (PD) pilot program to capitalize on managing the great talent of our program management (PM) population. The purpose is to ensure that they gain core competencies in cost, schedule and performance as well as leadership skills to prepare them for future higher-level CSL PM positions.

We have to find creative ways to incentivize and capitalize on the talent of this high-performing PM population. With our workforce at only 5 percent military, the civilian talent pool offers the greatest resource for new product and project managers, which means we need to continually and effectively manage and draw on that PM talent. Some of the concepts we’re working on include establishing specific PD and PM positions with subsequent incentive and post-utilization opportunities, such as placement in our SSCF program, increased pay, and securing specific higher-level positions for those who compete for these jobs and perform well.

The selection process for this pilot will employ a competitive board, just like all of our other programs. The tentative plan is to have the CSL selection board choose candidates for the PD and PM positions at the same time they are determining the CSL PM positions. Using this approach, there are no essential differences between the central selections and the individuals who would compete on those boards. So an individual’s status as a PD or the manager of a significant effort within our acquisition community would be the same. Ultimately, our TM concept must foster growth and posture high-performing, high-potential personnel for success.

Fairly significant reductions in physical resources and manpower are likely across the Army, and acquisition will see its fair share. The best way to continue our work as a force multiplier with low-density, high-impact capability to the Army, using fewer people to perform the mission, is to ensure that the people we do have are supremely qualified and uniquely capable, highly skilled acquisition professionals.

We also have to find ways to remind people that they are important and valuable, and encourage them to take on those tougher responsibilities, including recognizing their performance and rewarding them for their efforts. We have to tell our story and recognize people both inside the acquisition community and in front of the rest of the Army, so the broader community can see that we have highly talented professionals meeting technical and complex acquisition challenges on a regular basis.

Finally, an effective TM program gives us the greatest opportunity to have the right person doing the right thing, in the right job, at the right time. Our investment in a TM program pays considerable dividends, both in our people and in our ability to provide the greatest capability in acquisition to the Army. To reap those dividends, we must ensure that we identify and groom our best and brightest military and civilian acquisition professionals, as they will lead this acquisition community in the future.

This article was originally published in the July – September 2014 issue of Army AL&T magazine.