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A vigorous talent management strategy keeps the acquisition workforce prepared to tackle future threats.

By Mr. Craig A. Spisak, Director, Acquisition Career Management

Predicting the future: It’s one of Army leadership’s most difficult tasks. But we can’t always be a reactive force. Nor can we just defend the nation against current threats. We have to be prepared to defend against future threats. We can’t wait. We must be proactive.

One of the ways we work proactively is by managing our talent. We’ve often talked about career development as having the right person in the right place in the right job at the right time. Succession planning is another way of describing successful talent management.

A strategy that focuses on what type of talent we need within the Army Acquisition Workforce allows us to be synchronized and integrated across, up and down the chain, and across multiple commands. Initiatives focused on talent management allow us to have implementation plans and activities that filter down and are coordinated with individual acquisition commands and organizations.

Talent management initiatives created with the participation of stakeholders and partners across the enterprise help the entire community understand what we’re trying to accomplish. Because at the end of the day, we may not be able to do everything we want to do, but if we have to make tough decisions, we know what we’re going to do first and why. You have everyone on the team operating from the same playbook.

Visualize a series of concentric circles. The biggest circle is drawn around the entire Army Acquisition Workforce. And then, as people either self-select in some cases, or get thrust into situations in other cases, or rise to a certain grade in yet other cases, you get smaller and smaller circles. It’s from these smaller circles that eventually we’ll find personnel for key leadership positions:

  • Program executive officer (PEO) and deputy PEO.
  • Senior contracting official.
  • Program manager (PM).
  • Deputy PM.
  • Chief engineer and lead systems engineer.
  • Product support manager (program lead logistician).
  • Chief developmental tester.
  • Program lead, business financial manager.
  • Program lead, contracting officer.
  • Program lead, cost estimator.
  • Program lead, production, quality and manufacturing.
  • Program lead, information technology.
An agile talent management strategy enables the Army to prepare its acquisition workforce to tackle any future threats, and includes a number of vital components, including recruitment, outreach and engagement, and onboarding and mentoring. (SOURCE: U.S. Army DACM Office)

An agile talent management strategy enables the Army to prepare its acquisition workforce to tackle any future threats, and includes a number of vital components, including recruitment, outreach and engagement, and onboarding and mentoring. (SOURCE: U.S. Army DACM Office)

Talent management is a matter of setting the conditions for success. We remove all of the impediments and barriers so that, when we need 25 people with a certain competency or capability, we know right where to find them. We don’t wait for the need to arise and then go out and try to build that person.

What would success for talent management look like? It would mean that every time we need an individual or a group to solve a complex acquisition problem, every time we have a technical challenge, every time we need somebody in theater with a particular set of skills, we would already have considered that a possibility and would have developed that capability and talent in our community. We would know who and where they are.

The concepts behind talent management of the Army Acquisition Workforce (AAW) are:

  • Identify high-potential and high-performing employees.
  • Develop the talent pool early.
  • Reinstate tools to help manage acquisition workforce talent.
  • Implement strategies to use skills gained through training and other developmental opportunities.

We are implementing several initiatives to help our leaders identify and develop talent, including:

  • Continuing to expand mentoring and fine-tuning our evaluation processes.
  • Developing orientation briefings as an onboarding tool to acclimate new members to the acquisition profession.
  • Creating civilian career models for every acquisition career field, similar to military acquisition models, and continuing to enhance this tool to provide our acquisition civilians and their supervisors with career guidance.
  • Promoting developmental and rotational assignments to provide broadening opportunities for our workforce.
  • Encouraging talented and high-potential personnel to apply to our centrally selected positions.
  • Ensuring that talent management is nested with talent initiatives managed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, such as competency development and key leadership position qualification programs.
  • Implementing and standardizing a tenure agreement tracking mechanism for critical acquisition positions, including key leadership positions and centrally selected product and project manager and project and product director positions.
  • Establishing guidance on the use of the senior rater potential evaluation (SRPE) for all Army Acquisition Workforce members in designated grades or broadbands.
  • Developing program management position hierarchy and common nomenclature for use across the enterprise.
  • Sustaining and executing the first civilian-only centrally selected product director board, providing opportunities to select high-performing civilians with leadership potential.

For talent management to thrive, you have to establish a methodology by which you can facilitate success. Providing people the necessary tools, such as the individual development plan and the SRPE, allows a much richer discussion about individual potential. Talent management is preparing the seed corn, a feeder population from which future leaders will emerge.


This article will be published in the October – December 2018 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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