HONING SKILLS: During the ALAP workshop in September 2022, participants took part in a mock blind interview and participated in an open conversation with all the volunteers and alumni. According to ALAP alumni Steve Bielamowicz, “It was a great opportunity for some of our high potential leaders to hone their writing and interview skills.” (Image by Pexels)
A simple question led the author and her team to develop a workshop to assist colleagues in their career advancement.
by Joanna Chase
What started with a simple question about the upcoming centralized selection list (CSL) deadline quickly turned into the realization that there was as much larger opportunity at hand. “Once applications are in, what’s next? Are we now eligible to participate in ALAP?”
The Army’s Acquisition Leader Assessment Program (ALAP) began inviting civilian participants in the 2021 fiscal year, leaving many in the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition (JPEO A&A) workforce unaware of this new opportunity. Not only that, but as conversations progressed, it was discovered that many employees weren’t fully familiar with the centralized selection list or centralized selection board (CSB) processes.
The Army Director of Acquisition Career Management (DACM) Office and the Army Talent Management Task Force worked together to design the ALAP program with the intention of improving and strengthening current methods for selecting leaders for CSL command and key billet positions. During ALAP, participants engage in a weeklong variety of scored and informing (non-scored) events that provide selection board members a more robust, whole-person leadership assessment.
As part of the JPEO A&A Talent Management Office, my goal is to ensure that our organization has access to all the opportunities needed to not only be successful today, but to develop as strong leaders who will be prepared to guide the way tomorrow. I show up each day looking for new and creative ways to support our workforce without adding stress or creating a burden on time. In addition to leading many strategic initiatives for the organization, we constantly look for ways to support each of our smaller offices as well. When the conversation about ALAP arose, I knew we needed to do something to get the information out there and to find a way to continue to support our teammates through the process.
I reached out to various organizations within the Army community to see if there was already a program or workshop available but came back empty handed. I was able to find publicly available written guides and decided to use them as the basis in developing our own training. With the help of JPEO A&A’s ALAP alumni and a plethora of online resources, the brainstorming began. The goal was to not only educate the workforce on these available opportunities to get them focused on career ownership and building their career roadmap, but to also see how we could help prepare candidates who were invited to participate in ALAP in the 2024 fiscal year.
“ALAP is a win-win initiative all around,” said Johnny Figueroa, ALAP alumni. “The Army wins by thoroughly assessing the interpersonal skills of its up-and-coming leadership while the candidates learn their innermost strengths and weaknesses and how to improve them.”
A NEW ROAD
With those two goals in mind, we decided to take two different approaches. My colleagues and I launched the first ALAP information session at JPEO A&A on April 26, 2022. The Deputy Project Director for Joint Bombs, ALAP alumni Steve Bielamowicz and I presented a virtual information session to our workforce highlighting CSL, CSB and ALAP opportunities. Over the course of an hour, participants were able to grasp a much clearer understanding of what the CSL and CSB are, when to start preparing for these opportunities if they are a part of future career goals, what the application process looks like, nuances with accepting or deferring these opportunities and what it means to be invited to ALAP.
We closed the session with a request and an offer for anyone who had applied to the 2024 fiscal year CSL or CSB. We asked that if they were invited to participate in ALAP over the course of the next few months, to reach out to the Talent Management Office. We promised that if interest was shown, we’d continue to build opportunities to help prepare these individuals as best we could for their weeklong travel to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for ALAP that October.
NOT QUIET FOR LONG
After the initial workshop things were quiet, but not for long. Just a few months later, as the GS-14 and-15 ALAP participant lists were announced, emails began to trickle through, radiating both excitement and nervousness. This time we needed to do more than just a virtual workshop-type approach. Although I had an idea of where I wanted this program to go, I also wanted to make sure I had the support for developing it. We drafted an idea for the concept, being mindful that we weren’t developing a program that would break any ALAP alumni nondisclosure agreements or prepare participants in any way that would compromise their participation at the actual event. With an encouraging approval from JPEO A&A’s deputy program executive officer, the work began.
It started with researching and leveraging as many resources as I could find to develop an ALAP preparation support guide, which encourages and aids participants preparing on their own time for the ALAP experience. Referencing many of the already available Army guides and resources, it’s easy to use and full of information on the various ALAP events, such as the timed argumentative writing assessment, blind interviews, physical fitness and psychometric assessments. The support guide also includes advice from ALAP alumni, ideas for practicing and preparing on one’s own, and links to free online support tools and Army resources. For fun, there are also links to YouTube, where participants can watch a short video to gain a better understanding of barracks living at Fort Knox and enjoy some of the history and mystery behind the Kentucky Army installation.
“Last year I felt a bit like I was feeling my way through the dark, so having this resource available [to those who want it] is a real benefit,” said ALAP alumni Matt Nestor.
As all-encompassing as the support guide is, it’s still just that—a support guide. It wouldn’t be enough to help our folks successfully prepare; they needed even more. With their demanding workloads and their busy personal lives, we knew encouraging them to prepare on their own time would still provide a challenge. So, we designed a half-day, in-person workshop to complement the support guide and strengthen our preparation process.
In September, Keith Gooding, JPEO A&A’s director of Talent Management and the Senior Service College Fellowship, with the help of senior leader volunteers and ALAP alumni, spent half a day working with our ALAP invitees. During this workshop, participants took part in a timed argumentative writing exercise, a mock blind interview, and participated in an open conversation with all the volunteers and alumni. Each eagerly taking notes as concerns were vocalized, questions were answered, and valuable feedback and words of encouragement were shared.
“The JPEO A&A Talent Management team put a lot of effort into making this program as realistic and representative of the ALAP experience as possible,” ALAP alum Bielamowicz said. “It was a great opportunity for some of our high potential leaders to hone their writing and interview skills.”
Although this was the first workshop of its kind for JPEO A&A, based on the feedback received, we know that this is just the beginning.
Multiple times, participants expressed their appreciation for the experience because it helped boost their confidence going into ALAP. It also gave them a focused opportunity to prepare without work or personal responsibilities getting in the way.
“I’m very appreciative of Talent Management taking the time to help us prepare for ALAP,” said Anthony Cortese, a workshop participant. “It forced us to practice the most stressful parts of ALAP, which were the essay and blind interview. They provided invaluable feedback against the actual scoring matrices used to give us an opportunity to learn and perform at our best during ALAP.”
The JPEO A&A Talent Management team is looking forward to continuing to build and develop these opportunities with the support of each year’s ALAP alumni and encourages other organizations to do the same. We encourage all organizations to use the already available resources and consider developing their own workshop for future ALAP participants. This is one of the many ways that collectively we can support and develop our future leaders.
“ALAP was a unique and valuable process, so there is definitely value in explaining how it functions,” said Elias Vainchenker, Project Manager Close Combat Systems.
For more information contact Joanna Chase, Joanna.firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOANNA CHASE provides contract support to JPEO A&A at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, as a human capital analyst, talent management and G-1 human resource for Booz Allen Hamilton. She holds an MBA in human resource management from Saint Leo University and a B.A. in English writing and anthropology from William Patterson University.