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Saturday, September 15, 2007

New Career Structure for the Army

In his article on the failures in Iraq, Fred Kaplan (Challenging the Generals, New York Times Magazine, August 24, 2007 pages 34-39) states that the US Military has to change its career structure from one in which those promoted General come up through a single branch of the service and are rewarded for this narrow focus to one that encourages a person to take a broad view with an appreciation for the work of a number of different branches of the service and indeed other options including diplomacy and liaison with foreign military units.

These different career structures are well known in modern organizations. The first, where promotion occurs through the narrow focus, the manager moves through a series of assignments involving larger or more important units of the same type. This is called a command centered career structure. The second where promotion occurs by moving to different types of unit doing different types of things is called a constructional career structure.

Many in the US Army are hoping that the Army moves from the command centered career structure to the constructional career structure by changing the criteria used by promotion boards who select the men and women for promotion from Full Colonel to Brigadier General. That will be insufficient -- changing a career structure in a large organization is extraordinarily difficult.

The rewards and encouragements must be incorporated much earlier in the individuals' careers, Right now, one of Kaplan's informants tells him that the Army promotes the "can-do, go-to people." Obviously this skill is important, but so are others. From the officers' earliest time in the military, both the goals associated with the current focus of the job must be set high but other learning goals about other units and their activities also need to be set. The young officer then needs to be rewarded and promoted for achieving both goals not just for one. These two types of goals then need to be instituted at all ranks between Lieutenant and Colonel so that mid level officers like Captain Kip Kowalski do not feel that if they take lateral moves to other parts of the military such as becoming Foreign Affairs Officer means that they can "never come back" to the regular infantry. This, of course, comes at the cost of lesser expertise: the more officers make these lateral moves, the more apposite becomes the old saying: "jack of all trades, master of none". But you can't have it both ways: as many large corporations have found. But this is the only way to develop top executives with a proper overview of their business.

Without this change in focus and reward at each of these levels, the high level promotion board will have few candidates to select with the breadth and knowledge required by today's General Officers

Hugh P Gunz & Martin G. Evans
Sent to New York Times Magazine

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