Charting a Course - Write Better Paper
Even today, despite a level-best effort to train officers, there are still those who may not fully understand the subtleties necessary to work the system correctly: for example, the value, or use of, a soft breakout; the joining or separating of different competitive groups, and why that might be useful; or why they should develop a rock-solid, level-by-level average and how to use it to best effect. It must be understood that these documents will be examined under a microscope by sophisticated board members who are looking for anything to help them do the difficult job of correctly separating wheat from chaff.
As for these subtleties, the Navy Personnel Command in Millington, TN, is a resource, especially when it comes to issues related to your people’s futures. They can and will help to ensure that the desired message is unambiguously transmitted. In terms of refining one’s own skills, though, every officer should participate in at least one board—and particularly an administrative one. Not only will a much clearer appreciation of the mechanics of things be developed, but in reading dozens of FitReps or evals written by dozens of authors, an infinitely finer understanding of these “subtleties” will be garnered, and especially so during “tank” sessions—closed discussions of individuals’ records.
Beyond that, it all starts with a ranking of personnel in any competitive group. And, while a commander’s perspective holds the greatest weight in this endeavor, he or she may have no idea what other, valid perspectives may be. So have your senior and master chiefs rank the E-7s. Have the department heads also rank the E-7s. Have the executive officer resolve these two lists and meet with both groups to hash out the averaged result. It is this list that should be presented to the commanding officer for final disposition. The CO should justify any changes to this ranking to everyone who participated in the ranking. In this way, everyone has a piece of, and responsibility for, the outcome.
Of equal import, a person’s paper should never come as a surprise. Midterm counseling should ensure that this is not the case. The same ranking process that takes place for actual FitReps and evals should occur for the mid-terms. All too often, midterm counseling ends up with individuals told to make a list of their perceived strengths and weaknesses, followed by a leader, other than the signer of the FitRep or eval, counseling the individual based on his or her evaluation. Rather, the counseling developed should be specific, unemotional, and generated by the leadership team. Then the individual should be told in exacting detail what he or she needs to do to improve. This will give every member of the crew the fairest opportunity to act (or not), based on the facts presented.
Every leader wants to take care of his or her people. With thought and extra effort, that care can be greatly increased to the benefit of the individual and the Navy.
Captain Eyer served in seven cruisers, commanding three Aegis cruisers: the USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), Shiloh (CG-67), and Chancellorsville (CG-62).
This article appeared originally at U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings Magazine.