The end of year is universally a busy period for all members of Army, especially so for those in leadership positions who have the responsibility – and the privilege – of reporting on their officers and soldiers. Almost everyone has critical feedback about our current reporting model, regardless of if they are the member writing or receiving the report. And although report writing is a regular discussion topic within the office and the mess, the varying concerns most of us have about the process rarely seem to find their way onto paper for further analysis.

I am; however, not the first to raise my thoughts in this forum. In his 2019 article Other Ranks’ Performance Appraisal: Yet to Evolve, Ben Taylor shares his concerns about the relevance and suitability of the Other Ranks Performance Appraisal Report (PAR) in today’s modern Army. Taylor offers that our current reporting model is predominantly subjective and personality-based, which carries significant risk for a younger workforce that is becoming increasingly focussed on performance appraisal.[1]

This article will consider some of the issues concerning the functionality and relevance of our current reporting model. It begins with a candid analysis of our reporting tools and offers that moving to an online reporting portal would dually enhance effectiveness and provide useful trend analysis. The second section provides a brief comparison between the different PARs, proposing that more consistency is required. The final section offers an assessment of the ranking system, arguing that it provides limited relevance in its current form.

WebForms – Less than Effective

My first criticism is levelled at the physical reporting tools; their structure, content, and sharing processes. The current officer and Other Rank (OR) forms[2] are antiquated and plagued by a never-ending stream of error messages. Don’t have the latest template? You can’t sign it. Opened the form in read only? Bonjour, now it’s in French.

The structure and layouts are nonsensical and confusing, requiring a back-and-forth approach to clearing signatures and completing different components. Why is the statement of agreed goals – the first process for a new officer PAR – stuck at the very back of the form? The separate process of submitting Career Planning Tools should negate the requirement to include posting and locality preferences on the first page. The options that we provide here have no additional commentary nor chain of command endorsement – so are they still relevant?

The most aggravating element of the form is surely the digital signature system, which is a renowned source of most outcries of frustration and anger as the form either refuses to sign or drops all content upon saving.

But it doesn’t need to be like this. Thousands need not suffer each October. Those with red tabs understand – the Senior Officer PAR[3] is in PDF format and significantly more user friendly, with a logical flow and flexible structure. These forms require less personal data and have a better signature process, reducing the likelihood for errors and thus decreasing the anxiety levels of aide-de-camps across the country.

Whilst this is an improvement over what the majority of Army is stuck with, it doesn’t address one of the most frustrating parts of report writing – version control. I offer that once a report is in a format that is downloaded and saved locally, we’ve lost control. Countless PAR versions circulate our personal drives and Objective folders. The solution must be to bring the entire process online and into one central location.

A Central Tool – Fight to Get

There are several benefits in moving reporting online. Let’s begin by reviewing the start of the OR and officer PARs in their current state. The first component is the assessed member’s personal information, unit point of contact, and relevant dates of the reporting period. With the exception of the duty statement, none of this personal data should require manual input.

An online reporting system would use a member’s PMKeyS to provide all personal information, noting that it’s saved in several of our databases already. Repeat the process for your Assessing Officer (AO), Senior Assessing Officer (SAO) and unit point of contact. Already the possibility of the form being sent to the wrong person is eliminated. Online portals such as the Wounded, Ill and Injured Management system, and CIOG’s Log a Job Online already use such data to great effect.

The next component of the PAR asks for Army Individual Readiness Notice (AIRN) information and Medical Employment Category (MEC) status. There should be no need to enter this data manually. How much time could be saved from pouring over outdated AIRN spreadsheets when PMKeyS Self-Service already has the latest data?

A reporting portal also removes the requirement for digital signatures. Simply finish your component in the process and the system updates itself automatically, with a notification email sent to the next addressee. Requests for extensions and exemptions are all done from within the tool with the click of a button. Has a member changed supervisors or duties during the reporting period? Not a problem, the unit’s administrator can change permissions in a similar format to how we use Objective.

An online tool unlocks new and powerful methods to ensure compliance and analyse trends. Unit and formation commanders would have access to reporting data and oversee how processes are occurring within their chain of command. If a reporting deadline is not met (such as signing off on agreed goals or issuing an interim report) then the commander is made aware and can swiftly take action to remediate. Similar systems already exist, such as escalation notifications for un-actioned leave requests and delayed Sentinel reports.

It should be recognised that the RAN already use such an online reporting tool with great effect; COMPASS[4] has several of the functionality benefits outlined here, and also offers supervisors with the ability to access past reporting, which is a powerful tool for trend management. The concept of having access to an entire library of past reports is a separate discussion altogether; however, there are strong arguments for enduring reporting that transcends different supervisors.

I note that my proposal of moving to a central platform is already being implemented at the enterprise level. SuccessFactors will replace PMKeyS CDI over time[5] and implements many of the above recommendations as part of the larger Army Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project[6]. Critically, we will wait until at least Q1 2023 to see the first version released, and I argue that a better solution to our current model is needed now.

Consistency is Key

With the issues concerning the functionality of the tool addressed, I now turn my criticism towards some of the differences across report types.

Firstly, although it is recognised that officers and ORs are assessed against different criteria due to their varying roles, there should be more commonalities in some key areas. The fact that ORs have their MEC status noted in their PAR and officers do not should be a point of introspection. The Senior Officer PAR leaves out MEC and AIRN status entirely. Uniformity is required here, noting that all members – regardless of rank – must meet organisational standards for employability and deployment suitability.

Secondly, I propose that the statement of agreed goals seen in officer and senior officer PARs are introduced within the OR report. Strong goal setting that is aligned with the SMART concept is applicable across all rank levels, and a valuable tool for AOs when it comes to report writing time. (SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound)

It would be of great value for the Career Management Agency to provide guidance within the reporting tool about what should be expected of each member at their respective rank level, which is a feature found in the RAAF Personnel Performance Report.[7] This seems only appropriate, noting the requirement to rank a member as ‘above’, ‘at’ or ‘below worn rank’ in each performance dimension.[8]

Not only does this hold a member accountable to a common standard, it also prevents AOs from changing the goal posts or introducing vague, unhelpful feedback when struggling to find appropriate criticism. For example, see ‘the member should aim to enhance their knowledge of Defence writing’ or ‘the member should find additional opportunities to demonstrate initiative in the workplace.’ These are common observations I have seen in PARs and are the hallmark of poor performance appraisal due their lack of tangible applicability.

The Relevance of Ranking

There is much to be said about the ranking system altogether. Firstly, I do not consider that the current model is fair to those who undertake higher duties. For example, in my current role, I am the AO for 10 soldiers (9 of which are Corporals) and the SAO for 12 (all of which are Signallers). One of my detachment commanders is a Signaller who has been directed to perform higher duties for the entirety of the reporting period. Naturally, it is only appropriate that I am his AO, as he is performing the same role as my Corporals.

Immediately, this raises the issue of how said Signaller is compared to his peers. Since he is the only Signaller that I am AO for, he is automatically 1 of 1. I cannot rank him against Corporals with the same duty statement, nor can I rank him against fellow Signallers of whose substantive rank he shares. The result is a soldier stuck in limbo, and isolated from how the rest of the unit is ranked and compared.

Moreover, the nuances between differing roles at the same rank level further cast doubt on the usefulness of the system. What is the relevance of comparing the Adjutant to a Company Operations Officer? Or ranking a Squadron Sergeant Major against a technical Warrant Officer? The roles are completely different and require a separate application of skills. Those in technical roles may be overlooked by more visible members in staff appointments. Fortunately the fix is simple: compare members based on their duty statement, as opposed to their substantive rank.[9]

Finally, I question the application of ranking large groups of members together. I am somewhat reluctant when it comes to this part of the reporting process, finding it difficult to rank my troops from 1 to 12, when realistically the performance of the majority (within the bell curve) is near-identical. A member ranked in the lower third may be just as competent as another four positions ahead. Nevertheless they will determine their worth within the group based off a number. This is more likely to generate resentment and friction within the team as opposed to providing a beneficial comparison.

Conclusion

The current Army reporting model is outdated and not fit for the modern workforce. Many of the recommendations outlined here are already in use by our RAAF and RAN colleagues, reaffirming that we have fallen behind. Although decision makers may not choose to introduce a bespoke online tool with the Army ERP well underway, it would be relatively simple to move away from the current Army officer and OR reporting forms and towards a more functional PDF format as an interim solution.

Collaboration between the service career agencies is required to enhance understanding about ranking, higher duties, and the application of big data to reporting – though this list is by no means exhaustive. As an organisation that regards people as its greatest asset, it is vital that we take the steps necessary to grow and develop our workforce to its greatest potential.

 

A note from The Cove Team: We consulted CM-A on this article prior to publication. In response to its content, they said, 'Suffice to say that the introduction of SuccessFactors will require a review of the PAR and an alignment between the Services. Workforce feedback will be sought and papers such as these are an excellent start point to the discussion.'

 

End Notes

[1] Ben Taylor, “Other Ranks’ Performance Appraisal Report: Yet to Evolve,” The Cove, October 9, 2019, https://cove.army.gov.au/article/other-ranks-performance-appraisal-yet-evolve.

[2] Form AE360 for Army Other Ranks and form AE359 for Army Officers (O-1 through O-5)

[3] ADF Officers of O-6 rank and above are assessed using form AC740

[4] COMPASS is the online portal used for performance reporting by the Royal Australian Navy. The RAN will soon move towards using Manpower Analysis Planning Systems Software (MAPS). This tool has tri-service applications but is not available for meaningful use by line managers in Army.

[5] Department of Defence. “People Capability - Army ERP.” Army ERP. Australian Government, June 9, 2021. https://defencegovau.sharepoint.com/sites/ArmyERP/SitePages/People-Capability.aspx.

[6] Defence Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) integrates the core processes of finance, logistics, engineering, maintenance, procurement and estate into one system. It is being iteratively released in different tranches over the next few years.

[7] The Royal Australian Air Force Personnel Performance Report (Form AE519) provides bespoke feedback to Assessing Officers based on the Assessed Member’s rank.

[8] This is in addition to the standard description seen next to the performance dimensions. For example, providing the written communication standards expected of a corporal versus that of a sergeant or warrant officer.

[9] This is another process that the RAAF have implemented within their reporting model.