Should career courses still be graded?By Jack Goener May 28, 2019
As the leadership training model is presently being considered in Army, I would like to discuss whether there is a continuing need for grading students on career courses. I would argue that we cannot train for post-H hour decision making and combat risk management if we have not provided an environment of confidence in which to experiment. This experimentation is critical in developing the creative thinking that underpins the manoeuvreist approach. Linking our performance on our All Corps Officer Training Continuum (ACOTC) courses to a specific grade that impacts on the career prospects of officers places negative pressure on a trainee, disrupting their learning process and is a major disincentive for students to experiment.
The ACOTC is missing an opportunity to improve the way we develop creativity, combat risk management and post-H Hour decision making. This opportunity is not being realised due to the linkage of our performance on courses to our career prospects. This results in trainees demonstrating their current knowledge, as opposed to training to failure in order to learn from their mistakes in a safe environment and further develop their tactical acumen. As a result, it is common practice for students to plan an operation during a Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWT) in a doctrinally safe manner (meeting assessment criteria) to ensure that a pass mark can be achieved. We employ predictable courses of action (COAs) tailored to the wishes of the instructor just to get over the line. This environment stifles creativity, promotes risk adverse COA development and provides few opportunities to train post-H hour decision making.
Creating the Right Environment
Our current combat shooting doctrine advocates for the provision of an environment that promotes skill confidence and a mindset free of fear and anxiety to overcome the degradation of performance in combat. This degradation refers to the catastrophic effect that an increased heart rate has on our perceptual skills and cognitive processing which results in a fatal increase in reaction times. We would do well to apply this doctrine to our officer training, inoculating our decision makers to the stresses of combat through peer on peer competitive simulation, rather than negative punishment. Currently trainees are motivated by the ‘negative punishment’ associated with the perceived impact that a poor result will have on their career progression. This does little to develop the creative thinking required to apply manoeuvre theory or implement the innovation that will give us a competitive advantage in the future.
A recent European study identified that an environment of psychological safety has a significant positive impact on an employee’s capability to develop new ideas. The term psychological safety refers to the consequence of taking interpersonal risk in the work environment without fear of rejection or depreciation of self-worth or status. In addition it is widely recognised that the process of becoming an expert involves failure. If we accept that it is better this failure occurs in a school house rather than on a battlefield, we must provide an environment in which this failure is not only encouraged, but expected. Only when we have institutions that train our decision makers to failure, will we have provided the conditions for the development of creativity. This is essential to developing our post-H hour decision making and combat risk management.
A Reflection of Performance
I have, on a number of occasions on different courses, heard instructors lament that we only spend 3-6% of our 10 years to sub-unit command in school houses. If this is the case, I therefore do not see how 3-6% of our career can be used as an accurate metric to delineate performance and suitability for career advancement. If through this argument I have sewn some doubt as to the validity of the current officer training environment then surely this too brings into question the value of the associated performance indicator. We have robust methods of assessing our officer’s performance over time. I believe that an assessment of performance of a period that reflects 3-6% of an officer’s career is neither an accurate or adequate delineating metric.
We owe it to our soldiers to put our tactical commanders under pressure during the ACOTC to inoculate them against the impacts of combat and fatigue resident in war. However, if we are to meet the demands of a rapidly changing future operating environment we must modernise how we develop our officers. There remains a requirement to organisationally validate the trust that is given to our junior commanders. This is a vital component of mission command. I believe that current TEWT and simulation methods can achieve this. However, by grading these courses we create an environment that does not promote confidence in skill or creativity. Michael Jordan said “I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”. I would argue that our training institutions are not providing sufficient room for failure nor an environment that allows it. As such we are not setting our junior commanders up for success. By simply removing the grades applied during the course, resulting in a course that provides the trainee with a qualification only, we would go a long way to solving the issue.
 LWPG 7-7-8 Train the Battle Shot, Chapter 2, dated September 2015
 Ali Taha, V., Sirkova, M., Ferencova, M., The Impact of Organisational Culture on Creativity and Innovation Polish Journal of Management Studies, Vol 14, No1, 2016, p 10-13
 Burleson, W., Developing Creativity, Motivation and Self Actualization With Learning Systems, International Journal of Human Computer Studies,Vol 63, issue 4-5, Oct 2005, p 436-451