How can private-sector best practices be implemented to improve talent management in the United States military and the broader national security enterprise? Serving military officers answer here in a new series of features in collaboration with Military Leadership Circle (MLC). Military personnel recruitment and retention have long been important and broadly-discussed issues across all five branches of the United States armed forces. Recently, these topics have taken on new urgency, given the need for uniformed personnel who are capable of understanding and managing rapid technological development and operations in the cyber domain. How can the military attract and keep the best and most qualified technical experts? What aspects of the military’s rigid, hierarchical personnel system are absolutely necessary, and which can and should be adjusted or eliminated in order to both appeal to recruits and employees and operate at the highest level of effectiveness? For answers, military leaders should unquestionably turn to the corporate sector, where innovative employment practices abound. The armed services benefit greatly from the discipline, accountability, and even traditions that come with many aspects of their human resource systems. Ranks provide a clear delineation of authority that is necessary in dangerous, quick-decision environments. Common accession sources (boot camp, officer candidate school) ensure consistency and shared identity. Occupational coding (“operational specialties” or “rates”) allows for clarity of roles and ensures development of specific expertise. That said, many current policies simply hinder the military in the competition for talent. Promotion processes are unnecessarily rigid: for officers, the number of years spent at a given rank is still the most important factor for promotion. Geographic instability is taxing on military families: career progression relies upon a willingness to move every 2-3 years. Extraneous requirements bar talented people from entry: broadly speaking, someone with a physical disability would be ineligible for uniformed service in a cyber security role that would not be hindered by said disability. Change is needed, and several corporate-based solutions should be explored. Some simple, common practices from the business world would obviously be helpful for the military: allow strong performers to stay in their positions without forcing them to promote; expand opportunities to stay in a geographic area; allow flexibility to leave the organization to pursue novel opportunities, and come back in at the same rank; remove restrictions on service for the physically disabled. In addition, the military branches could explore integrated work-life practices that are typical across the corporate world, such as telecommuting, work from home, flexible hours, bring your own device, and so forth. More ambitiously, in order to provide more job satisfaction and truly capitalize on the talents of their people, the armed services could explore the idea of business incubators that provide individuals with resources for innovative projects, as well as “corporate accelerator”-like programs that vault the best ideas forward, potentially providing top-level support to break down barriers (e.g. defense acquisition processes) and bring the best ideas to implementation faster. Ultimately, the military will have to adapt in order to find, attract, and keep the best people within its ranks. Luckily, the corporate world provides many examples of how to do just that. About the author: Kevin Duffy is a Commander in the United States Coast Guard and a member of the Military Leadership Circle. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent the positions of the Department of Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard, or any government agency. More information on the Military Leadership Circle can be found at https://militaryleadershipcircle.com.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.