It goes without saying that leadership may be regarded as a highly important ability that impacts the state and productivity of almost any organization or facility, and the army is not an exception. Army leaders are able to motivate and inspire soldiers serving as role models in times of moral dilemmas and challenging decision-making. In particular, battalion commanders may be regarded as such leaders as they are responsible “for the training and development of 500 or so soldiers” (Spain, 2020, p. 81). All in all, their leadership skills contribute to the formation and performance of the army influencing junior-leader talent retention and soldiers’ overall combat readiness.
However, the situation related to leadership in the army remained tense. Thus, according to a 2009–2010 survey that involved 22,000 soldiers, 20% of them reported serving under toxic command (Spain, 2020). In addition, less than half of the participants believed that the service’s best members were genuinely promoted, while others supposed that battalion-level commanders were chosen unjustly. Other studies demonstrated that 50% of the army’s senior executives did not execute their duties as leaders with 16% and 20% of them being toxic and incompetent, respectively (Spain, 2020).
At the same time, this tendency was determined by the procedure of commanders’ choosing that led to the army’s “crisis of competence in its leadership ranks” (Spain, 2020, p. 81). On average, almost 2,000 lieutenant colonels were annually eligible for the position of battalion commander within a framework of a centralized selection process introduced in the 1980s. However, potential commanders were evaluated by senior officers on the basis of their files which contained an official photo, and an assignment history. and performance evaluation. This evaluation was subjective, and the overall procedure of examination was extremely fast and shallow. In this case, the assignment of commanders could not be regarded as fully unbiased in relation to their leadership skills essential for their responsibilities.
The formation of this tendency was determined by the dominant laws written in the United States in 1947 and 1980 to govern the army’s personnel practices (Spain, 2020). Codified in law, the system presupposed the annual commission of second lieutenants and the development of their competence at a minimal level to meet the basic standards of performance, specialty, and seniority. It was frozen and highly bureaucratic with people treated like interchangeable parts. The situation began to change only in 2018 with the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act which aimed to make the army’s personnel authority more flexible and improve the officer corps’ quality.
The Army Chief of Staff James McConville responsible for the improvement of the leaders’ selection process understood the significance of every soldier’s unique characteristics, talents, and skills required for various army jobs. In addition, he realized that the army was substantially affected by natural changes that led to increased diversity and altered generational norms (Spain, 2020). Thus, in the present day, successful performance presupposes not only general excellence but the availability of additional competence suitable for a particular task. For instance, a person to be chosen for the position of an allied army consultant overseas should not only have a high evaluation in seniority and specialty but also excellent communication and interpersonal skills, cross-cultural fluency, interest in traveling, and cognitive flexibility. All in all, the army should know how to employ, develop, and retain its people on the basis of their qualities to contribute to its general performance.
Thus, in order to change the whole system of leaders’ selection process, its basis had to be reviewed. First of all, the army introduced the term KSB-Ps as “the intersection of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and preferences” for the definition of talent (Spain, 2020, p. 82). The next step was the formation of the Army Talent Management Task Force which implied a group of officers responsible for the innovative ideas of talent management. Thus, army leadership doctrine was examined in order to identify the most suitable practices from allied militaries and various organizations. On their basis, BCAP, or the Battalion Commander Assessment Program, was created.
The program included the evaluation of multiple KSB-Ps, such as creativity, the ability to motivate, serve as a role model, and develop others, communication skills, and ethical leadership. It took four days, and the first three of them were dedicated to the assessment of candidates’ leadership abilities through the examination of physical fitness, argumentative essay and writing skills, strategic and cognitive talents, psychological state, and problem-solving competence. The fourth day presupposed interviews with candidates for the examination of their readiness to command and oral communication skills. On the basis of BCAP’s scores, lieutenant colonels’ performance files, and subordinate and peer evaluations, the top 450 individuals could be commissioned.
It goes without saying that bias may occur during almost any process. The accuracy of candidates’ selection could be affected by shortcuts when interviewers provide a fast conclusion in relation to a candidate and look for information in its support instead of collecting reliable data during an interview. In order to avoid them, several strategies for the BCAP panelists’ training, calibration, and familiarization were implemented.
The creation of diverse panels was regarded as an optimal solution for the reduction of shortcuts. Thus, during the four weeks of selection, six panels operated simultaneously, and every panel consisted of voting and non-voting members selected on the basis of diversity and army traditions. Thus, voting members included senior colonels and one-star and two-star generals who had been successful brigade- and battalion-level commanders in the past. In turn, non-voting members were senior operational psychologists, moderators, and command sergeant majors whose experience could provide additional perspectives and contribute to appropriate decision-making.
In order to avoid bias, panelists should be aware of its occurrence. Thus, they were provided with essential strategies for the prevention of errors during job interviews, such as primacy, contrast, similar-to-me biases, stereotyping, halo, and blind-spot biases (Spain, 2020). All in all, panelists were trained to rate candidates on the basis of common standards. In addition, another strategy for more objective results was the prohibition of panelists to evaluate familiar candidates. Moreover, panelists were not allowed to judge candidates and unfairly advantage them on the level of their experience as interviewees. Only the leadership skills of potential battalion commanders should be considered and evaluated according to a single grading standard. In this case, the results related to any candidate would be similar even if several panelists evaluated him. Moreover, the opinion of candidates’ potential subordinates was asked and considered as people’s preferences traditionally determine the working environment.
In order to minimize bias to the fullest extent, the practice of double-blind interviews was applied. For this, panelists and candidates were separated by a black curtain and could not see each other (Spain, 2020). On the one hand, panelists received an opportunity to concentrate on candidates’ answers and analyze data collected from them without paying attention to individuals’ ethnicity, appearance, and physical symbols. On the other hand, candidates felt free to answer and discuss challenging topics without fear of being judged on the basis of stereotypes. All in all, although people’s characteristics still could be defined by their voice, the studies dedicated to the evaluation of this practice’s efficiency demonstrated the reduction of bias when it was applied.
For an unbiased selection process, psychological expertise is essential, however, it should be unbiased as well. For it, junior operational psychologists worked with candidates collecting information for senior colleagues who analyzed received summaries and presented results for panels. This procedure guaranteed objectivity as senior psychologists’ evaluation could not be affected by candidates’ appearance, ethnicity, and other factors due to the absence of any contact between them.
Questions also played an important role in the selection process – that is why the possibility of leakage should be eliminated. For this, two sets of questions were created – the first one consisted of general behavior-based questions to ensure the presence of core competencies. These questions were heavily rotated between panels to exclude answers prepared in advance. In turn, the second set of questions was determined by candidates’ answers to general questions and aimed to provide clarity, receive more information, or identify people’s strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, the performance of panels had to be constantly monitored and evaluated as well to ensure that all members followed common standards and scored candidates exclusively on the basis of their skills and competencies. For it, moderators reviewed at least one interview per panel on a daily basis via a live camera system to ensure the process’s objectivity. In addition, even if voting was confidential, moderators had a right to see non-binding votes and ask panelists to explain their decisions if a significant difference between an assessment and scores had been observed.
Involvement of Stakeholders
As it was previously mentioned, people’s preferences in relation to their leaders have a major impact on the working environment in the future. In this case, key stakeholders, including candidates’ subordinates and peers were involved in the selection process to improve its efficiency and guarantee the results suitable for everyone. For it, every candidate’s subordinate and peer officers were emailed prior to the program for short surveys that aimed to identify stakeholders’ attitudes toward this individual as a battalion commander (Spain, 2020). As a matter of fact, the majority of candidates involved in the program were initially recommended by their peers and potential subordinates.
At the same, the changes in the selection process should be implemented at all levels of the army and should be understood and accepted by its participants. For this, the program presupposed the involvement of strategic leaders to raise their awareness and improve the process’s objectivity. Thus, one- and two-star generals participated in candidates’ evaluation as the voting members in every panel.
All in all, the cost of the BCAP assessments was $2.5 million, however, the results were impressive. Thus, 436 new battalion commanders were selected through a new process (Spain, 2020). At the same time, 34% of them, or 150 individuals, “would not have been chosen on the basis of legacy-style file reviews alone” (Spain, 2020, p. 85). However, the assessment of leadership skills made them among the most appropriate candidates. In turn, 25 candidates “whose file reviews would have earned them a posting under the old system were deemed “not ready for command” by their interview panel” as the signs of their toxicity were observed (Spain, 2020, p. 85).
In addition, the program provided multiple benefits for candidates. For instance, regardless of the results, all of them received follow-on leadership development and were introduced to new acquaintances for the creation of strong professional networks. Moreover, the majority of candidates admitted that a new process was more fair and unbiased and it should be continued. All in all, it should take several years to evaluate its efficiency on the basis of new commanders’ results and the army’s general performance.
Spain, E. (2020). Reinventing the leader selection process. Harvard Business Review. Web.