Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Mathematical Sciences, Social Sciences

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Military Review

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Selecting the right person for the right job at the right time is a persistent challenge faced by organizations. Performance evaluations are a fundamental component of selection processes, and their use in the Army is nearly as old as the service itself. Some early evaluation systems consisted of a list of officers in a regiment with observations noted for each ranging from “a good-natured man” to “merely good—nothing promising” to “a man of whom all unite in speaking ill.” While our current evaluation form adds a bit more science to the art of performance evaluation, a constant in the Army’s performance evaluation system is the reliance on raters to render their judgment on the potential of a subordinate for service at higher levels.

The purpose of this article is to better equip raters to exercise these judgments. While we recognize the calls for personnel management reform and the initiatives underway to better manage the Army’s talent, our purpose is not to add another voice to these suggestions for structural changes to the Army’s evaluation system.Instead, we focus on the process of discretionary judgment exercised by raters that is and will continue to be an integral part of performance evaluation. Our aim is to recognize the structural and cognitive biases inherent in our evaluation system and provide recommendations to help senior raters more objectively evaluate their subordinates.

While we think the importance of this topic is self-evident, educating raters on the potential for bias in their evaluations is especially important in the type of rating system used by the Army. This system places great emphasis on the person serving as the senior rater. Although the evaluation forms include assessments from raters and sometimes intermediate raters, the senior rater comments are widely acknowledged to carry the most weight for promotion and selection decisions due to the small amount of time available to evaluate a soldier’s file. Most positions involve work that is highly interdependent on other members of the organization, which places a considerable demand on raters to assess and articulate how much an individual contributed to the output of the group.

While the performance of an officer is undoubtedly important to his or her chances for promotion or selection, the abilities of the officer’s senior rater to convey the level of this performance through an evaluation is also vital to talent management. Previous studies demonstrate that exposure to a high-quality mentor increases an officer’s likelihood of an early promotion to major by 29 percent, perhaps because high-quality mentors are skilled at communicating their protégé’s potential in their performance evaluations. Equipping raters to make their best possible judgments of subordinates and clearly articulating these judgments is vital to fostering a meritocratic Army talent management system.

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