One of the most often asked questions is about how the promotion board will view a blemish on your record. “Can I still make rank with a markdown or if I am just a ‘promote’?” Short answer is: yes.
In the new Enlisted Evaluation System, there is a fear that being just a ‘promote’ or getting a markdown will impact you in the long run. However, there is no real evidence of this from what I have seen. Now, I will qualify that a little bit further before I move on. Getting a referral EPR or other admin action for a legal issue is a much different story and you should expect that to slow your progression for a few cycles.
The old system was actually less kind with markdowns than this new one. I have many SNCO peers who received markdowns for not completing PME or their CCAF and it hurt them for the next 2 cycles AFTER they had decided to complete. A markdown on the EPR seemed to be a message to the board from a secret decoder ring for them to dig deeper. Apparently, it worked because I don’t know a single person who made SMSgt without Course 14 or a CCAF. And those who had received anything other than a 5 were looked over for special opportunities and promotions.
Nowadays, this guidance actually removes the stigma that there needs to be a firewall evaluation and since the majority of the force receives a ‘promote’, this is no longer a red flag. Those SNCOs who receive a stratification from their wing commander or one of the top two ratings from the forced distribution process are looked at more favorably and have a high probability of making the next rank. In my opinion, this is how it should work and the commanders finally get a chance to push their top performers a little harder. Of course, there is a debate of whether the REAL top performers are being noticed, but that is a different discussion (read this article about a simple fix units could do to help this).
What is most important in order to make rank now is what is actually on your EPR and the truth is most people are hurting themselves. Everyone is so concerned with getting stratted or a ‘promote now’ that they lose focus. To me it is as if people are trying to throw a knock out punch every time they swing or jumping on ancillary projects or volunteer events or education as if they are lottery tickets. We are looking for the ‘get rich quick’ thing to get us the advantage over our peers. This is the wrong approach.
We need to focus on filling up the year with sustained performance, rather than just a potential home run event. When I review EPRs for my team of 50, I noticed a very clear distinction between those who kept track of what they did all year and those who wrote their EPR the day before it was due. It had nothing to do with how good of a writer they were, but everything to do with the fact there was no substance. You had a couple big events on there that they somehow were involved with, some basic stuff that is expected, and then they would one-up their previous EPR. For example, last year they launched 12 missions; this year they use the same bullet, word-for-word, except now they launched 15 missions. This is a red flag to me to dig deeper into their actual performance for the year.
Start the year with a picture of what you would like to accomplish and work towards that. Later in my career I learned to do this during my feedbacks with team members and together we would create our finish line and even define some of the milestones needed to get there. It is important to have a clear picture of what you hope to accomplish because it will drive you to do things that matter instead of just busy work or chasing volunteer ops. Keep taking steps to get to that finish line and stop worrying about what those around you are doing. Keeping up with the Jones’ is not the strategy you want if you want to have a fulfilling career.
Then, to make yourself stand out to your supervision, keep track of what you do all year long. I always keep a draft EPR or 1206 on my desktop (or in a draft email if you don’t have your own computer at work). When I did something interesting, I would make a note of this at the end of the shift. Then I would monitor how this played out and looked for the impact of this action. Sometimes it turned into something pretty interesting and sometimes it was nothing. Either way, I would update my draft with the result. This is also how you get rid of those amazing bullets about how you saved the world and the impact is “improved morale” or “strengthened leadership toolset.”
Doing these things, may still not get you a promotion statement; however, they will paint a picture to your supervision that you are someone who consistently adds value. I am a firm believer that you can’t hide talent. If you are doing the right things all the time, eventually the right person will notice and you will be taken care of.
As a postscript to this article, I am anticipating the question of whether this actually works. Well, it worked for me: How I accidentally made SMSgt