Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader


Career Success

Can You Make Rank with a Markdown?

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


Daily Deliberation: 12 July 2018

Why do vegetables taste worse than candy? I have wondered my whole life why the hardest thing to do is often the best…like eating vegetables in lieu of candy. I am not sure of the reason for this, but we all know it is better to do the hard things over the easy things most of the time. Don’t let fear or laziness hold you back; just go out there and make it happen.

Daily Deliberation: 11 July 2018

There is a saying in politics that goes something like, “never waste a good crisis.” When something big happens, these leaders are looking for ways to make things better. For example, WWII led to the creation of the UN. If it hadn’t been for that, the UN may have never been. When things are falling apart, look for the one thing you can do to make something better. Does anyone have an example of a time they did this or saw it in action?

Are You Becoming a ‘Yes’ Person?

We have all seen the ‘yes-men’ and ‘yes-women’ in our organizations who seemingly can’t wait for the next proclamation from the boss so they can fawn all over how great of an idea it is and push it to the masses. I have seen this with commanders and their bosses, Chiefs, CGOs, and every other echelon. It was something I vowed to never do because it actually hurt the organization and it went against who I was raised to be.

My father raised me to be a man of character. This meant being true to who I was and standing up for those around me. This started off as helping others in need and later morphed into being a voice for the airman doing the work at the ground level. It means telling the group commander that you do not agree with the latest plan and “here’s why.” Taking this approach is very likely to anger several people and create short-term stress; however, it is not about our comfort as a leader, it is about taking care of those who make the mission happen.

While reviewing the latest revision of the enlisted force structure, I am reminded of two excerpts I like to mentor SNCOs and NCOs on whom surround me. They are 4.6.2: translate leaders’ direction into specific tasks and responsibilities their teams understand and execute. and 4.6.3: Help leaders make informed decisions. These two areas go hand-in-hand although I wish they were in reverse order. Very often, the boss mentions a problem in our area of responsibility and some offer the answer we think they want to hear or some hem and haw their way around the issue. This is when the boss decides something needs to be done and offers us the plan on how to fix our team’s issue. We back them into a corner and force their hand. They are simply choosing what they think has the highest probability of success based on their perspective and experience. Most of the time, this is the checklist that monitors other checklists, or the other pain in the butt process our team has to endure.

Whenever I see one of these “solutions”, I know someone failed the boss. This isn’t done out of spite, but because WE failed our team. We are placed in leadership positions because we are trusted to lead. We should know better than our boss the struggles our teams face. We should be bringing our plan to the boss that will get to the root of the issue and allow them to make that “informed decision” moving forward. I was once taught the importance of thinking about the 2nd and 3rd order effects of the decisions I make. As we gain rank and become further removed from those doing the work, we need to really think about how our decisions will trickle down and what workload they will create. Too often, we are only thinking about how the decision will affect our workload.

We need to do our part and really dig. I was in charge during an inspection where we took several minor discrepancies. My boss wanted it fixed and now. I could have succumbed to the pressure and created micro-solutions to each issue. “A checklist to review x” only solves that problem right now. In 6 months a similar issue will occur and we will wonder what happened to the checklist. Then we create a checklist to ensure the checklist was completed (true story). Rather, those who surround me dug in deeper and realized a root cause tying most of those write-ups together. This was the fix I pitched to the boss and it appears to have fixed the issue.

What to do when a bad decision is looming? One of the greatest pieces of advice I have received here is to exercise the ‘two but sirs (or ma’ams)’. When I am told of a decision that will impact my team: “but sir, this is going to impact my team by xxx.” If they come back and say they still want to do it, the second but comes out: “but sir, we are stretched thin on these other priorities and the resources are not available.” If he or she still wants to press forward, we get on the same page and follow the direction in paragraph 4.6.2:¬†translate leaders’ direction into specific tasks and responsibilities their teams understand and execute.

Our jobs are not to make our boss’ lives difficult or to argue every decision. We are to be the voice of those entrusted to us and help our boss come up with the best decision.

Daily Deliberation: 6 July 2018

“I am way to busy to get to that today.” This is something we all say a lot. We can’t perceive taking 15 minutes from our crazy schedules for something else. However, if our car broke down on the way into work, we would find a way to get that towed and fixed. This process may take hours and yet we find the time. Why? Because it became a priority. We ALWAYS find time to take of the things we make a priority. Those little fires that pop up where we drop everything to go and handle are our organization’s way of setting new priorities for us. It is not that you don’t have enough time, it is simply not a priority for you.

Daily Deliberation: 5 July 2018

Why are the things that make us better so hard to do? Getting a gym routine in motion, changing our diet, stop chugging sodas, read more, etc. take major amounts of will power even though we know they are the right things to do. Making decisions as a leader often are very difficult too. Even though they are the best choices for the unit or the person, we struggle because we fear the backlash or loss in social capital. However, in the long run tough decisions always feel better. I feel better after a workout or when I am eating healthy and my team feels better when I have the courage to do what is right. Are you facing a tough decision?

Daily Deliberation: 3 July 2018

When I saw this quote, I had a flashback to my childhood and heard my dad saying this to me. He didn’t use this direct quote, but he did teach me that if you are not going to put in the effort to do it the right way, don’t do it. Sometimes we get to the end of the day or are just burned out and this is when we tend to rush through a task or take on the “good enough for government work” mantra. Instead, walk away from the task and take a break. Come back to it with a fresh perspective and you will be more likely to give it the appropriate attention it deserves.

Daily Deliberation: 30 June 2018

We look at failure as such a negative thing. We are so afraid of its negative stigma, we never even try sometimes. Many suffer from a failure to launch because of this fear. Although, if we keep doing the same thing and failing at it over and over again, that makes us insane not a failure. When we fail at something we can’t take it personal. Instead, we need to determine what we can learn from the situation and tweak the process for the next time we try. Never be afraid to fail; rather, your fear should be of never trying.

Daily Deliberation: 29 June 2018

I wish I could say the same thing. Many times instead of slowing down to catch my breath, I allow myself to slide backwards. We don’t have to be perfect and can’t possible give it all everyday. When we hit our wall, slow down and focus only on one important thing…not ten. Catch your breath and get back at it, but don’t quit.

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