The days of biding your time until you come up for promotion are over. The Army has done away with sequence numbers, which take into account how long a noncommissioned officer has been serving and rank them versus their peers. The Army will now promote based purely on talent.

They’ll do it with a multipurpose selection board, Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey told Army Times on April 16. The board will rank staff sergeants through sergeants major within their military occupational specialties. The new list, like the current Order of Merit rundowns, will be based on their mandated milestones and further informed by NCO Evaluation Reports.

“If you need to select for promotion, school attendance, training, you start from the top,” he said “If you need to manage the size of the force by MOS and skill level, you can start from the bottom.”

Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey promotes a junior enlisted soldier during a visit to U.S. Army Africa. (Staff Sgt. Lance Pounds/Army)
Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey promotes a junior enlisted soldier during a visit to U.S. Army Africa. (Staff Sgt. Lance Pounds/Army)

So rather than the seven to nine separate boards the Army currently convenes each year, each rank will get its own quarterly board where this master list is assembled. Then, when Human Resources Command needs to fill training seats, select for broadening opportunities like drill sergeant or recruiter, and move some soldiers up to the next rank, they can consult the list.

"If you meet the eligibility requirements and you’re the number one person, you’ll be the number one selected for school, " Dailey said, regardless of time in service or grade.

And during a drawdown, if there’s a need for a qualitative management selection, those at the bottom of the list will be the first to go, rather than getting together an entirely new board to decide who is under-performing.

The new board process will “most importantly, create opportunities for upward mobility for those who are seeking to reach the highest standards,” Dailey said, because the most talented soldiers will be selected, rather than the ones with the most seniority.

New boards

The board system isn’t going away, but it will be condensed.

“It’s paying back what I call the unbuyable resource – time,” Dailey said, eliminating the need to take leadership out of their formations, pay for them to travel on temporary duty and help make individual decisions about promotions, education slots and so on.

The staff sergeant board will convene in February, the master sergeants in May, sergeants major in August and sergeants first class around December.

“So the fundamental premise of leadership is what the board looks for and evaluates,” said Jerry Purcell, the Army’s personnel policy integrator.

Once the board is over, soldiers can sign onto Army Career Tracker ― or the Integrated Pay and Personnel System, when it’s fully fielded ― and see where they stand.

“If you’re an infantryman, you will see you’re number X of N,” Purcell said. “It will be transparent to the individual affected.”

There will also be notes, he added, with feedback from board members, who can select on a drop-down menu which of the soldier’s attributes most affected their standing, good or bad. For example, “character negative” or “character positive.”

There will be another, public list, but it will be alphabetical and only include soldiers who are fully qualified in their MOS and grade ― with an asterisk next to those are who are at or near the top.

The roll-out will happen over the next three years, starting later in 2019, with the next class of U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy students, who were selected for sergeant major before attending school.

Their standing on the Order of Merit List will determine which jobs they’re selected for once they graduate, Purcell said. Next year, training selections will be according to the OML.

And this year’s master sergeant and sergeant first class boards will be the last. They will select for promotion and those NCOs will eventually go to training and get promoted.

Next year, the Army will skip those boards, allowing this year’s selections to fill up all of the available slots, and then in 2021 start selecting according to the OML.

A senior enlisted council of about 300 sergeants major will be trained on the new system and will fan out to every installation, Dailey said, to teach soldiers face-to-face about the new system.

Rebalance

There’s another benefit to this system ― rather than trying to predict the future, Human Resources Command will know how many NCOs it needs on a monthly basis.

“We’re not going to try to predetermine and forecast for the out years, and draw a line on that board,” Dailey said. “We’re going to have a continuous, running talent assessment, where we select people for training, and educate them, and then select them for promotion based on an annual requirement that year.”

This is the progression now: An NCO is selected for promotion, then selected for a seat at the education course required for the next rank up, then finally promoted when a space opens up at the next grade. That whole process could take two years.

“So in order to allow time to do all of that – and then satisfy a year’s worth of promotion demand – we’re really looking, 27, 28 months in the future at structure and at loss behavior over that entire time frame,” Purcell told Army Times.

And, inevitably, when those two-plus years are up, the forecast won’t be 100-percent accurate ― the Army could launch into a buildup or a drawdown that affects the number of NCOs it needs, or a good economy might convince some NCOs to brave the open job market, and there won’t be enough to fill every slot.

“They’re educated guesses, but they’re often wrong,” Purcell said. “So we end up with people on a list who we have to promote ― because we’ve committed to do that ― when they’re excess, and they create skill and grade imbalances.”

Meaning that in a year when they overshoot the number, the next year has fewer promotions. Or if they undershoot it, they have to promote some soldiers lower down on the list to fill in the gaps.

But all that is over. Now, the yearly, streamlined OML allows the Army to go one step at a time. At 18 months in grade ― rather than the current 24 ― soldiers will be “boarded,” and they can’t opt out.

“Now we’re going to simply inform who to train to qualify for promotion,” Purcell said. “The promotion will come later when there is an actual requirement.”

First comes school. If they’re at the top of the OML for 11B staff sergeants, for instance, they’ll get a spot at the Senior Leader Course. When they complete it, they’ll be eligible for promotion, but they won’t be selected until there’s a requirement for them.

“Every month, we decide by month,” Purcell said. “We’ll be able to look at the next month, establish exactly what we need, go down every MOS for every grade, and we’ll be able to promote to the actual requirements.”

So the days when a soldier would rock staff sergeant-promotable for months before his or her name are done. Now, you might know a few weeks out that you’re getting promoted.

“We sacrifice soldier predictability for improved readiness,” Purcell said.

As a consolation, the Army will publish a quarterly list of promotion projections.

“Once we’re 90 days out, we have a pretty good idea of what the requirements are going to be,” versus the current two-year forecast, he said.

And because the more accurate predictions will fix the problem of course-correcting later on, he added, it’s likely that the Army will make more progress down the list than in years past.

“We’ll end up promoting more people from this process than we ever have before,” he said.

Up or out?

Within the discussion over talent management in the past couple of years, Dailey has floated the idea of limiting looks at promotion boards for E-7s, in the name of making space for promising E-6s to move up.

It probably won’t be necessary to force NCOs out if they’re not selected for promotion twice in a row, he said, but there will be provisions in place to keep everyone performing and improving.

“What we’re going to try to do is eliminate the retention control point environment,” Purcell said, in favor of performance.

The Army doesn’t want to force out successful NCOs, he added, just because of time. It takes eight new soldiers to replace a staff sergeant, and if that staff sergeant is good, he said, they don’t want to lose him or her.

For soldiers who have missed professional milestones, the backstop will be a letter from the Army Department, triggered after a soldier is determined unqualified for promotion. Those will start going out in 2021.

They’ll have until the next year to correct it, Purcell said, or risk involuntary separation.

In some rare cases, there may be soldiers who turn down a promotion. If they are high-performing, Dailey said, there will be a specific exception that allows them to continue serving.

“We are putting together a set of rules for that,” he said. “As long as you’re doing exactly what the Army needs you to do, and there’s no detriment to anybody else in the Army as a result of it, and we need you – so there’s got to be a requirement, you don’t just get to stay – we think that there’s a provision to say that that’s okay.”