Sailors want formula change for advancement

By Mark D. Faram - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Mar 10, 2013 9:58:49 EDT

Ask 10 sailors what they think is wrong with the advancement system and you’ll most likely get 10 different reasons why they say the Navy unfairly “racks and stacks” its sailors. When it comes to petty officer advancements, many say . . .
After reading the article on issues that Sailors have with the advancement system, I couldn't help but shake my head at the section where Sailors suggested shifting greater weight over to performance and away from the advancement exams.

Though, I'm not surprised. I served for 11 years, and I've heard it all before. The majority of the Sailors making these suggestion usually fall into at least one of two categories: a) those who overestimate their own level of performance, or b) those who forget, or are totally ignorant of, how each Sailor's level of performance is currently determined and rewarded in the form of advancement points.

Before the Navy can even think of overhauling its advancement system, the EVAL/FITREP system needs to be overhauled or replaced; or concurrently changed so that it integrates with whatever new system that the Navy comes up with.

As it stands right now, the Navy uses a forced-distribution appraisal system that quantifies performance into five groups - Early Promote, Must Promote, Promotable, Progressing, and Significant Problems. The EP is limited to the top 20%, and the MP is limited to the next 30%. And that's the only thing that matters for points; trait marks and averages mean nothing. As such, commands rank Sailors first, and then set the trait marks to reflect that ranking - not the Sailor's performance.

The biggest impact on advancement is the 16-point difference between groups, while none exists within the groups to reflect the widely varying differences within them. So if 100 Sailors are being ranked with all EP and MP quotas being used, the Sailor ranked #20 goes into the exam with the same amount of points as the #1 ranked Sailor. However, the Sailor who is ranked #21 goes into the exam with a 16-point drop from the Sailor who is ranked #20.

Somebody please tell me how this makes any sense, whatsoever?

The Navy needs to follow the Marine Corps model. Whatever the performance average of all of those being evaluated is, the points you receive for advancement should be determined by how far you are from that average. So if everyone is a 5.0, then everyone is average, and the points will reflect that - that way, the Navy scraps the current system, without returning the system used prior to 1996.

Another thing: although the current EVAL system is long overdue for a major overhaul; none will be perfect, and this is where the role of the advancement exam comes into play. Subjectivity is going to affect any appraisal system that you can come up with, or any other flaws - be it the halo effect, the horn effect, recency bias, or flat out personal bias. The advancement exam is the source of points that you, as the Sailor, have 100% direct control over. It's the one thing that's strictly between you and the Navy, that your command cannot touch. If the flaws of any EVAL system adversely affect you; the exam is the one thing that you have to show the Navy what you've got. And if you've benefitted from the flaws of the EVAL system, the exam is going to be the great equalizer (which I suspect could be the source of negative views on the exam).

As far as the weight of the EVAL and exam go, I say "leave it alone." If you're such a "hard charger," then no Sailor that you deem to be beneath you should do better than you on the exam and advance. If they do, then they obviously wanted it more than you did; and you're not that "hard charger" that you thought you were.

The one suggestion that I do have for the overall system is this: for all categories of points over which the Sailor has 100% direct control (i.e., exam score, education points if the Navy keeps it, PRT points if the Navy decides to add it), if the Sailor maxes out in points in all of these categories, then the final multiple should be waived and the Sailor advanced. In no advancement cycle should it ever be impossible for a Sailor to advance.

Bottom line: You want the Navy to go by performance? You need to make sure that the Navy has a system that more accurately captures that performance, or you will be just as much a "victim" to a new system as you are to the current one.