The greatest threat to our Navy does not come from the Russians, the Iranians, or the Chinese. It comes from our own ranks. We weaken the world’s strongest Navy by promoting the wrong people, a direct result of a misguided evaluation system. But we can change that.
• First, one bullet in an evaluation must focus on a sailor’s weaknesses.
“Eval inflation” is what happens when Navy leaders rate all their sailors as superstars because it makes the leaders look good and costs nothing. Not all sailors are superstars, but you would not know it by looking at the average Block 43—Comments on Performance.
Take the eval belonging to Aaron Alexis, for example. According to documents obtained by civilian media, Petty Officer Third Class (PO3) Alexis was “an essential team member.” Alexis, you might remember, shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard in September 2013 before being killed by police. Civilians were confused that a future mass murderer was rated as “Must Promote” and that he had “unlimited potential.” Sailors know that the bar for PO3 evals is low, and that “potential” is a terrible word to have in your eval.
What would a more useful Block 43 look like? It would have more of the honest appraisals necessary to develop sailors and less dog-whistle words like “potential.” It would tell you that a new sailor “has issues working with others” before an incident occurs. Finally, it would help you evaluate sailors as individuals and not as a division full of “essential team members.”
• Second, ban all statements involving a number without context from Block 43.
“Where’s the number?” If you are an enlisted sailor, you probably heard this from your chief the first time you wrote your own eval. Your primary duties may not be quantifiable, or the number of widgets you process may not be a measure of your effectiveness, but that does not matter. There has to be a number.
So your next draft reads, “processed 10,000 widgets,” but that gets kicked back too because there was no impact. Your next draft states, “processed 10,000 widgets, leading to 50 products and 200 instances of positive feedback,” and suddenly that is not so bad. But is it really more useful?
No. Although 10,000 widgets may sound impressive, is it more or less than what your shipmates produced? Who used your 50 products, and how important were they to the customers who gave positive feedback 200 times?
That eval bullet should look more like this: “Processed 10,000 widgets; 45 percent of production achieved in a three-person team. Widgets resulted in 50 products; ranked #1 in department. Products received 200 positive feedbacks, 115 percent average, reflecting superior support to Operation [insert name here].”
Some people might complain that comparing sailors directly to one another fosters a spirit of competitiveness in the ranks; others might celebrate this. I celebrate, because not only does competition make America a great nation, it also makes our Navy the world’s strongest.
• Third, ban community service from Block 43.
How are sailors supposed to “break out” from their peers when everyone is an “essential team member” who processes tens of thousands of widgets? Ask a chief, and he or she will likely tell you to do community service. In fact, I had a conversation with two command master chief petty officers about preparing for the chief petty officer selection board. Both of them suggested that I do more off-duty volunteer work.
When I pointed out that community service was not in the CPO selection board precepts, they insisted it was. After I showed them on the Navy Personnel Command website that it was not, they told me it would still help. When I asked which of the real precepts—leadership, competency, education, among others—I should give up to “make room” for community service, neither would answer me.
How can I be confident in our Navy’s promotion system when its key decision-makers are using irrelevant criteria such as volunteer hours? How can the civilians we protect be confident the Navy is at its best when sailors who volunteer more than they work get promoted over dedicated technical experts?
Community service is a commendable pursuit already recognized by the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. The best evaluations, however, must be reserved for the best performers—i.e., the sailors we can count on to help us win wars, deter aggression, and maintain freedom of the seas.
It is our duty to evaluate sailors fairly and effectively. Starting today, starting with Block 43, we can do a better job evaluating sailors. Our Navy and nation will be stronger for it.