What Is an Army but the Soldiers? A Critical Assessment of the Army's Human Capital Management System

By Halter, Scott M. | Military Review, January-February 2012 | Go to article overview

What Is an Army but the Soldiers? A Critical Assessment of the Army's Human Capital Management System


Halter, Scott M., Military Review


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WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE WROTE in Coriolanus, "What is a city but the people?" In the same vein, what is an army but the soldiers? The most important activity our institutional Army conducts is human capital management--the assessment, development, and employment of soldiers. However, as analyses by the Secretary of the Army's Generating Force Reform Task Force and numerous others have suggested, many of these systems are antiquated and flawed. A 2011 survey found that 65 percent of Active Duty general officers rated personnel management as one of the worst performing functions in the Army. As one general noted, "Human capital [management] is the most important, yet the least agile system." (1) In other words, we are an Army of people, but what we do worst is manage those people. These complex systems are now faltering under the strain of persistent conflict and changing demographics. Significant adjustments are necessary to best meet the needs of the Army in the future.

The Army's people and organizations are not meeting their potential because of inflexible legacy institutions and systems, based on antiquated, industrial-age management theory. (2) Secretary Robert Gates recently asked, "How can the Army break up the institutional concrete, its bureaucratic rigidity in its assignments and promotion processes, in order to retain, challenge, and inspire its best, brightest, and most battle-tested young officers to lead the service in the future?" (3)

The chief of staff of the Army's transition team also found personnel management an area of significant concern. An Army Times article succinctly summed up the team's findings:

"Personnel management is a source of frustration, the report said. Manning remains the biggest frustration. In the words of one leader, the order to 'man, train and equip' has become 'train, equip and man.' 'Need a personnel system that restores human interface,' one respondent said. 'Need a major course correction in our personnel management. We need to put the person back in personnel management.' Officers also said they want to have more input in their career paths." (4)

The Problem

The Army's human capital management enterprise is a complex system within a larger complex environment. There are numerous competing interests, demand nodes, organizations, laws, and regulations pulling and pushing people in opposing directions. Figure 1 illustrates some of the complexity present in the Army's personnel management system. In this complex system, the requirements set forth by Congress and the Department of Defense drive the Army to develop policy and processes that dramatically affect the life cycle needs of operational force units and individual professionals. Understanding interactions within this complex system illuminates some of the root problems with the Army's current human capital management enterprise.

The management system has four primary shortcomings:

* It struggles to adapt and respond quickly to changing Army requirements.

* It lacks clarity in its personnel inventory and capabilities.

* The Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) constrains the efforts to match talent with requirements, resulting in short and rigid career timelines.

* It has lost the trust of many due to the friction and imbalance between unit manning and individual development.

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The Army must resolve these issues to have a flexible, competitive human capital management system and the talent it requires to win on future battlefields.

Failure to adapt and respond quickly. The Army has undergone enormous change during the past decade. Unfortunately, significantly less of that change occurred in the institutional Army's human capital management arena. Emerging requirements such as military transition teams in Iraq and the establishment of the Army's Cyber Command were significant shocks to the institution, which failed to adapt and respond quickly. …

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