Army’s new enlisted promotion system puts emphasis on merit

The Army's new system dumps the importance of seniority when considering enlisted promotion.

The Army is instituting the biggest changes to the way soldiers are promoted in nearly half a century by putting more emphasis on merit over seniority when considering enlisted promotion.

The new system, which will be implemented over the next couple years, will push top performers in their ranks ahead of those who have served longer in the same position for sergeant first class and above.

The Army hopes that by using the new system and uniting it with the developing Integrated Personnel and Pay System — Army (IPPS-A), that the service can put the best soldiers in the most challenging jobs.

“The new process will allow us to promote faster as requirements become available,” Army Sgt. Maj. Mark Clark of the Military Personnel Management Directorate told Federal News Network. “The new process will help enhance readiness so we can put the right soldiers at the right times in organizations to arm those Army weapons systems that we have sooner than later.”

The change will apply to all military occupations and soldiers will be compared to people within the same occupations.

The new system will essentially make it harder for lackluster soldiers to move up the ranks. Previously, the Army would decide how many soldiers it needed in each position due to attrition, and then decide how many soldiers would be promoted to fill those spots.

The Army would then give soldiers a promotion number. The force would determine this number by a soldier’s seniority with factors like their time in grade, time in service and date of birth.

“If the best candidate happens to be sequence number 400 out of 500, based on time and grade — that’s not rewarding and recognizing talent,” Gerald Purcell, personnel policy integrator for NCO professional development, said in a statement last month.

Soldiers will have access to their order on the list, enlisted promotions will be forecast every 90 days and will occur every month.

“In the past, when a soldier was selected they were considered ‘promotable,’ assigned a sequence number, and waited to get promoted,” Purcell said. “Now, a soldier’s promotion will be based on their list standing and needs of the Army.”

The Army will begin phasing in the new approach in August, starting with the sergeant major promotion boards. In 2020, the program will expand to decide which master sergeants are selected for the Sergeant Major Academy. Finally in 2021, the Army will change its sergeant first class selection board and its master sergeant selection board.”

By 2021, IPPS-A will be a part of the enlisted promotion process and will give commanders a better idea of the talents soldiers have outside of their occupations.

The changes in promotions tie directly into statements made by Gen. James McConville during his nomination hearing last week to becoming the next Army chief of staff.

“We need to manage millennials’ talents,” McConville said. “What I find is the young men and women today want to be part of something bigger than themselves, they want to make sure that they matter, they don’t see themselves as interchangeable parts in an industrial-age system. Part of what we are trying to do now is implement a 21st century talent management system that recognizes every person in the Army for their unique talents.”

Clark said he believes millennials want to be recognized for what they do.

“A merit-based promotion system allows for the most talented to rise to the top,” Clark said. “It’s the perfect environment for millennials to thrive in. The better they do, the more they will be recognized versus having to wait their time for those who are more senior than them. They can outperform them and they can move ahead of them based on the performance they have.”

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