New talent management system to give the Army a better view into soldiers’ skills

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The Army today has a limited view of its soldiers and the talents they could bring to the table to solve some of its toughest challenges.

Take Col. Gregory Johnson. He’s the chief of the Army’s functional management division. He’s also leading the service’s development and eventual deployment of the Integrated Personnel and Pay System – Army (IPPS-A). 

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Johnson is a human resources guy, and the Army only sees the experience he has on paper.

But Johnson also spent a year on a fellowship at the Agriculture Department, where he worked with several universities to develop a training regimen for military units to use during the civilian surge in Afghanistan back in 2008.

“The Army knows that I was at USDA, but they don’t know what I really did at USDA, or the contacts that I made at USDA or my basic understanding of economic development or agriculture,” Johnson said at Government Executive’s workforce and management summit in Washington last week.

The Army today mostly uses a soldiers’ military occupational specialty and rank to place them into specific jobs. But Johnson acknowledged that current mentality may be a bit limiting, and the Army may be missing out on talent it doesn’t even know it has.

“An infantryman may be your best cyber guy, because he does it on his own,” Johnson said. “Maybe he was a hacker in high school. Maybe he’s a coder on his free time, but we don’t really have a way of tracking that today.”

The Army has acknowledged it’s missing out on potential talent, and it’s finalizing a new personnel and pay system, called IPPS-A, that will help the service uncover some soldiers’ talents that today are unknown to most military leaders.

IPPS-A will serve as a one-stop talent, human resources and pay system for 1.1 million active-duty and reserve soldiers, including the National Guard. The Army is rolling out the new system in phases, with the second release scheduled for early 2019.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, said IPPS-A will help the service evolve its personnel system from one that currently promotes “cookie-cutter” career paths to one that’s more flexible and appealing to soldiers.

“[It] allow[s] the individual officer to identify their skills, knowledge, attributes and talents and put those in the marketplace and allow units to identify the officers they want, as opposed to [a] round-hole, round-peg [mentality],” he told  Federal Drive with Tom Temin at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington, D.C.

The Army tested a similar concept with its officers in fiscal 2018. It developed the Assignment Integrated Module (AIM) 2.0, which lets officers describe their own skills and talents that the Army may not immediately recognize based on a job title.

Johnson and his team formed 20 different working groups and asked commanders in all of the Army’s individual components to comment on the kind of talent information they would want in the new system. Their feedback informed the “25-point talent profile,” which will allow soldiers to enter information into the new system about their own skills, Johnson said during an informational session at AUSA earlier this month.

Talent management, HR and pay in one place

The Army sees IPPS-A as a talent management system, but it will also serve a more practical function as well. The service currently has more than 200 disparate pay and personnel systems, and it plans to integrate all of them into IPPS-A over time.

“Once you get them into the Army, there may be other options as folks go in their career along a path to either change their specialty or be utilized in different ways,” Johnson said. “We see that we have the flexibility in the Army to manage the folks that we have. But the system is the impediment right now. Those 200 systems not fully understanding the talents of the workforce, that’s the impediment.”

Currently, the Army is in the final stages of testing the new system with the National Guard in Pennsylvania. It expects to roll out IPPS-A to the National Guard in 54 states and territories in 2019 and reserve and active-duty troops in 2020, Johnson said.

Centralizing all of the Army’s disparate HR systems and data will help the service answer its own questions about its soldiers — and questions from other entities like the Government Accountability Office and Congress.

“It takes about two weeks to roll up in the Army the strength numbers for female captains, or any other strength number for all three systems,” Johnson said. “The reason is that each component has its own system.”

The new IPPS-A will also have more self-service options. Soldiers will — eventually — be able to submit an absence or leave proposal from their mobile phones. Today, that process occurs only on paper.

“We allow soldiers to deploy, make life or death decisions, but we won’t let them understand what’s going on with their personnel actions,” Johnson said. “It’s time to change. There’s a strategic need to change in this space, specifically.”