The End of ALLCAPS in Performance Reviews Gains Support from Sailors

 A Navy Personnel Command graphic displays a planned 9-point ranking system for sailor evaluations on a new mobile app. (Courtesy Navy Personnel Command)
A Navy Personnel Command graphic displays a planned 9-point ranking system for sailor evaluations on a new mobile app. (Courtesy Navy Personnel Command)

The Navy's new annual performance evaluation will be missing several exclamation points, lots of capital letters and a rating block system that some sailors said allows lesser performers to advance because they aren't being compared broadly enough with their peers.

The Navy's Performance Evaluation Transformation will scrap a written comments section where phrases like ****ROCK-STAR SAILOR WITH UNSURPASSED TECHNICAL KNOW-HOW!!!!**** have become boilerplate, and not just for actual rock-star sailors.

It will also eliminate a "forced distribution" system that sailors say can stymie promotions for outstanding sailors who work with outstanding peers, while favoring an average sailor with little competition in their workplace.

Sailors will be compared across the entire Navy within their pay grades and ratings using a "specific defined standard," said Capt. John Sedlock, the transformation lead at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tenn.

Sailor scores under the new system "provide a more realistic measurement of the Sailor's performance and broader differentiation, not just how they rank against peers within the command," Sedlock said.

Sailors who discussed the changes with Stars and Stripes generally welcomed them, but with some reservations about the system replacing it, which is still in testing. Another previously announced aspect of the new system -- input from subordinates and peers within the annual evaluations -- drew a mix of reviews, as did a smartphone app that allows sailors to test some of the program's new coaching and self-assessment features.

"The evaluation system needed to break away from the word game (making mediocre sound fantastic and good leaders sound bad because of personal vendettas, conflicts, and leadership differences), forced distribution for seniority benefit, and writing styles that may or may not grasp your ratings attention at a board," Chief Petty Officer Wendell Harrison, a boatswain's mate from Sigonella, Italy, said in an email.

However, commands have over the years adapted to the hyperbole of the 18-line maximum, written comment section known as Block 43, often learning to read between the lines.

The block also gives commands an opportunity to learn what impact a sailor made beyond numeric values, said Petty Officer 1st Class Sylvia Nealy, stationed in Bahrain.

"On the flip side, sailors will NOT have the opportunity to add false and unnecessary 'fluff' in their evaluation while exaggerating the truth," Nealy wrote in an email.

Nealy said the end of forced distribution will give high performers a better shot at promotion. The current system includes a block where sailors receive either an "early promote," a "must promote," "promotable" or a lesser mark. The top 20 percent of sailors in a department, which may have only one sailor or dozens, generally are eligible for the early promote ranking.

Under the current system, sailors do not have "the opportunity to move up for promotion if a previous Sailor from the command "already" has the EP and the command "continues" to assist this Sailor," regardless of whether the sailor deserved the early promote, Nealy said.

The new evaluation will include an expanded value statement section, which grades sailors based on professional knowledge, work quality, military bearing and other areas. The 5-point ranking will now include a 9-point scale that will judge whether a sailor is doing the job below, at or above the standards of their rank.

Evaluators will be timed in their responses, "to provide an instinctual assessment of their qualities and is based on proven behavioral science studies that indicate an initial response is usually the most candid and accurate," Sedlock said.

Chief Petty Officer Matthew Herndon, an administration yeoman from Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, tried out the new system by completing an online self-assessment.

Herndon liked the new system's timed inputs, but wasn't impressed by the new coaching system, which begins with a self-assessment.

"The new system doesn't describe how sailors can fix (weaknesses listed by the sailor) nor gives insight on why the things they're doing good or things they need to work on is good for them ... or vice versa," Herndon said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard White, a personnel specialist in Bahrain, says he likes the 9-point rating scale and the incorporation of peer and subordinate input, which allows for the inclusion of "strengths and weaknesses that may not be noticed or voiced in regular evaluations."

But White also expressed concern for potential delays with so many inputs affecting a timely completion.

Some expressed concern that subordinates might not have a complete picture of a sailor's duties or might input during the coaching phase to further a grudge; however, any such ranking would only be part of a larger coaching report.

Others said subordinate input during the coaching phase would be a benefit.

"We as sailors and leaders can all make improvements to ourselves, and the ones who will not shy away from letting you know that are the junior leaders," Harrison said.

The evaluation overhaul team is now conducting its third test phase of the system, which includes 10,000 participants from 140 commands, and is primarily focused on the coaching system.

Sedlock added that the biggest challenge for the new system is the expected resistance to change around the fleet.

"This endeavor requires a fundamental change in culture where we embrace the delivery and receipt of honest and candid feedback that enables us all to better achieve our optimal levels of performance," Sedlock said.

The overhaul is part of a larger push from Navy leadership called Sailor 2025, an initiative designed to improve pay, personnel and career management systems, Navy officials said.

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