Quality of life is serious business for the Army. Civilians may think of soldiers in the context of combat. But soldiers, of course, are people with families. Like anyone else, they need rest and recuperation.
Each year, the U.S. Army’s Maj. Gen. Robert M. Joyce Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Academy trains thousands of civilian Army employees to run sports and physical fitness activities, child development and youth programs, and food and beverage operations. With that training, Army employees operate the golf courses, lodging, child care and youth operations, and myriad other services at military installations around the world. Training and professional development, in equal doses, underpin the academy’s work.
Those trained by the academy belong to the Army’s 35,000-person Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command. The command’s roots stretch back to the battlefields of World War I, where the Salvation Army and Red Cross recharged battle-worn soldiers’ spirits behind the lines. From those early beginnings, the Army established the academy in 1986. The academy’s vision is to be the premier Army training institution for preparing the command’s civilian employees to strengthen and sustain soldiers and families.
A Uniform Approach
“We realized as far back as 2002 that we wanted to reach a global workforce with online tools that helped people make great choices for their careers,” said Janis Smith, chief of design and evaluation for the academy. “The Army is a great training institution, and we piggyback on that. But we wanted the academy to offer the command’s workforce a development program for each worker, so they could see how to fill gaps in their skill set and where to take their career.”
The academy’s journey began with the purchase from Meridian Knowledge Solutions of an LMS, which included a module for building individual development plans (IDPs).
According to Smith, the IDP module was a feature that initially sold the academy on buying an LMS.
“For years, we had requirements in place for employee development plans,” Smith said. “But, prior to buying the LMS, creating and reviewing those plans with a supervisor was often just an exercise. Supervisors and employees often lacked the information they needed to make informed decisions in charting their careers in the command.”
In 2003, the academy deployed its new LMS. Like many organizations that buy an LMS, the academy initially used the system to deliver Web-based training and keep track of enrollments. From the perspective of delivering and tracking training, the LMS was successful.
According to Smith, the savings from distributing a single online course, the academy’s basic management class, paid for the LMS and its implementation.
“With the increased emphasis on workforce development and training, the academy developed the professional development program [PDP],” Smith said. “It’s a set of Web-based tools that empowers all employees to plan for a successful career in the command.”
The PDP uses a competency model as a framework for identifying the knowledge, skills and abilities that distinguish exemplary performers. The model draws from the Army’s Office of Personnel Management Senior Executive Service competency model, tailored to reflect the business and strategic goals of the command. Building on an effort that began with Army human resources executives, the academy borrowed and tailored the competency model and validated it through focus groups.
Feedback from the focus groups helped the academy build two types of competency models: generic and functional. The generic competency model applies to all 35,000 members of the command and includes 24 competencies grouped into five core model classifications: leading people; change and continuous improvement; drive for results; communication; and business and technical proficiency. The functional model includes job-specific competencies, as well as a supervision model created for those with supervisory duties.
For the generic competencies, academy staff developed behavior examples at five levels, which correspond to the five pay-band levels used by the command. The behavior examples show employees what they need to become proficient in that competency. For example, each PDP includes teamwork as a generic competency under the leading people model. Depending on the person’s job title and level, the academy customizes the behavior example, knowledge, skills and abilities, and learning resources to assist the individual with teamwork competency development.
Each competency includes customized learning resources. These resources help employees determine the training tools to close competency gaps or improve performance. Learning resources include academy online and classroom courses, books and performance tools, and other relevant Army training offered through both the Army Civilian Education System and Army Knowledge Online. Using these recommendations, along with advice from their supervisors, employees develop individual development plans to improve their performance and prepare for careers within the command.
Once the academy’s PDP project team developed the generic competency model and the LMS architecture was in place, it set out to build the functional competencies that reflect specific jobs in the organization. Through position description reviews and employee interviews, the team conducted an occupational analysis to identify employees’ roles and know-how. Because these competencies were a function of a specific position, they became known as the functional proficiency model.
To date, the team has built more than 1,600 competencies within the model.
“This work will evolve because the command has to meet the changing needs of soldiers and families,” Smith said.
Smith and her team validated and tested the model and LMS architecture at five Army garrisons. The leadership at each Army garrison allowed Smith’s team to interview staff, and the garrison management provided the PDP project team with data to assist in the ongoing competency building. After interviewing staff at each Army garrison and building approximately 600 functional proficiency competencies, Smith and her co-workers carried out a beta test with command staff in the fall of 2008 at Army installations across Alaska, Japan and Hawaii. The PDP team’s goal was to validate the accuracy of the functional job competencies and the usefulness of the PDP tools.
In the wake of the tests, the team made several system improvements to the PDP. Adding the ability to auto-populate an IDP from the PDP based on employee-selected learning resources was one of the most significant. After making the system improvement, employees could create an IDP from the PDP that was focused on a five-year development plan. When completed, the system electronically alerts the supervisor that the IDP is ready for review. The supervisor then reviews the plan and electronically approves it or the manager sends a message requesting discussion and rework of the IDP, all through the LMS’s PDP supervisor console.
The Facts on the Ground
Through the third quarter of 2010, the academy trained a total of 2,548 employees to use the PDP, including 1,931 supervisors and 617 other key staff at Army locations around the world. The academy will complete PDP training by the end of 2010, with the remaining garrisons scheduled through either on-site or virtual sessions.
“The command’s supervisors have enthusiastically embraced the PDP because it provides multiple resources to assist in grooming our employees for new jobs or more responsibility,” Smith said.
For instance, Anita Payne-Landgraf, a child youth and school services coordinator at the U.S. Army garrison in Grafenwoehr, Germany, feels the LMS-powered PDP puts her in control of her career development. The PDP provides Payne-Landgraf and other employees in the command with a library of more than 1,500 position profiles, so anyone looking to sharpen his or her current skill set — or see how to climb the career ladder — has the tools.
“I’ll use the PDP throughout our organization. I especially like the resource list that’s linked to each competency,” Payne-Landgraf said. “This is a way to empower employees toward self-development, and the PDP is a tool that will help make my job easier.”
“The PDP is a great way to develop individual development plans,” added Derek McKinley, business manager at a U.S. Army installation in Ansbach, Germany. “This allows employees to control their own careers. If they’re more motivated, this will give them direction to continue their development.”
Eugene Woods, financial readiness manager at the U.S. Army’s Bamberg, Germany-based garrison, agreed. “The PDP helps me as a supervisor to better prepare myself for my career,” he said. “It’s a tool to help subordinates prepare for their career with the command, too. And it’s a tool to track training.”
Currently, the command’s civilian professionals look to the LMS to provide central registration, course enrollment, Web-based learning, career management and a range of performance support tools through one Web portal. With these tools, employees have just-in-time training, professional and individual development plans and access to a range of performance support solutions at their workstations.
Bill Perry is managing partner of March 24 Media LLC, a marketing and communications consultancy to the training industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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