Commentary: The annual merit boards

Scenario: The annual merit boards

In the April 2017 scenario, The Annual Merit Boards, we were introduced to Warrant Officer Paul Detton and his supervisor, Major Sue Pinkus. In light of the upcoming Unit Ranking Boards, Maj Pinkus has asked WO Detton to complete the scoring matrix that she will use during the board to fight for a high position and score for him. During their conversation Maj Pinkus apologized to WO Detton for forgetting to complete the scoring matrix, and suggested that WO Detton should provide her with a high-scored and well justified assessment, as after all, “we want to get you promoted.” WO Detton readily agreed to complete the matrix and include the required justification, but wondered silently if this was really what was meant by the old expression, “you’re your own best career manager.”

The reader commentary was unusually heavy for this scenario, suggesting that this sort of situation occurs more commonly than one might have thought. First, we should note our error. The scenario title refers to the annual merit boards, while our scenario content deals with the annual ranking boards. As one of our astute readers advised us, there are in fact three different boards: the ranking board, the merit board, and the succession board. While many people use the terms interchangeably, they are three different processes with different leads and stakeholders.  

Almost universally, readers felt that Maj Pinkus demonstrated a clear lack of leadership in this situation. Many noted that one of the key requirements for a leader is to effectively monitor subordinates and ensure that each is given appropriate (and accurate) credit for their work performance. It was broadly felt that Maj Pinkus’ actions compromised the integrity of the personnel appraisal system, a system that is in place to ensure the integrity of the promotion process. Others suggested that writing your own positive assessment detracts from the true sense of accomplishment an individual feels when receiving a positive personnel appraisal. Still others questioned the ethics of writing your own personnel appraisal, suggesting it opened the door for inaccurate appraisals, and paved the way for favoritism and bias to enter the process.

It is important to add, as some readers noted, that there is no reason why subordinates can`t help their supervisors reflect on achievements through the year by contributing a so-called “brag sheet” during the review period. This may help the supervisor focus on the member, and it is not a matter of scoring or ranking but of providing the kind of evidence on which scoring and ranking should be based. Such subjective accounts should of course be assessed by the reader rather than taken as matters beyond dispute.  

As importantly, and as many readers expressed, in asking WO Detton to complete the written justification required for the board, Maj Pinkus has violated several of the five CAF/DND values identified in the CF/DND Code of Values and Ethics namely, stewardship, loyalty, integrity, courage, and excellence. Maj Pinkus’ request demonstrates poor stewardship, a lack of integrity, and certainly is not reflective of excellence from neither a leadership nor a professional perspective. From the perspective of the three hierarchical CAF/DND principles: respect the dignity of all persons; serve Canada before self; and obey and support lawful authority, Maj Pinkus demonstrated a lack of respect for the dignity of WO Detton. As his supervisor, she failed to adequately prepare for the ranking board, and has now asked him to step in and rectify her failure. This request has put the WO in a compromising position.

The relevant regulations are clear. In CANFORGEN 010/17, Changes to Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Military Personnel Evaluation Report (PER) for the 2016/2017 Reporting Year, it addresses this very scenario. Paragraph 5b of the CANFORGEN states, “Score controls and the practice of using unit/formation/group ranking boards to directly influence PER scoring in any form is to cease. PER scores are to be derived by honest and professional assessment of a member’s performance by their supervisor and not subject to adjustment to meet board rankings.”

Thus, in a nutshell, while the situation described in this scenario may be commonplace in its persistence today, it is poor leadership practice that is in conflict with the guidance provided by CANFORGEN 010/17.

Thank you to those who responded to this dilemma. Suggestions for future scenarios are always welcome.

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