Providing Clarity with an Evaluations Philosophy

by Chris Budihas

One fact has remained consistent during my three decades in the military – I am not a mind reader, nor are those who worked with me. Therefore, prior to assuming battalion command, I decided to write an evaluations philosophy. The purpose was three-fold:  to reinforce my command philosophy and the performance principles I considered important; to publish how I intended to grade subordinate performance; and to offer my methodology and logic for assigning evaluation block ratings.

Over the years, I have found that such a philosophy is useful for both the senior leader and, more importantly, for the ratee. In this post, I will explain the details of the evaluations philosophy and offer two examples from previous units.

evaluations

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James C. Boozer, left, the deputy commanding general and chief of staff for U.S. Army Europe, discusses training plans with U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher Budihas, right, during Saber Junction 2012 on Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Oct. 17, 2012. Link to DoD photo.

Clarity from Day One

As a squadron commander, I used five documents to conduct initial counseling with newly arrived leaders. These were:

  • the new leader’s initial counseling form
  • my Officer Evaluation Report Support Form
  • my command philosophy
  • a policy letter prohibiting fraternization
  • and my rating philosophy.

During the initial counseling session, I explained the initial counseling form and evaluations philosophy, so they clearly understood my expectations based on their pay grade, branch, and assigned duties. I gave them the opportunity to ask questions and communicated that in future counseling sessions, we would discuss their performance against these benchmarks.

It’s important to note that the evaluations philosophy is descriptive, not prescriptive in nature. I use bulletized descriptors to describe the difference between the various block ratings (Most Qualified, Highly Qualified, Qualified, and Not Qualified). It’s not a checklist but rather a description of what might make one person’s performance better than another’s.

It also expresses a key belief to officers and senior non-commissioned officers…that I judge performance as either truly superior, average, or on the verge of career ending. The document outlines performance “red lines” that potentially or automatically result in a relief for cause evaluation. These adverse behaviors (e.g. Driving Under the Influence, using drugs, etc.) are typical of any command but deserve recurring attention.

Finally, this philosophy reinforces that a particular block rating is earned and not given. For example, an average company commander cannot expect to receive a higher block rating than a super-star assistant operations officer, simply based on his duty as commander. I’ve observed this behavior many times during my career and find it to be an unethical practice.

Expectations + Counseling = Growth

I have continued to use an evaluations philosophy while serving as the Chief of Tactics at Fort Benning and now in command as a Colonel. Providing subordinates with a written philosophy allows them to understand the value of their rating while showing that their senior leaders understand the importance of enumerating the very best performers. Ultimately, an evaluations philosophy coupled with routine performance counseling should give subordinates the constructive feedback they need to further develop – a goal all senior leaders strive to achieve.

To provide some more detail, I offer my evaluation philosophies from squadron command in 2012 and my current command at the US Military Academy Preparatory School. Feel free to use them as applicable and provide feedback in the comment sections.

Chris Budihas is a career Army Infantry officer with multiple combat and stability operations deployments.

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  • MAJ Helen Lilly

    Sir,

    This is very much appreciated! Nothing is more frustrating than walking out of the boss’ office not knowing the why and how of enumeration. This type of up front communication and transparency is refreshing. A couple of questions: What tweaks or changes, if any, did you make to your list of categorical enumerations? If you did, how did you commmunicate the changes to your subordinates? For example, let’s say I communicate my considerations of my subordinates to be ACM they must earn a 300+, but then in practice and in the context of the formation (each is different, as are the individuals we lead) I re-evaluate items I’ve listed and determine there’s a much more important and relevant descriptor than the 300+. (Perhaps that’s a prescriptive benchmark rather than a descriptive one, but please excuse the poor example). Would you recommmend adjusting the philosophy to reflect a shift in your evaluations? Or would you recommend holding what you’ve got in order to provide predictability for your subordinates and adjusting your evaluations to fit your first published philosophy? I ask because I’ve found what I initially thought was important to me, and the benchmarks I used, evolved over time as my experience in my leadership position grew.

    Great post and incredibly practical and insightful product. Thank you.

    Respectfully,
    MAJ Helen Lilly
    CGSC Resident Student
    (Former DPE instructor)