Get Your AR Right – Every Year
By Brig James Cook
The Army’s reporting system often gets a tough ride. People do not always get the job they want and we are in a competitive business with high quality people. That said, it is well recognised that, as in any office environment, there are things you can do to shape your career that are about more than just a binary choice between ‘performing well and hoping’ at one end of the spectrum and ‘brown nosing’ at the other. In this sense, the Army is no different to any civilian workplace.
I have just taken over as the lead for the CASTLE programme, looking at how the Army shapes its career structures. Before that I was at the Army Personnel Centre. In my time there, combined with being a 1 and 2RO and, of course, being the subject of annual reports myself, I identified what it I think it takes to get the sort of Annual Reports that achieve what you, the subject, want to achieve.
So sit down, pay attention – this is your career we are talking about – and enjoy this quick guide to getting the Annual Report you want and deserve.
First, know the AR’s purpose
The Annual Report, or AR, is a reflection on your performance and a look to the future with your potential. While both parts are important, it is the potential that really counts. The potential narrative defines what jobs you could or should do next and when you will promote.
Please do not get stuck on the Overall Performance Grade, or OPG; these have minimal correlation with success. It is the 1 and 2 Up recommendations that are worth paying attention to, but even they are not as important as the strength of the recommendation and the specific appointment you are recommended for by your 2RO. The very best recommendations explain why your traits suit specific appointments. The worst recommendations are bland and general. If you perform well in the year and get the right recommendations, that are evidenced and justified, you will create a strong AR.
The AR year has two easily identifiable outputs, the MPAR and the AR itself. However, there are many other stages that are often missed and, without which, the chances of getting an AR that is a true reflection of your output and talent is slim. If you want to get the report you deserve, this month-by-month guide works for any officer of any rank.
Your month-by-month AR schedule
Month 1: Consider your formal objectives (JPA for front cover), what you wish to achieve, what you have been told to achieve, how to articulate them (SMART) and ensure there is a balance of objectives that stretch you in your role and develop you personally.
Month 2: Book 30 minutes with your 1RO to discuss your objectives, be happy to negotiate but make sure you leave the meeting knowing what is expected of you and how you are going to achieve it. Load your Objectives onto JPA.
Month 3: Consider what appointments you wish to undertake next. If they are upon promotion, what traits do you need to show to attract the right AR that gets you promoted. Do these traits (intellect, mental agility, emotional intelligence, capacity, ability to write, and ability to brief verbally) align with what you are showing to your CoC. Consider how you can demonstrate the qualities of the next rank.
Month 4: Speak to your Career Manager in the APC to let them know your aspirations. Get their view, discuss which Board you will run to and which AR will be on the top of your book.
Month 5: Book time with your 1RO for your MPAR, nudge them to complete their assessment of you; be ready to consider if your aspirations remain on track.
Month 6: MPAR. Discuss if you are meeting your formal objectives, what else might need doing, what might be ignored now. Discuss your next appointment aspirations and what recommendations you are looking for. An MPAR happens in a private space, face to face or on Skype. It does not happen in a shared car ride, at the end of another meeting, or on the periphery of a social engagement. It is too important for that.
Month 7: Reflect on the MPAR: does your 1RO appreciate what you are doing; are they even aware?
Month 8: Check the jobs list with knowledge of your timings and when you are releasable from your current appointment; start to down select your ideal next job.
Month 9: Seek an opportunity to engage your 2RO on your career. This is informal and focussed on what appointment they will recommend you for. Make sure they know what you want and why. This is of mutual benefit. They need to be happy with what they are recommending you for; you need to be happy they know why they are making such recommendations.
Month 10: Seek engagement with your 1RO, confirm you have met your objectives, discuss the meeting with your 2RO, set the conditions so that when the 1RO writes your AR, they know what you have done and what you aspire to.
Month 11: Chill
Month 12: Receive the 1RO part of you AR; it is no surprise to you as it has the recommendations you wanted.
Month 13-14: Full AR pops up on JPA. No surprises, in fact you are delighted that the 2RO has written on you so well, with knowledge of your outputs and aspirations.
Note there is no OPG and promotion 1 and 2 up discussion; if you get the trait identification right and aspirations, the OPG and promotions recommendations will look after themselves.
The ball is in your court
It is a long process, but you get out of it what you put in. Make sure your traits are evidenced with what you have done to make a compelling narrative. The other end of the spectrum minimal engagement gets you a poorly written and bland AR. It is up to you to make it happen. It is your AR and your career.
Lastly, if your reporting chain are ever too busy to discuss your career, they are failing you. Be reasonable, obviously. Do not ask for 90 mins, 20 mins should do, but the very worst thing any reporting officer can write in an AR is “I do not know this individual”. Anyone who has ever written that has failed as a leader and I would happily tell them that. But do not let your reporting chain ever get in that position; it is your career, help them help you!
So, if you want to make the most of the AR system, engage in the year-long process and make it happen. Take control of your AR. It is not a perfect system, but it is the best we can design and works really well for those who invest in it.