Commentary Search

Peek inside the promotion process, set yourself up for success

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --

I recently had the opportunity to serve as a recorder supporting an Air Force Global Strike Command Management Level Review at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, 2017. 

The MLR board is charged with recommending the command’s best officers for promotion. In order to fulfill that purpose, a team of senior raters spends a day meticulously reviewing and scoring officer promotion packages to award “Definitely Promote” ratings to the very best candidates.

My biggest take-away from the experience is that the Air Force cares about maintaining a fair process to promote the most qualified people across the Air Force. The extensive system of checks and balances ensures every officer will be taken care of when it is time to meet his or her promotion board.

But don’t take my word for it. I had a conversation with AFGSC’s Chief of Management Level Review Operations, Idrick Ferguson, so I could pass on an expert’s perspective on the process and how officers can set themselves up for success when they meet promotion boards throughout their career.

Willett: I just spent three days with a group of other company grade officers helping the AFGSC personnel office review each of the officer packages which met the MLR board this week. What was the purpose of that initial review process?

Ferguson: When we are reviewing records before the MLR, we are trying to provide the senior leader a product that does not prompt any questions. We need to validate everything in the record, because if something doesn’t add up when a senior rater is reviewing the record, he will take a closer look and find things that were hidden. You want the reviewer to go as quickly as possible because they know what they’re looking for. They are reading the Performance Recommendation Form for specific things. If you cause them to slow, they will find other things they weren’t looking for which could hurt the candidate.

Willett: The MLR board was incredibly organized and efficient. I suppose it had to be in order for the senior leaders to review 141 records and to score 50 records in six hours. Will you describe the MLR and provide an overview of the process?

Ferguson: The MLR begins with a charge where we provide expectation and guidance to the senior leaders. Then we go into a quality review of the officers’ Records of Performance, Duty Qualification History Briefs, and Performance Recommendation Forms. At the MLR, the owning senior leader will review his records and then two additional senior raters will review those same records to ensure quality and that we are competing our best. The process is set up to get the best officers the “Definitely Promote” recommendations.

Then we go into scoring to award DPs. We begin with the aggregate phase for senior leaders who didn’t earn any outright DPs. Once we award those DP’s, we progress into the carryover phase for any senior rater who wants to compete for the leftover DPs.

Willett: One of the first things I noticed was that there isn’t a scoring rubric. The coolest part of the experience for me was being able to sit down with different senior raters and have them walk me through how they grade each package. Can you share a little bit about what the senior raters are looking for when they score the packages?

Ferguson: They’re looking for stratifications and what level you’re getting those stratifications from. If you are in a leadership position, are you being stratified among your peers? You want peer-to-peer stratifications. They’re also looking for “Distinguished Graduate” indicators, individual and team awards, and the senior rater’s push to see what he recommends for you regarding school or the next job you’ll go into.

Willett: It was interesting to me that even though there was no rubric, the scores for each package were remarkably similar across the board. I know it’s important to officers to know that they are being judged fairly. What do you think makes the promotion process fair?

Ferguson: What makes the process fair is the MLR itself. That’s where everything is leveled out. You have to remember what’s seen at the MLR. It’s not the person or the person’s personality; it’s what’s on paper. So if senior raters have done their due diligence for each officer on every Officer Performance Report, then you’ll get a valid picture of that officer.

Willett: There are a number of components which contribute to creating a successful promotion package. How can officers who are meeting their board set themselves up for success?

Ferguson: If you’re a captain or major getting ready for your board, validate what’s in your record. Make sure things line up properly like your duty titles. You have to do your due diligence and take care of yourself.

Willett: I noticed the senior leaders considered every single Officer Performance Report and Training Report. They even noted whether an officer was a distinguished graduate from their commissioning source. How can junior officers set themselves up to be competitive for future promotions?

Ferguson: Understand the process. That’s the biggest thing you can do, and take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to brag on yourself. Don’t be afraid to put yourself in for those opportunities in the community or with the Company Grade Officers’ Council that will put you in a good light with the leadership at the bases.

Willett: I’ll be pinning on captain in May. How far in advance should I start working on my PRF?

Ferguson: Yesterday. Every OPR you get, you should make sure it has a bullet that can be used on your PRF. And not just a stratification…I’m talking about actual impact connecting what you do to the wing mission, to the NAF mission, to the Global Strike mission and to the Air Force mission.

Willett: Besides not starting early enough, what is the biggest mistake you see people making when it comes to their packages?

Ferguson: The biggest mistake is people not taking care of their records. At the end of the day, the senior rater has his prerogative, and he is going to write what he’s going to write. But if you don’t do your part and make sure your record is spot on, you’re doing harm to yourself.

If you don’t take care of your record, that can be used as a discriminator against you. We have to take personal responsibility into consideration.

Willett: I have only been an officer for a little over three years, and I’ve already been presented with career broadening opportunities. How do those types of assignments impact an officer’s ability to compete in these boards?

Ferguson: It’s all about timing and opportunity. In most cases, you don’t want to be outside your career field doing things when you’re getting ready to go up for a board. You have to time those opportunities to go out and do career broadening. Your developmental team will usually tell you the best time to career broaden. They’ll give you a vector, and you should follow that vector as closely as you can.

Willett: I’m a public affairs officer, and I sometimes have trouble making our performance reports competitive with those of the operators. How can support personnel make themselves more competitive?

Ferguson: The biggest thing I see on the support side of the house is that they have a hard time quantifying their work. We understand numbers. Something that is not quantifiable (like “best thing since sliced bread”) doesn’t hold a lot of weight. The support side has to get better at quantifying what they do and making that impact connect to the mission.

Willett: Thank you so much for the opportunity to come out and see this process. It was enlightening. Do you have any last words of wisdom to future field grade officers?

Ferguson: Validate, validate, validate. Make sure the things in your record are correct.