Understanding and retaining talent in the Surface Warfare Community
Nissen, Mark E.
Tick, Simona L.
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The Navy Surface Warfare (SWO) Community provides a vital, sophisticated capability to address increasingly dynamic and unpredictable threats around the world. Community leaders have devised and implemented a number of progressive changes to enhance the SWO profession and to help retain talent. The construct talent remains somewhat ambiguous, however, and the most “talented” officers appear to be those receiving the highest rankings and strongest endorsements on their fitness reports (FITREPs). A key problem is, FITREPs are subject to increasing criticism regarding bias, subjectivity and foci on tenure over merit and current performance over future potential. Indeed, the Navy is in the process of reevaluating its performance evaluation process now. Moreover, results from our previous research suggest strongly that talent is a highly situated and nuanced concept, with key characteristics likely to differ with rank, role, job and other factors that vary over time. Hence it remains uncertain whether the talent we retain currently is the best to meet our present, much less our future, needs. This qualitative study addresses the issue directly. Eschewing the idea of using deduction and quantitative analysis through one or more top-down theoretic models of talent—approaches that presume a detailed understanding of what talent is and how to measure it—we choose instead to employ qualitative methods inductively and to build up a grounded understanding of SWO talent. We employ very well-established, grounded theory building methods, which provide a systematic, scientific process to develop an understanding inductively, from the data themselves. Moreover, we focus specifically on people who have been identified as “talented” beyond the current FITREP process. Results suggest that the SWO Community is working very well overall, that its recently implemented changes are serving their intended purposes, and that many talented people are being identified, recognized, promoted and retained as desired. Nonetheless, this community is no exception to having room for improvement, and through our grounded, independent study, we identify seven significant retention risks: 1) talented people not being assigned to challenging jobs; 2) unfavorable interaction with Chiefs; 3) unfavorable interaction with Detailers; 4) unfavorable CO/XO interaction; 5) lack of command opportunities; 6) difficult family planning; and 7) dissatisfaction with sea life. Each of these retention risks offers potential for mitigation, and through our grounded understanding of the SWOs participating in the study, we offer a set of eight recommendations to help address such risks and to retain talent.
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NPS Report NumberNPS-IS-18-001
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