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About the ratings
The Navy gives leaders advancement recommendations they can tag sailors with in their evaluations.
Sailors whose commands don’t feel are ready for promotion are tagged as having "significant problems" or are "progressing."
Sailors who keep out of trouble and are doing exactly what the Navy asks of them — but no more — day in and out are considered "promotable."
Those who go above and beyond the norm can be rated as a "must promote" or as an "early promote." With the highest two recommendations comes an added boost when competing for advancement or re-up slots.
The rules limit commanders on how many MP or EP recommendations they can give out. Only 20 percent of a command’s sailors at any paygrade can be rated as an EP. For E-5 and above, the combined total of EPs and MPs can’t be more than 60 percent.
Separating truth from fiction when it comes to the policy and procedures of the Navy’s evaluation system can be tough.
Whether you’re learning for yourself or researching an issue for sailors who work for you, the place to start is Navy Personnel Command’s dedicated Web page at www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/career/performanceevaluation, which houses links to forms and software for preparing evaluations, as well as a detailed set of frequently asked questions.
The Navy’s Performance Evaluation Manual, with a special overview for commanding officers, reporting seniors and raters is available at www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/reference/instructions/BUPERSInstructions/Documents/1610.10C.pdf.
Competition among sailors for the best performance marks is getting tougher, and the stakes are higher than ever.
How you rank among your peers now dictates not only whether you can advance, but also if you'll be allowed to re-enlist.
Most in the fleet and in the Navy's leadership say the system is sound — as long as everyone is playing by the same rules.
And that's the problem — unwritten rules have creeped into the evaluation process, putting some high-performing sailors at a disadvantage:
• Some commands won't consider newly arrived sailors, or those advanced in the past year, for coveted "early promote" or "must promote" status, regardless of performance.
• Some leaders won't downgrade a sailor's early-promote eval except in cases of glaring misconduct, maintaining a status quo atop the process that blocks emerging talent.
• Some self-evaluations — a tool used both to cut the workload of leadership and teach junior sailors how to write reviews — go through channels without proper scrutiny, rewarding braggarts instead of honest high achievers.
"My issue is if that's how business is done at the command, you are doing someone — and a minimum of one person and easily more — a disservice," said Command Master Chief (SW) Yves Raynaud, top enlisted sailor on the destroyer Gravely.
Raynaud said that as written, the system is sound and has been proved over the years, but the "as written" part is critical.
"I think periodic review of the system and what we're ranking sailors on is a good idea," he said. "That's because evals are so critical to a career, these days, and our people trust us to get this right, and commands need to ensure they're doing right by their sailors."
If unwritten rules become widespread, he said, they need to be evaluated properly and either adopted formally or banned.
Last fall, commands saw Big Navy cut what many felt were their best sailors in the enlisted retention board process and left some poor performers behind; some commands lamented that they didn't have a voice in the process, said Fleet Master Chief (SW/AW/SCW) Scott Benning, the senior enlisted adviser to the chief of naval personnel.
He's also heard the same complaints about sailors being separated through the Perform to Serve re-enlistment approval system. Both the one-time ERB and current PTS processes used performance evaluations as part of their formulas to rank sailors.
"But what they don't realize is they do have a voice through the Navy's performance evaluation system," he said. "It's a system that requires brutal honesty to be totally effective, and we owe that honesty to our sailors because of what rides on it."
The new guy
The most common unwritten rule is what's known as the "new guy P" or the "wait-your-turn rule."
In practice, it means sailors newly reported to a command or advanced within the past year are excluded from rating anything higher than the basic "promotable" advancement recommendation.
Because of limits on how many sailors can be rated at the early- and must-promote levels (see box), commands are forced to rank their sailors in each paygrade during each evaluation cycle. This can be time-consuming for larger commands with hundreds of sailors in each paygrade.
By using this unwritten rule, those commands can artificially limit how many sailors can compete for the coveted MPs and EPs.
"I think it's wrong, and I know there are people out there who are potentially doing it," Benning said. "If I arrive on that ship and I'm there for six months and I'm performing better than everyone else, it's a de-motivator if I'm not acknowledged for that performance because I've only been there for six months."
Onboard Gravely, Raynaud said that while he's familiar with the wait-your-turn rule, he's not been at a command that's used it.
"I've heard of the practice and generally I've heard that it tends to happen at larger commands," he said. "I don't believe that's the way the system is designed; it's a performance evaluation, and tenure has no place in it.
"Even if you've only been here for 10 or 11 months, or whatever that periodicity is my position, and what I believe the intent of the system is that if your performance has warranted it, then you should get the EP."
Benning acknowledges that ranking sailors properly takes time — something at a premium as operational tempo increases. But he says commands can't cut corners when it comes to evaluations.
"We need to evaluate people on the daily execution of their responsibilities," he said.
The Navy has a policy that allows a sailor to get a "not observed" rating if a command feels it can't effectively evaluate his performance, Benning said, but only if he's been there less than 90 days.
As command master chief onboard the aircraft carrier George Washington, Benning said his ranking boards were done blind — no names were visible on the write-ups.
"Sure, it was time-consuming," he said. "It took eight hours a day, sometimes for seven days, to rate 350 first class petty officers."
After each evaluation write-up was read, each board member rated the write-up with a P, MP or EP rating. Sailors were ranked based on their overall score.
"In the end, you had rankings that weren't based on how long they'd been at the command, but were based on what they'd accomplished during that period of time," Benning said. "The result is you have motivated sailors who believe they are fairly treated because they've been rated on their performance, not the amount of time they have onboard."
No to the status quo
Another tenure-related unwritten rule is once a sailor rates an EP in his current paygrade, some commands are reluctant to lower that recommendation unless that sailor is guilty of misconduct or numerous fitness failures — both of which come with mandatory evaluation consequences.
"I've never been at a command where the status quo was part of the process, though I've heard of that, too," Raynaud said. "I was taught otherwise and as a CMC, that's what I bring to the mess ... where you are last time doesn't guarantee where you will be this time."
Performance can dip for many reasons, he said, and leaders can't be afraid to call sailors out for it.
"A lot of people are under the mindset that if that person was an EP, then they should continue to be an EP," he said. "I don't believe that's the way the system is designed, but unfortunately, some people may not be honest with themselves and others and that decreases the accuracy of the system."
Such a mindset ruins what Raynaud considers the real beauty of the evaluation system:
"Every evaluation has a start and an end date," he said. "You must only rate that sailor on what's happened between those two dates."
Leaders must force themselves to consider the sailor's performance only within those dates.
"Sure, you may need to look back to get some perspective, but that's all," he said.
And he says slight slips in performance aren't necessarily career-ending.
"The system is designed for that," he said. "We're dealing with human beings, and there are going to be slight variations and differences in performance — that's natural."
The Navy's instruction on performance evaluations says sailors have the right to give input to superiors for their evaluations.
Different leaders interpret this in different ways. Some require sailors produce a "brag sheet," a bulleted page listing their accomplishments over the past year.
Others require sailors to write their own evaluations, a practice that Raynaud says works if done properly — giving sailors not only the ability to self-evaluate, but to work on the writing and communication skills necessary as they advance in rank.
But at some commands, this practice has taken a dangerous turn, some sailors say. Navy Times received multiple emails stating that lazy leaders are too often rubber-stamping sailor input and sending it up the chain for approval.
"I can write pretty much anything in my evaluation, and the chiefs read them and say ‘sounds good' and then forward them up for signing without the least bit of concern about the write-ups being factual," said a worried petty officer first class onboard the carrier Carl Vinson. The petty officer asked to remain anonymous because of fear of command reprisal.
He said he's seen a lack of due diligence from some chiefs to ensure "that the statements in those evaluations are true."
In the end, he said he believes this is damaging the Navy because the wrong people end up advancing.
"I can say I have never ‘fluffed up' my evaluation, and I get very tired of writing an evaluation that is supposed to be my superior's evaluation of me, not my opinion of myself," he said.
Any input from the sailor needs to be properly evaluated by the chain of command, Raynaud said, but the purpose of writing full evals shouldn't be to make the chief's job easier.
"I think that the earlier a sailor can learn how to write evals in their career, the better," he said. "By learning to write for themselves, they learn how to write for the person who's working for them."
After making third class, Raynaud said his chief surprised him by rejecting his bulleted input of accomplishments at eval time.
"My chief told me that I was now a third class petty officer and he expected a full eval from me," he said. "I had never written a full eval before, so I did some research and gave him what I thought was sufficient input."
What his chief did next, he said, was to go through the whole document, "block by block and line by line, with me, showing me what I needed to improve on."
"I thought it was a little too much, but for him, it was a teaching moment," he said. "His thought was the process [would] teach me to write professionally and correctly, and that this would make me a better supervisor."
Benning said that while there's no rework of the system underway, there's always the desire to improve it and he's always open to good ideas.
"Sailors can have a significant impact on how we change policy," he said. "If they have a good enough point, and if they can convince their chain of command, it can get forwarded ultimately to us through their fleet commander."