Fitness Report Counseling and Awards
There are several truisms within Marine Corps leadership, such as the Leadership Principles and Traits that make up the hallmark of how Marines execute their duties as leaders. Specifically, “Know your Marines and look out for their welfare” and “Keep your Marines informed” are two of the ideas that form the backbone of our Corps’ entry-level training. Although we take pride in our leadership abilities as Marines, there are occasions where these axioms fall short in their proper execution. For instance, how many times have Marines not been recognized for their accomplishments because of the lack of continuity and proper documentation within a command? Many cases also exist where the reporting senior (RS) and Marine reported on (MRO) do not meet for an initial counseling to cover billet descriptions and expectations within the first 30 days of an evaluation cycle for a fitness report. These are areas where the Marine Corps can leverage available automated systems in order to maintain accountability of initial counseling sessions and letters of continuity for awards.
In accordance with the Performance Evaluation System (PES) order, the evaluation process begins when the RS and MRO meet to formalize a billet description.1 Within the first 30 days, the RS should provide an initial counseling to the MRO, covering specific duties, responsibilities, and expectations for the assigned billet. Although a fitness report is not a counseling tool or document for Marines, initial and continuous counseling must occur to refine billet descriptions and goals and to measure performance. Currently, throughout the Marine Corps, the RS and MRO process of conducting and receiving billet descriptions and expectations is inconsistent. Although an initial counseling is required, not all Marine leaders adhere to this practice. The PES states that an RS will ensure the MRO starts an MRO worksheet (MROW) once a billet description is established between the MRO and RS. If the initial counseling sessions have not occured or have not been properly documented, expectations and billet descriptions have not been clearly communicated or defined.
Along with initial counseling sessions, awards are also an area of concern for Marines. How many times has a Marine checked into a unit and received a task to write an award for a Marine he has not observed? Have you ever been on the receiving end of an award where you were asked for your billet accomplishments for the past three years in order for a new member of the command to write the award? Frequent turnover of personnel within a unit oftentimes leaves Marines without the proper recognition for their performance. Additionally, this may create a situation where a new leader within the command is left to create an award for a Marine with limited information. Ideally, when a leader departs a given command, a letter of continuity is made for each Marine for whom he is responsible. Although this process sometimes occurs, the question of who maintains the letter of continuity is left open for discussion, as there is no formal process in place to account for this document. A formalized method of accounting for both counseling documents and letters of continuity can mitigate the aforementioned issues.
The Marine Corps can better serve its Marines by establishing an initial counseling process that maintains source documents using an automated system, such as Marine Online (MOL) or the Automated PES (A-PES). The current source document used is a non-standardized word document created by the RS and given to the MRO. MOL, or A-PES, is the appropriate place to establish a location for the accountability of documentation. An improved process should include initial counseling documentation signed by the MRO and RS and submitted by the RS via an additional MOL function similar to the enlisted performance appraisal report. After the initial counseling has been submitted, the MRO can be prompted and notified to create an MROW within 30 days. Designated command personnel should have the ability to review reports of completed initial counseling sessions within the command. A completion notification can be sent to the reviewing officer and the unit’s senior enlisted leadership for review and verification of the counseling. Reviewing these source documents for accuracy and timeliness would note any discrepancies in the beginning of a reporting period. Proper documentation with appropriate timelines set for the RS and MRO would provide an accountability tool that ensures initial counseling sessions and MROWs are being conducted in an efficient and timely manner. MROW update notifications could allow the RS to review a summary of accomplishments and conduct mid-term counselings prior to the end of the reporting period. This process will improve communication between the RS and MRO, serve as a command accountability tool, and uphold the integrity of the PES policy.
MOL is also the appropriate means to establish a location for the accountability of letters of continuity. During a tour of duty, MRO and RS relationships may initiate and terminate several times. In the absence of letters of continuity, it is often difficult to determine what the Marine accomplished without proper documentation. When executed properly, letters of continuity provide the appropriate means of capturing accomplishments with which to award Marines. A solution to the issue is creating a web-based function that maintains letters of continuity. A function within the fitness report process can prompt the RS to create a web-based letter of continuity prior to the fitness report’s submission. This process is beneficial when an MRO receives a fitness report during a change in the RS. Ideally with this new function, a new RS can review all letters of continuity on a Marine for the entirety of the MRO’s tour within a command. The value of this new process is also gained by the individuals within the command who are given the privilege to view the letters of continuity on any given Marine. With letters of continuity now visible to the RS, reviewing officer, and command-authorized individuals, past performance is not lost and Marines are consistently recognized for their hard work.
Awards and initial counseling sessions are significant areas all leaders must account for when assuming a leadership role. For any improvement initiative, there is often hesitation to make a change. Group discussions or soliciting input will provide honest feedback of “why” it is necessary to maintain letters of continuity and initial counseling documentation. Leaders pride themselves on taking care of their subordinates, talking to their Marines, and setting them up for success. Utilizing available automated systems to account for initial counselings and letters of continuity can significantly improve oversight and direction from leaders across the Marine Corps.
1. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCO 1610.7, Performance Evaluation System (PES), (Washington, DC: February 2015).