By Joshua Smith, Retired Chief Master Sergeant
The Department of Defense (DoD) has committed millions of dollars to wide-ranging fitness, wellness, and health initiatives like POTFF, H2F, and unit-specific human performance programs in the military. Just as in past Congressional Reviews, Congress periodically requires assessments of such performance programs to verify their effectiveness and how they’re delivering a return on investment (ROI).
In this article, I’ll explain how a performance management platform can support optimized physical training programs, improvements in safety, productivity, accountability, and enhanced monitoring of cognitive and mental health in keeping with a “whole person concept” approach. These are all critical areas which utilizing a standardized human performance management system will set commands up for day-to-day success and provide accurate and meaningful data to Congress when that moment arises.
ELEVATING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF PHYSICAL TRAINING
DoD’s human performance programs are doing a better job of taking the warfighter’s physical readiness into account as a key component of unit readiness and force capability. These programs, locations, and commands are utilizing siloed systems unique to certain specialties such as Strength and Conditioning (S&C), Nutrition, Cognitive, and Athletic Training. In these siloed systems, it’s all too easy to look at a data point in isolation, drawing wrong conclusions, taking incorrect action, or missing valuable context and failing to make program changes which may increase the optimization of training for an individual.
For example, if a group of candidates received physical remedial training outside of the duty day from an instructor one evening, their hamstrings could be extremely sore the next morning due to them performing duck walks for 20 minutes. If the S&C coach doesn’t have the ability see the instructor’s note detailing this event, or a message was not relayed to morning staff, he or she may proceed with a scheduled lower body training session.
This communication failure between staff may result in a training overload, increasing the risk of injury for a large group of trainees who are at the highest vulnerability. Whereas in a human performance platform like Smartabase, this information could be made readily available, and training could be modified to take this unscheduled activity into account, thus reducing the likelihood of injuries.
A human performance platform can also be a valuable tool, ensuring scheduling changes don’t have a negative impact on evaluation events. For example, pistol shooting could be rescheduled from Tuesday to Wednesday due to a range conflict or a weather day. The concern is candidates are scheduled for an upper body session focusing on shoulders and arms Wednesday morning. Performing this scheduled session could be detrimental to their weapon accuracy due to fatigue from the early session, resulting in unnecessary failures. With a performance management platform in place, once the system registers there’s a scheduling change, a message can automatically be sent to affected staff, ensuring they are aware of the change. The S&C staff then could modify the workout, ensuring the members are in optimal conditions for the evaluation event, thus reducing the likelihood of unwarranted failures.
Safety is another key element of a soldier’s lifecycle that has been prioritized under POTFF and H2F. In the unit whose performance program I oversaw, there are five courses throughout the year and three courses ran during high-risk weather months, also known as Black Flag days. Candidates going through these courses during this timeframe deal with temperature and humidity fluctuation daily. It may be 100 degrees with high humidity, and the next day 65 degrees with much lower humidity. Utilizing a human performance solution allows you to look historically at environmental and individual risk factors prior to an event and reduce the risk where appropriate.
For example, before the training events start, key staff have historical data on weather concerns and injury likelihood based on previous events conducted under similar conditions. In addition, data Smartabase collected from the morning’s sensor and wellness form identifies candidates who are at a higher risk for heat related injuries and those members who have had a heat related injury previously. This allows leadership to brief staff and focus on those who are at highest risk of injury during the event.
ENHANCING CONTINUITY IN THE OPERATOR LIFECYCLE
When relying on siloed systems, typically the information regarding a member or unit is stored in a spreadsheet or database specific to their location. When the member is reassigned between two locations for the next training phase or Permanent Change of Station – say from Fort Drum to Fort Bliss – their data typically doesn’t get passed on to the next location or limited data may for certain members.
This means key staff are lacking historical context on the member’s physiological strengths and weaknesses, areas of cognitive struggles, and interpersonal skills with fellow teammates. This not only undermines the effectiveness of this phase of their career but makes it virtually impossible for leadership to obtain the holistic 360-degree view of each warfighter that initiatives like H2F and POTFF are aiming for in optimizing training and recovery.
Whereas with a human performance platform like Smartabase, everything from initial performance baselines, PT test, 24-hour physiological data via wearables, medical history details, cognitive struggles in academics and performance, and peer/instructor reviews can be accessed if the staff member has been granted the rights to review such data starting from the first day the data was collected.
Smartabase facilitates a secure and quick way to visualize all data prioritized by POTFF and H2F, making all information available in one convenient, centralized location. In addition, highly specific training information such as shooting scores, parachute operations, job-specific training, and so on can be collated and easily reviewed, providing a far more comprehensive evaluation of how each member has performed compared to other members’ data from the past.
Compiling such a comprehensive and robust centralized database, performance staff and leadership can truly make an informed decision on the member while in the training pipeline and throughout their career.
IMPROVING COGNITIVE AND MENTAL HEALTH MONITORING
A key aim of both H2F and POTFF is to prioritize mental health and emotional wellbeing among the warfighter and operator communities. A tactical performance management platform such as Smartabase can assist in this by prompting interventions when data is outside acceptable ranges for a predetermined length of time.
For example, if a candidate self-reports on a wellness survey that he/she no longer cares about the program for three days in a row, this can raise a red flag and automatically alert the unit’s psychologist and the command team. With this warning, action can be taken, and the individual will receive the support required to get back on track or removed from a program due to lack of trainability.
On the operation side, the same concept could be applied by asking the member in the morning during their wellness survey, “How motivated are you to go to work?”. This data can be utilized to assess those members’ motivation and wellbeing, thus providing intervention if appropriate and reducing the likelihood of them harming themselves.
This type of information could also provide the command team with critical trending information of the health and wellbeing of their unit at the earliest point of the unit’s deviation from baseline. Should an increasing group of people start answering they are no longer motivated to go to work, unit leadership can immediately start taking actions to reverse the negative trend.
In this way, there is increased accountability and the opportunity for preemptive interventions to help combat anxiety, depression, and other conditions.
DEMONSTRATING THE ROI OF YOUR HUMAN PERFORMANCE PROGRAM AND IMPROVING DECISION-MAKING
As mentioned earlier, Commanders, Commands, and Congress are always requesting data to understand the effectiveness of the POTFF program, and the ROI to justify the large federal investment. In the past it took weeks to gather data from disparate systems and collate it into cohesive and comprehensive reports. With a human performance platform in place, such reporting – whether it’s for POTFF, H2F, or unit-level initiatives – could be done more quickly and efficiently.
In the case of our group, we were able to provide a 360-degree report to leadership on an issue with a candidate within minutes of the incident. In the past, a report like this may take three to four days and multiple personnel in geographically separated locations within the Training Wing. Now, as soon as a failure is reported, a report can be generated within seconds, encompassing all past strengths and weaknesses within their training pipeline, and comparing them to their cohort and previous successful candidates. By providing a detailed report, leadership can make a truly informed decision quickly and either return the member to training or remove them before they get hurt or waste resources.
Before deploying Smartabase, it was difficult and time-consuming to obtain data for the 1200+ candidates who go through the program each year. When you scale that up to tens of thousands of warfighters in programs like H2F, the logistics of monitoring and reporting data are amplified. That’s why having a human performance platform like Smartabase is so vital, whether it’s collating reliable and accurate data to present to leadership regarding the dismissal of a candidate or a large-scale data request to give Congress showing the ROI and why the programs still require priority and funding.
If the use of such a platform is extended, there will be a single database that captures information about every facet of a warfighter’s career from the time they come into a recruiter’s office to the moment they separate from the service or retire.
On an individual level, this will improve the ability of performance specialists and leadership to develop service members’ physical, cognitive, and emotional capabilities, while also meeting their health and wellness needs. Across the entire military, it will result in greater readiness, human performance, force capability, and reduce cost over time through reduction of injuries and faster return to duty.
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