By Tricia Sterland and Dave Grant
Force readiness and lethality are two of the military’s most important aims. To achieve both, service members must maintain a certain level of physical preparedness, but high instructor-to-candidate ratios, infrequent fitness assessments, and a disconnect between habits and results have led to a widespread lack of motivation that’s undermining overall capability. At the recent AUSA 2022 Expo, conversations with Army leaders revealed that they’re trying to shift a culture of testing to a culture of fitness, while also encouraging buy-in to the H2F system. Let’s look at a few ways that human performance data insights can help achieve these aims by increasing service member motivation, engagement, and self-regulation.
Special Ops units have low instructor-to-candidate , whereas in the “Big Army,” that ratio can be 50 to 1, 500 to 1, or more depending on the size of the brigade. There’s also typically less motivation to get and stay physically fit. New recruits are tested more often and certain selection courses demand a high standard of physical capability from candidates, but service members who are in the middle or toward the end of their careers might struggle to stay motivated between annual fitness assessments.
A service member could potentially be demotivated to train if the required fitness test is six months out. With that, you may see them start to do all of their training a couple weeks before the test, resulting in an increase in injuries and the failure rate. Such inconsistent commitment to maintaining fitness levels also comes at a cost to overall force readiness and lethality. If service members who haven’t kept up their physical training get the call for deployment, they’re going to be less lethal and ready, which diminishes the cumulative capabilities of their unit.
Delivering More Consistent Motivation and Compliance
The U.S. military is trying to make the change from a culture of testing to a culture of fitness. While there are many components to consider, technology can help. As we demonstrated in the Human Performance Pavilion at AUSA 2022, if a service member can finish a training session and immediately receive feedback on their performance via Smartabase, they’re suddenly more engaged. The next time they come in, they see an improvement from the previous workout, and now they’re motivated to continue making progress. Providing continual feedback shifts the focus from periodic testing to daily training.
In a group setting, this can be gamified with leaderboards that encourage healthy competition. With the Smartabase mobile app, service members have ready access to their data, enabling them to track their progress and goals on the go. This demonstrates the value of human performance programs to the individuals involved in them, as the data that’s collected is being given back in a meaningful way that shows progress over time, rather than just disappearing.
The other side of putting service members’ data at their fingertips is encouraging them to enter subjective information via mobile-friendly wellness questionnaires, which can even be completed in offline mode in remote locations with poor or no internet access. In just a couple of minutes a day, such surveys make it simple to report back on things like rate of perceived exertion and soreness after training, fatigue, stress, and mental state.
The convenience and speed of submitting information increases compliance, as does creating a continual feedback loop that gives soldiers access to their performance and wellness data in the Smartabase mobile app. This interface also expedites the process of getting people the help they might desperately need. Service members can be prompted to reach out when their unit provides contact details for help lines, counseling, and other support services or allow them to click a button to place a call directly from the Smartabase mobile app. When such proactive support is available on demand, it makes people feel more appreciated and cared for, which further enhances their motivation and commitment to voluntary programs like H2F.
Enabling Self-Regulation and Improving Education
Just collecting performance data isn’t enough to increase motivation and foster buy-in to a culture of fitness. Units also need to give it back to service members in context so that they can make proactive decisions to change their behaviors and habits. Traditionally, the military only made a very small amount of information available to individual service members and it was all focused on simple results from standardized assessments like the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). This merely reinforced the culture of testing, while disincentivizing a commitment to continual, year-round readiness.
With Smartabase, a wider data range can be shared and becomes much more actionable because it’s captured from various devices and systems, collated, and presented with visual reporting tools like charts and graphs. A high level of customization makes it easy for performance and training staff to emphasize data points that they feel are important for service members to see, and to explain why they’re significant. Only then are individuals likely to be motivated to get on board with the human performance program and a system like H2F, in which participation is optional.
In a previous post, we shared that putting the Smartabase human performance optimization (HPO) platform in place can help instructors, coaches, and practitioners discover the why behind the what. The same is true for service members. It’s not enough for them to be told that they simply passed or failed a test, or that they achieved this or that score in an assessment. They also want to know if their results are below or above their usual standard, what this might mean, and which changes they can make. This is why presenting data is only effective when it’s done intentionally and in a way that allows the individual to take action. Otherwise, they’re going to continue to struggle with the same problems or limitations over and over again.
Smartabase can also be utilized to support education on topics like the importance of sleep hygiene. When units adopt or run pilot projects with certain wearables, subjective information from surveys can be overlaid with sleep duration and quality data points to create a fuller picture of rest and recovery. Bringing in training benchmarks and fitness test scores allows practitioners to draw a clear line between sleep – which is one of the five H2F pillars – and performance. A similar connection could be made between diet and physical output when service members record what they eat and drink via a nutrition log on the Smartabase mobile app.
Clear and instructive storytelling is crucial when trying to explain the connection between different data sets. Special Forces operators are more like professional athletes in their commitment to high performance, and so might be interested in subtle details and more complex metrics. But general enlistment personnel typically just want the basics explained in a straightforward way that’s free of jargon. They’d like to know what happened, how it relates to what they’ve done before, the possible reasons for the change, and what they can do differently to improve. A tool like Smartabase can help tell this story by visualizing information, comparing current and historical data, and presenting complex concepts in a simple way.
The goal is to increase service members’ self-awareness so that they better understand their performance and wellness at any given time and have the information they need to self-correct when necessary. As we’ll explore in a moment, it’s important for practitioners and tactical leaders to be able to jump in when the data flags an acute or chronic issue. But ultimately, the better able individual service members are to self-regulate, the greater overall force readiness, lethality, and capability will be. Creating a continual feedback loop in which information is conveyed in a way that’s understandable, clear, and relevant makes it more likely that soldiers and operators will act on it.
Delivering on Duty of Care and Informing Interventions
In addition to increasing motivation, engagement, and buy-in among service members, bringing objective and subjective data together in a single platform like Smartabase can help instructors deliver more targeted training and health interventions that support the objectives of the H2F system and POTFF program. For example, if a chaplain is responsible for several hundred service members, it’s impossible to spend time with all of them individually each day to try and meet their spiritual needs and difficult to know who to focus on. Whereas when the unit is completing the Spiritual Readiness Assessment (SRA), they can zero in on anyone who is struggling in this area. Or if someone reports high stress levels or shares a family problem via a wellness questionnaire, this could trigger a follow-up by a psychologist or counselor that’s attached to the unit to provide the support that’s required in a timely manner.
The same is true for the physical pillar of H2F. Flags can be set up in Smartabase to alert personnel when someone’s screening results, survey responses, or both cross predefined thresholds a certain number of times. So for example, if a service member reports high overall soreness four days in a row, a trainer or strength and conditioning coach is alerted to follow up and try and get ahead of a preventable injury. We’ve seen units make more widespread changes to selection course design and overall programming when multiple service members respond poorly at the same time, such as struggling with heat stroke during events held in hot weather.
This is an example of how data-informed decision-making is at the intersection of performance and health in the modern military. While commanders want to optimize the output, readiness, and lethality of every service member as part of the human weapon system (which the Department of Defense has declared to be their most valuable asset), they also recognize the responsibility they have for the safety and wellbeing of those they lead. This is tied into the central tenets of the H2F system, which a U.S. Army article states is “part of the Army’s People First Strategy and is aimed at improving Soldier readiness through a whole health for life model.”
In working with the military on human performance projects and during follow-up discussions at AUSA 2022, it has become clear that senior leaders believe very strongly in this holistic approach and their duty of care. There are many facets to this, but it certainly includes providing the best, most current information on performance and health that gives people a good chance to serve well throughout their careers and to thrive once they retire. This is something that the Smartabase military HPO solution supports throughout the soldier/operator lifecycle, as it helps create a new culture of data-informed fitness.
If You Enjoyed This Article, You Might Also Like…
- AUSA 2022 Recap
- Human Performance Optimization Battle Cards
- Building a Military Human Performance Analytics Team
- GUIDE: Building Your Human Performance Analytics Team
- Driving the Impact of Your Military Human Performance Program
 Jacqueline Hill, “H2F Making a Difference, Tackling the Whole Approach to Care,” U.S. Army, September 6, 2022, available online at https://www.army.mil/article/259960/h2f_making_a_difference_tackling_the_whole_approach_to_care.