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Start and en of a long post at Thin Pinstriped Line--CAF relevance?
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"Everybody Fights. Nobody Quits". Retention & Reward in the Armed Forces.
100% of people who join the British Armed Forces will, at one point or another leave.
These reasons will vary – some will retire after a long career, others will leave their basic training establishment at the earliest possibly opportunity. Some will soldier on for a few years then walk away, others will be killed.
This is perhaps useful context for the news that the MOD has launched a review into retention to understand why there has been an increase in personnel leaving the military at earlier than expected points, and what can be done to fix this challenge.
The peculiar challenge of a military career is that, at present, it relies almost exclusively on direct entry at the most junior point in the system, which then feeds the manpower pyramid. The system relies on recruiting plenty of junior people, with numbers thinning the further up the ranks you go. This pyramid theoretically reduces manpower numbers, reflecting the diminished requirement for more senior personnel in general.
This principle works well when the manpower flow is steady, and retention rates are within expected norms – e.g. people will always leave, but the overall manpower levels at each rank/rate are sufficient to keep generating enough people for the future career structure.
The problem strikes when too many people leave too quickly, causing a deficit in the system that can take decades to iron out. For instance, if too many junior Royal Navy engineers leave now, then there is a gap working its way through the system where the manpower planners either have to accept a gapped post (and the potential risks that this brings for a ship or shore post without a suitably qualified Petty Officer available) or potentially promote someone early, before they have had enough experience to fill this gap, presenting both a training and experience risk, but also creating a gap at the previous level which then needs to be filled...
Fundamentally though the decision to leave is an intensely personal decision and taken for very different reasons. Studies into retention can only go so far in to understanding the decisions people make, or why they choose to walk away.
As an example, Humphrey chose to leave the Reserves when he found himself looking likely to deploy on another operational tour at very short notice that his personal circumstances meant he couldn’t support that specific rotation of. The choice was stark to either mobilise or resign, and he reluctantly chose to resign.
In itself this is a normal story, but what it doesn’t capture is the wider factors of feeling frustrated at a system that had not upheld promises made in previous years about promotion and recognition, and the sense of being forced to go yet again because others were unwilling to mobilise and finding reasons not to go. It was also about looking for leadership and reassurance and some kind of compromise offer that would meet half way – recognition that he was being expected at a couple of weeks notice to upend his life for 6-9 months and do significant damage to his normal career, but without any kind of incentive or reason to do so, particularly after several years of TELICS and HERRICKs and the associated challenges this posed.
Coming on the back of frustrations about a system that he’d probably spent too long in without a break, and feeling that no one out there was reaching out to try and to talk him into staying, the decision to submit a resignation letter was hard but then very easy. Paradoxically, a well-judged intervention or conversation about what could be done better to help see light at the end of the tunnel and find a compromise acceptable to both would probably have saved the reserves from losing someone.
This personal example is given because it shows that for all the demands to do a study and find a solution, there isn’t necessarily a simple set of reasons and answers. The reasons Humphrey left were utterly different to why many of his peers left both regular and reserve service, and any solution proposed here would probably not have worked for them.
The military needs people to leave every year – not just through resignation, but also to keep the force fresh and talent flowing upwards. If everyone stayed then promotion would slow to a crawl and people would be frustrated and unable to progress.
Retention is as much about understanding how to look after people, ensure they are treated properly and that they and their families are not messed around as it is about offering a blank cheque. At its heart, retention is as much about taking someone for a coffee or chatting on the phone about their prospects and investing in them as it is about career management.
At its heart, retention is everyone’s business.
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