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Culture Change in Recruiting

As a part of the Army Combined Arms Support Command and the Army Sustainment Center of Excellence, the Army Recruiting and Retention School provides the human resources training needed to prepare Soldiers to serve in the Army Recruiting Command (USAREC), which is responsible for recruiting the Army’s military personnel. Doctrinal changes, marketing developments, geographically dispersed units, and the increased diversity of the U.S. population have provided USAREC with significant obstacles to overcome.

When the Army decides to grow, USAREC’s mission increases. When the Army decides to downsize, USAREC’s mission remains constant. During reductions in force and increases in end strength, USAREC maintains adaptive, innovative, and flexible business practices, allowing for continuous success.

The dynamic nature of recruiting for an all-volunteer Army during an extended period of conflict has USAREC changing rapidly. This article will address changes in recruiting doctrine, Army interviewing techniques, family well-being initiatives, and the use of technology in an era of reduced budgets and decreasing resources.

The Shift From Selling to Leading

The civilian sector defines the “art of selling” as knowing how to offer customers what you are selling in such a manner that they feel that buying it from you will solve their problems or fulfill their needs. Above all else, the seller should remember that people’s wants, needs, and problems are changing constantly. People are always learning, which allows Army recruiters to create sounder doctrinal theory. This means recruiting proficiency requires constant updates to the sales presentation. Tom Hopkins, an author known as the world’s leading sales trainer, says, “Selling is largely a process of leading the customer, using questions, to discover the product or service he or she wants and then having them make the decision to get it.”

As this applies to Army recruiting, the art of selling was showmanship. Previous doctrine was characterized by the development and practice of sophisticated and polished presentation skills that almost unfailingly dazzled, but did not always gain, a new recruit’s trust. The art of selling was the concealment of salesmanship. This was characterized by well-prepared interactive questions that elicited the “right responses” from the customer. The “find a need and sell the need” approach to recruiting was prevalent during the last 10 years.

The true art of selling is the absence of salesmanship. This delivery technique is characterized by a quiet, relaxed, well-prepared salesperson who forgets every aspect of technique and just listens and reacts in real time. This is not to be mistaken for the absence of sales fundamentals, just the absence of salesmanship typically associated with the feeling one gets when exposed to dishonest used-car salesmen.

Recruiting Doctrine

In 2003, USAREC conducted several doctrine review panels and determined that the current doctrine was too prescriptive and provided too many “you will’ directives. The panel members concluded that they needed to revise the doctrine.

In early 2004, Colonel Gary Carlson, former Army Recruiting and Retention School commandant, was called from retirement to head a task force charged with revising recruiting doctrine. The task force had 18 months to complete the task. The USAREC commanding general’s vision was to design doctrine that encouraged the development of leaders rather than salespeople committed to a cumbersome process based on an outdated recruiting model.

In February 2005, the Army released completely new recruiting doctrine, and a transformation was set in motion. USAREC was to move from a sales-based approach to a leadership-based approach, with interviewing techniques that included counseling, coaching, and mentoring. Command planners wanted to grow bold, ambitious, and decisive recruiting leaders. They wanted doctrine grounded in Army values and built around flexible, agile, and responsive recruiting support systems.

The new doctrine is aligned with the operational Army. For the first time in history, a Soldier newly assigned to USAREC does not have to learn a new vocabulary. USAREC doctrine now mirrors existing Army doctrine to minimize the learning curve that Soldiers experienced previously, which reduces the time needed to adapt to a USAREC assignment.

Today’s society is technologically savvy, and information is a mouse click away. American culture has made people so leery of salespeople that they avoid being “sold.” Knowing these key points about our target market, USAREC has changed recruiting doctrine to allow the Army recruiter to become more self-aware, adaptive, and reactive to the needs of the target audience. This new doctrine allows recruiters to be more capable of delivering the Army to the living rooms of America. The recruiter should know the products and processes so well that salesmanship dissipates. No longer will the recruiter attempt to think about what step he is on or if it is time to close. Recruiters are now being trained to listen and react in real-time contemporary operating environments.

Leading—Not Selling

The new approach is based on the concept of leading people into the Army rather than selling it to them. The new doctrine encourages calculated risk taking and communication among the leaders and the led while relying on feedback from all echelons.

The doctrine revision task force reviewed research on the millennial generation (those born roughly between the early 1980s and mid 1990s) and discovered that it is a generation of Americans who are embracing Army values. Research showed that this generation does not want to be sold; it wants be embraced by a values-based organization. The Army interview was changed to reflect more discussion regarding the Army story and the Army values, warrior ethos, and the Soldier’s Creed.

A culmination of doctrine reviews, millennial generation study reviews, and the commanding general’s vision led to the most significant and successful change in doctrine that USAREC has ever experienced. The Soldiers newly assigned to the command are demonstrating an easier transition to the business of recruiting. New commanders and staff can share a common language with veterans of recruiting because the language gap has been filled.

The New Army Interview

“The ‘Art of Asking Questions’ is your greatest sales tool,” says Lee DuBois, another industry leader in sales training and coaching. In The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to successful Communication in Life and at Work, Dorothy Leeds wrote, “Questions can stimulate and persuade. They are signs of a curious mind, a caring heart—a confident personality. They are the essential tools of the seeker and the problem-solver. In our personal and professional lives, they can make the difference between getting what we want and going without.”

The biggest mistake typically made by recruiters is one of style: They talk too much. They tell rather than persuade. Telling is defined as one-way communication, while persuasion requires interaction between the recruiter and the applicant. Recruiters who immediately launch into a sales monologue air only their views and ignore the ideas, interests, problems, goals, and needs of their prospects. This is no way to convince prospects that the Army is interested in satisfying their needs and solving their problems.

The habit of questioning does not come naturally to most people. It is a learned behavior that requires practice, patience, self-discipline, and active listening skills. The question being asked and how it is asked are critical to the process. One can act like a cross-examiner or a quiz show host, or he can act like a trusted friend and consultant. A recruiter’s attitude drives his actions and will determine the outcome of each day’s events. Too often, a recruiter believes he needs to talk his way into a sale, when the opposite is true. By using well-structured questions, asked in a friendly and consultative manner, he can identify the interests and desires of the prospect. The recruiter makes a far greater impact on the prospect by listening, which shows that he cares about the prospect’s problems and what he really wants.

By asking questions, the recruiter can remain in control of any situation. Questions help him gain more information, handle objections, and prepare to field any possible concerns the prospect may have. Using good questioning techniques shows that the recruiter cares and is interested and willing to learn more in order to help address the prospect’s needs.

Well-Being Initiatives

The increased demand on the Soldier will always cause ripple effects to roll through the family at home. Many Soldiers are being deployed once every other year, while some are deploying more frequently because of the high demand for their military occupational specialties. Soldiers are working longer hours to accomplish missions that are more demanding. Families need multiple household incomes because of the struggling economy. With all of these requirements, it is crucial that all of our current and future Soldiers are educated and aware of the programs available to them.

As new Soldiers receive their orientation briefing 3 to 10 business days following their enlistment, they receive the following three items: the “Welcome to the Army Family” handbook, a “New Spouse Orientation” DVD, and a “Soldier Visibility Kit.” These tools guide them through using the Military OneSource website—the Army’s main web-based resource for family programs and assistance.

Training at the Army Recruiting and Retention School has been modified, adding these three new publications to the recruiter’s toolkit. During the Army interview with a parent or spouse present, these tools are available to show influencers how they are fully included in the “Army Strong” family. These brochures, pamphlets, and videos are an outstanding addition to the recruiter’s Army interview and future Soldier orientation processes.

Culture of Value

The Culture of Value initiative was started by the USAREC commander, Major General Thomas P. Bostick, to bring about a paradigm shift in the Army’s recruiting culture. The goal is to create a command that Soldiers want to serve in because it values the contributions of its workforce. He identified a need to demonstrate the value of serving in the command to its Soldiers, families, and civilians. Advertising USAREC’s business to the Army is more critical than the current practice of advertising to the public. USAREC needs Soldiers to readily volunteer for recruiting duty. Getting the Army to know and support the recruiting command and see it as valuable to Soldiers’ careers is a daunting task.

USAREC contracted with a civilian firm to examine USAREC processes and recommend changes to those processes. During fiscal year 2009, the Culture of Value contractors conducted interviews and gathered research data, which allowed them to customize training for the recruiting command.

At an executive summit, hosted by the USAREC commanding general and attended by all leaders and primary staff members, the senior leaders reviewed the research results and identified the key elements of the recruiting culture that required change. These elements were used to structure and design a training program. USAREC began to use “activating change” techniques, allowing it to become a more change-capable organization. It can adapt to its own culture-change needs. This training created a true organizational efficacy review.

Trainers were certified by AchieveGlobal and Koniag Services, Inc., under the Culture of Value contract in April 2009. A team of 18 USAREC master trainers delivered the initial training to key personnel at the Master Trainer Academy. This training followed a blended learning “train-the-trainer” methodology and was rolled out to the command in May and June 2009. USAREC had 93 master trainers who trained personnel using 5 phases:

  • Phase 1. Brigade commanders, command sergeant majors, and staff.
  • Phase 2. Battalion commanders, command sergeant majors, and staff.
  • Phase 3. Company commanders and first sergeants.
  • Phase 4. Station commanders.
  • Phase 5. Recruiters.

The training consisted of four blended training elements. The first element was a short 10- to 15-minute distributed learning (dL) introduction. The second element was a 90-minute dL module for recruiters and a 180-minute dL module for all others. The third element was a 90-minute virtual classroom session that allowed for small-group instruction. The final element of training was a practical exercise covering the recruiting methods that were covered in the training. This exercise required students to write a paper on lessons learned while applying the activating change training. This document was submitted back to a virtual classroom as the final hurdle for course completion.

The activating change training expanded the students’ ability to become more capable of change. The training focused on transforming the command into a model for developing Army leaders. These leaders returned to Army units and claimed that their performance and contributions were valued, supported, and recognized within USAREC.

Recruiting Technology

USAREC has expanded its use of new technologies in an effort to reduce temporary duty costs, recruiter time, and training expenses. USAREC expanded its technical capabilities by adopting the following programs:

Army Learning Management System (ALMS). The command used an interim learning management system (ILMS) for approximately 6 years. This system was developed during current budget and within-year program objective memorandum (POM) cycles. The Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) mandated that all ILMSs will be turned off or resourced internally starting in fiscal year 2009. USAREC immediately jumped on board with the TRADOC IBM pilot for migration to ALMS. All dL was turned over for migration to the TRADOC system. This will result in a cost savings for USAREC in the upcoming years.

Recruiter ProNet. USAREC has combined efforts with the Battle Command Knowledge System and created the Recruiter ProNet, which allows recruiters to work collaboratively in real time. Recruiters in the field struggling with an issue can immediately post a question and get answers to some of their most troubling training concerns.

Graphical Accessions Mapping Analysis Tool (GAMAT). This new technology was introduced in 2006. GAMAT is an interactive spatial intelligence application that allows recruiters to track the progress of recruits from first contact to basic training. A prospecting plan with market segmentation data and a market analysis can be extracted to show station and recruiter areas with increased potential.

Leader/Recruiter Zone and Report Management Zone. These are the primary areas for recruiters and station commanders to access the systems they use on a daily basis. All reporting and data tracking is done automatically for analysis and trend identification.

Calendar Zone and Knowledge Zone. These two areas reflect where plans are maintained and knowledge is shared. Calendar Zone is the automated tool used by all recruiters to manage daily, monthly, and yearly activities. Knowledge Zone is a tool used to gain answers to frequently asked questions.

Future Soldier Remote Reservation System. This system allows a recruiter to pull a job from REQUEST live in the applicant’s living room. This tool has been one of the best developments for recruiters to date. No longer do parents have to go to a military entrance processing station with their children to ensure they get what they are promised. All contractual guarantees can be made in the living room of a recruit’s home.

USAREC, with support from the Army Recruiting and Retention School, has performed yeoman work in changing its culture. The change in recruiting doctrine and the Army’s heritage of growing not only leaders who lead and mentor current Soldiers but also leaders who lead and mentor those we hope to make a part of the Army’s future is the legacy we choose to leave behind. USAREC’s leaders are very proud of all the efforts and energy spent by Soldiers, civilians, family members, and contractors to achieve these many change initiatives. We take this moment in time and in this publication to say thank you for the untiring commitment and show appreciation for your service, sacrifice, leadership, and professionalism.

Donald D. Copley is the Director of Training and Proponency for the Army Recruiting and Retention School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He holds a B.A. degree in marketing and master’s degrees from Webster University in human resource management and human resource development. He is working on a Ph.D. degree in applied management and decision sciences with a specialization in leadership and organizational change.

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