At each new command and even with each round of Navy Fitness Report (FITREP) briefings at the same command, I find myself saying, “This practice (something I devised or learned from others) is not in the BUPERS instruction, but it should be,” in response to some skeptical or bewildered looks when either reviewing what has been written with an officer or explaining to those doing the writing what I want. I recently offered to provide these practices in written form to one of my protégés so I decided to place it here as well. The key points for writing good FITREPs are: never allow an individual to write his/her own FITREP (I have provided practical steps to help readers avoid this pernicious practice), composition and grading is easier if you have a process (mine seems to work well so you should start there), there are practical steps for managing the Reporting Senior’s average (not all of them in the instruction), and the biggest impact in a narrative comes from showing the quality of an officer’s contribution and impact to mission at the command (easier done than written if you have a good process).
I have included a link to a more detailed version of these ideas that includes before/after bullets from actual FITREPs, this blog post just provides a summary.
No One Should Write Their Own FITREP
It should be obvious that having an officer summarize their own accomplishments so that you or someone else can appraise their fitness for promotion is a pernicious practice and I am amazed that it continues to persist. This might sound like sermonizing, but your job as a leader is to closely observe those whose performance you evaluate, providing them regular and frequent coaching and feedback to develop professionally. When you do this and keep moderately good records, having the data at your fingertips to write their FITREP or award is straightforward. You should counsel officers on their performance more often than once per year anyway. On their www.managertools.com website, Mark Horstman and Michael Auzenne explain a teachable equivalent for this called One on Ones (look in the “basics” area). I do something similar and recommend you adopt this practice.
- Decide in advance (or require your subordinates to provide their recommendation) what the Reporting Senior (RS) average will be for group FITREPs and what the ranking will be. Base trait averages on this analysis.
- Conduct individual interviews to determine what bullets will be and any additional details you need from officers to compose those bullets.
- Write FITREPs
- Assign grades based on target for Reporting Senior’s Average
Making the hard call for those that should not be promoted is just as important as “taking care of” those officers that should be promoted. A key success factor so that your important assessment is not overturned by others is building the documentation to substantiate the substandard performance that would be the basis for deciding an officer should not be promoted. This means that you must assemble a portfolio of many (not one) counseling sheets, at least one letter of instruction, and possibly other correspondence that makes the pattern of performance clear to anyone who might be interested in the fairness of your decision.
Managing Reporting Senior Cumulative Average (RSA)
Keep your Must Promote (MP) average low, about 3.83. Make sure your group FITREPs conform to this average (or below, since one of one detaching FITREPs tend to make your average rise), especially if you regularly grade departing officers higher than their last ranked FITREP as part of a summary group.
Start newly reporting officers and officers promoted at your command low (below RSA), especially if they received pre-promotion FITREPs from you (keeps average low, gives them room to grow). This is going to surprise most so you have to be ready to explain at FITREP counseling time, but is understood by the board. Any officer retiring or resigning should get grades no higher than 3.0 to manage your average. This may appear harsh, but it is necessary to keep the RSA from rising.
(Updated 11 Jan 11) I generally did not provide a 1 of 1 EP FITREP for departing officers when their departure was less than 90 days (per the OPNAV guidance) because it makes your reporting senior average climb inexorably upward (providing these 1 of 1 "kisses" is much more prevalent in the URL communities I am told). When I was within my last year or so of command, I probably could have relaxed this preference to give the nod to superior officers or those that would not break out in ranked FITREPs because the need to manage my average diminishes the closer you get to leaving command/retirement.
Writing effective narratives (Block 41)
Good specifics for the contribution and impact is the key to good bullets. You may need to write a longer version of Blk 41 data and then shorten to fit. An officer’s fitness report is a ‘post-it’ to the briefer” since the entire board will not see the verbiage. Most poor bullet text wastes too many characters on job description and does not make sufficient reference to impact. The biggest impact in a narrative comes from showing the quality of an officer’s contribution and impact to mission at the command (a near direct quote from a former PERS-42). Include soft break outs/rankings (especially of 1 of 1 officers), including detaching officers. This is an important signal to the board so make sure to include it.
Include recommendations for follow on jobs/promotions at end of narrative when there is enough space. Make it clear they are ready for the next job (not just “jobs of greater responsibility (which is “boiler plate”) or are already performing at level of the next rank (describe what makes them ready for the next rank). In case it is not obvious, your thoughts about the officer’s readiness for the next rank or job should be the focus of your periodic counseling/mentoring sessions. Making comments about this in the FITREP without ever having discussed it in person with the subject officer is not a good development strategy.
(Updated 11 Jan 11) From the administrative selection boards I have done, I have learned that the opening and closing sentences (no more than two lines each, preferably only one for the opening that contains the soft breakout) of BLK 41 were important to communicating you're the reporting senior's bumper sticker view of the officer's promotability to the reviewer/briefer. On promotion boards, there is not much time to review text in the middle. Even so, the text "in the middle" of block 41 can also be important when an officer ends up in the crunch or for boards with few eligibles (like EDN continuation and RO selection). That text needs to focus on both the officer's contribution (what she actually did) as well as how it contributed to mission accomplishment (why it made a difference).
Writing good FITREPs/EVALs is hard and important work, but it is easier if you have a good process. You need to be meeting regularly with your direct reports and providing them counseling and coaching to improve their professional development. When you do this and keep good records, having the data at your fingertips to write their FITREP or award is straightforward. Writing fitness reports is one of the most important responsibilities of those in command. The Navy expects us to know the rules and to be uncompromising in doing the right thing.
Engineering Duty Officer School CO PowerPoint slides, 10/22/00, Capt John Exell, based on 27 Jul 00 ED Captain’s Seminar (I only had a printed copy)
Fitness Reports and Selection Boards PowerPoint slides I created as Reactor Officer on Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) that are posted on www.navyfitrep.com.. To navigate your way to the file, go to the website, look under the “Downloads and Resources” heading on the left of the page, select “FITREP Writing PowerPoints,” and it is the last file in the list.