Cover: Making the Grade

Making the Grade

Integration of Joint Professional Military Education and Talent Management in Developing Joint Officers

Published May 26, 2021

by Paul W. Mayberry, Charles A. Goldman, Kimberly Jackson, Eric Hastings, Hannah Acheson-Field, Anthony Lawrence


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Leadership development in the military is a multifaceted process that takes place over an officer's entire career. At its most basic level, this development occurs through professional experiences and a progressive series of professional military education, of which joint professional military education (JPME) is a subset.

In May 2020, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) issued a vision statement with guidance and objectives for leadership development in the armed services. This vision calls for an outcomes-based approach that emphasizes ingenuity, intellectual application, and military professionalism. The new approach focuses on what students must accomplish rather than traditional metrics, such as curriculum content or the amount of time spent learning specific material. The JCS also emphasized the need to integrate officer talent management (TM) and JPME because these functions are so closely connected.

To support the implementation of this vision, the authors reviewed foundational, policy, and implementation documents; conducted semistructured interviews with senior representatives of relevant joint and service offices; and analyzed officer personnel data. They used these methods to (1) describe joint educational institutions' transitions to an outcomes-based approach, (2) examine performance expectations and the qualities needed in effective joint officers, (3) explore how joint performance is measured, and (4) see how challenges in TM systems and processes affect the implementation of JPME, Phase II. They also provide recommendations for how joint stakeholders and the military services can best integrate the TM and JPME processes to support the outcomes-based approach.

Key Findings

Joint educational institutions are working to define measurable outcomes and appropriate linkages to curricula

  • Measuring student performance using authentic assessments—that is, assessments that simulate real-world applications of desired outcomes—is critical to the successful implementation of outcomes-based military education (OBME).
  • There was wide agreement among educational institutions and joint stakeholders that the structure and content of the newly adopted Joint Learning Areas provide a promising framework to organize this communication and engagement.

Prior experience is the dominant prerequisite for Joint Duty Assignment List (JDAL) positions, and in only a few examples is joint education consistently demanded

  • Joint stakeholders struggled to convey performance expectations and did not have systematic processes to communicate such expectations.

Joint stakeholders measure individual performance during JDAL assignments using the established performance feedback processes of the individual services

  • Joint stakeholders said that they do not aggregate performance information into overall themes or lessons that can inform joint educational institutions as those institutions consider how to modify their curricula, instruction, and authentic assessments to improve future joint outcomes.

Significant challenges at the intersection of TM and JPME have the potential to constrain strategies that can help implement OBME

  • Academic performance in JPME-II (in the current system) is only weakly linked to JDAL assignments and career progression.
  • Efforts to enhance JPME-II might have limited effects if organizations and officers do not invest seriously in the enhancements that OBME can deliver.
  • Despite several comments that indicated that completing a JPME-II program was valuable prior to entering a JDAL assignment, analysis of personnel data concluded that just 40 percent of current O-5 and O-6 JDAL-assigned officers (as of January 2020) completed JPME-II prior to assignment, and another 7 percent completed it sometime during their assignment.


  • Address TM-JPME integration from a comprehensive enterprise perspective. Historically, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the services have segregated TM and JPME functions. As DoD and the services take steps to enhance TM and JPME integration, an enterprise perspective should guide decisions.
  • Delineate and clarify TM-JPME roles and responsibilities in policy. Existing policy guidance documents do not clearly establish the roles and responsibilities for stakeholders to implement OBME. DoD also needs a clear leadership development policy that articulates senior department goals, establishes roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders, and identifies oversight and enforcement mechanisms that can adjudicate areas of disagreement or competing equities.
  • Implement OBME through coordinated actions. These actions start with developing stronger relationships among joint stakeholders, the military services, and joint educational institutions to deepen engagement and communications about outcomes and direct authentic assessments. Interactions among all TM-JPME stakeholders can benefit from a common foundation and vocabulary, which the Joint Learning Areas can provide. We also recommend several actions to improve the match between officers and joint positions that will help realize the benefits of OBME: specifically, establishing requirements for JPME-II and expectations of its completion prior to assignment for a set of especially complex or strategic assignments.
  • Consider more-complex actions requiring further development. We offer several suggestions that DoD could explore along these lines, such as increasing joint stakeholder responsibility in TM decisions within their organizations and developing shorter, more-modular JPME-II offerings.

This research was sponsored by the Joint Staff J-7, Director for Joint Force Development, and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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