Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review of "Bleeding Talent": Tim Kane Addresses the Pentagon's Elephant in the Room

Tim Kane is an economist, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and veteran Air Force Intelligence officer.  He is committed to serving our nation, and has chosen this book as a way of continuing to serve by challenging the existing policies that are causing our military to bleed top talent.  The sub-title of "Bleeding Talent" lays out Kane's basic premise: "How the U.S. Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution."

His conclusions line up well with the anecdotal evidence I have seen and heard in working with transitioning military officers.  The survey, conducted by the author in 2010, questioned graduates of the West Point classes of 1989, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2001, and 2004.  A total of 250 individuals responded to the survey questions.  The most often cited reasons for leaving the military are as follows:

  • Frustration with military bureaucracy
  • Family
  • Other life goals
  • Higher potential income
  • Frequent deployments
  • Limited opportunity in the military

(Page 97)

The author offers some compelling analysis, historical perspective and case studies of very bright men and women who have chosen to leave the military before serving a full career.  He cites the results of the study conducted mentioned above.  His conclusions have been called into question by some based on the small sample size he used in drawing his conclusions.  In a doctoral dissertation being completed at Harvard Business School, U.S. Army Colonel Everett Spain reaches different conclusions about Army personnel policies.  It will be interesting to hear a dialogue between Tim Kane and Everett Spain once Colonel Spain's treatise has been published.

As a recruiter who has placed a number of distinguished former officers, I have long been interested in this issue of the retention of talent by our military.  I find myself personally torn.  On the one hand, as a recruiter, I am delighted to have access to candidates who are among the best and the brightest and who have honed their management and leadership skills while serving as military officers.  On the other hand, as a citizen of this nation, I am troubled when I see gifted soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines leaving military service due to frustrations that could have been prevented if our military's system of managing human capital were based on more of a meritocracy and less of a bureaucracy.

One of the main lessons I took away from reading this book was a deeper understanding of just how complex and interwoven are the problems in our military's personnel management systems.  I had assumed that systems change could be implemented if there simply enough will by the right military leaders.  Kane makes it clear that there would have to be new legislation enacted in parallel with policy changes within the DOD for a real revolution to take place in human capital management within our military.

Mr. Kane deserves our thanks for pushing this conversation to the forefront of public awareness.

Enjoy reading and discussing this book.


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