On Writing Evals

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. E-5 Evals are due to the XO by the end of the week. The newest Division Officer, Ensign Speedbump, is being hounded by his Department Head for inputs. He has received a stack of completed Evals from the Chief (or NAVFIT98 data, as it were), and essentially no guidance as to what he is supposed to do with it before routing it up: “Check for errors and stuff.” He scans over the comments section for grammar, and defaults to the time-honored JO tradition of comparing the unfamiliar forms to one another to look for aberrations in the pattern. Satisfied that the documents “look good,” he endorses the routing sheet and gets back to his real job, adjusting font sizes in PowerPoint.

If this is you, you are adding zero value to the process. Lacking the experience to know any better, it’s not really your fault; your chain is failing you by not requiring that you do this correctly. It’s OK, because you have determination and will not be marginalized. You’re going to fix this process, with or without their help.

030203-N-4048T-153The first thing you have to do is accept that preparing evals will take time. Set aside a block of time in which you’re unlikely to be distracted—if you’re in port, pick a night to stay late and work on it. What you’re doing here directly affects the careers of your guys, and a mistake on your part can cost them a promotion. This is not the kind of thing you half-ass.

The next thing you have to do is break out the reference—BUPERSINST 1610.10. You should never write evals without the instruction handy. You wouldn’t draft a message without the governing document, nor would you write a procedure without the appropriate tech manuals. If the Division Officer won’t guarantee compliance with the governing references, then who will?

As always, verify you’re using the most recent version of the document. Enclosure (2) is the Performance Evaluation Manual—most of what you’ll need is in Chapter 1, which is about 36 pages and worth reading in its entirety. The rest of this post concerns material in that document. This is meant to highlight some key points, not substitute for the reference. You still have to read it– don’t operate from gouge when you’re messing with people’s careers.

Understanding Enlisted Promotion

BUPERS decides who promotes and who doesn’t based on a Navy-wide assessment of the need for bodies within a given rank and technical specialty. Each sailor has a “multiple,” which is a numerical value comprised mainly of their scores on advancement exams and their Performance Mark Average (PMA), which comes from their evals. The multiple is affected by other things like time-in-rate and awards, but the PMA and exam scores are by far its largest components.

When all the scores are in, for each rate BUPERS chooses a multiple value above which everyone will advance, selected  to produce the desired number of sailors in that given rank and rate Navy-wide. Anyone with a multiple below the bar will not advance in rank that cycle (this is actually a simplification—promotion from E1 to E3 is automatic, and promotion above E6 involves a selection board).

Performance Mark Average

The PMA is generally around 50% of the final multiple, becoming more important at each rank. PMA is an average of all the sailor’s promotion recommendations for the cycle. The reporting senior directly affects PMA through Block 45 of the eval. Your options are Early Promote (EP), Must Promote (MP), Promotable (P), Progressing, or Significant Problems for most situations (see Chapter 6 for use of “Not Observed” (NOB)). You will almost always use P, MP, or EP—if you think you should use Progressing or Significant Problems, read page 1-19 very carefully first.

The reporting senior is limited in the number of MPs and EPs they can assign within a given Summary Group (see page 1-21). The Summary Group is all members of the same paygrade (regardless of rating) who are on the same promotion cycle (see paragraph 12 of Enclosure (1)). Deciding who gets the MPs and EPs is generally handled by ranking the sailors within a summary group from best to worst and assigning the rare recommendations to the top guys. Because the summary group will normally involve several rates, ranking will probably happen above the divisional level. Consequently, you as the division officer may not be in the position to decide what goes in block 45. Just remember that it is the most important part of the eval, and fight for your best guys to get MPs and EPs.

Individual Performance Traits and Comments

While less directly significant than the PMA for grades E3-E5, these fields are still important to the sailor and shouldn’t be blown off. They can communicate the command’s perception of the sailor’s relative strengths and weaknesses, and they can also be instrumental to the sailor’s acceptance into special jobs or commissioning programs. These can even be helpful in civilian job applications.

For E6 and above the traits and comments become very important, as they are your principal form of communication to the selection board that is now in play. I won’t go into the best way to write effective comments, because there are fantastic resources already available for this. Personally, I recommend breaking down and buying this book, because the convenience of having it ready in your locker when you need it is well worth the $20 bucks. Even if you’re naturally a great writer, it can save you a lot of time when you’re looking for just the right phraseology for “fixes turbines good.”

While evals necessarily act as a form of communication to the sailor, that is not really what they are for. You can communicate with the sailor every day, but this is your only opportunity to speak to selection boards, and you have to tailor that message to the desired outcome. If you want your E6 to be competitive for Chief, you better not put constructive criticism in the comments section. If your guy is a turd, on the other hand, Block 43 shouldn’t be the first time he sees it in writing. If one of your guys is surprised by the contents of his eval, then you have failed to get through to him though counseling and day-to-day feedback.That said, don’t ever promise or even imply a specific promotion recommendation, because you might have to take it back.

You and the Chief

How this is handled can vary between the communities, but in most cases you won’t start from scratch—instead, your Chief will provide completed evals for “review.” It may be the case that you agree with the Chief’s conclusions and don’t need to change anything. Or, you may disagree. Especially in the event that you have control of rankings and promotion recommendations, deviating from the Chief’s “recommendation” can cause conflict, especially if you are very junior to the command. I don’t want to get into who’s a better judge of character—that’s a treatise for another day. What I will say here is that if you do choose to deviate from the Chief’s recommendation, do not be underhanded about it—tell the Chief what you’re doing and why, and listen to their side of the story. If you’re not ready to have this discussion, you’re not really ready to be the Division Officer.

Other Resources

The purpose of this post is not to tell you how to write an eval, but to implore you to give it your best effort. To that end, there are tons of resources available online and in print. NG36B has a great post on this that I borrowed from in writing this, which also addresses awards and officer FITREPS. If you can get over the ads, Navyfitrep.com is a fairly comprehensive resource, and it features a decent troubleshooting guide for NAVFIT98. As I mentioned before, Navywriter.com and their attendant book are great resources. USNI’s excellent Guide to Naval Writing has a useful section on eval and FITREP comments. More important than any of this is the instruction from BUPERS. If there is only one thing I can get across in this post, its that in the Navy, when you undertake a task of any significance whatsoever you read the bloody instructions first.


One thought on “On Writing Evals

  1. Well said! Another good resource is your Education Services Officer, who normally handles signing worksheets for taking E4-E6 exams. Be sure your Sailors worksheets are correct, otherwise the PMA points won’t reflect properly. All too often an EVAL or award is missing from a record, and the Sailor can miss advancement by a point. Don’t let that happen to you!

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