Proper Paperwork is Most Important

By | August 22, 2020

[August 22, 2020]  The importance of proper paperwork cannot be overlooked.  Many years ago, as a staff officer, I wondered why the promotion rates for Administrative Army officers exceeded the rate of Infantry officers.  Infantry was the place of leaders, more likely to experience combat and to demonstrate one’s bonafides in the U.S. Army.  Why then did Admin officers have higher promotion rates?

The problem was worse than it initially appeared to me.  I discovered with a little research that an Administrative officer was nearly three times more likely to get promoted from Captain to Major than an Infantry officer.  Of course, this made no sense to me or to anyone I spoke to about it.  Had I discovered an unknown military secret?  Or was there something else at work.

In review the files of about 50 cases where Infantry officers were not promoted, here is what I discovered.  First, in half of the cases, the Infantry officers had not submitted the required packet requesting promotion; no packet meant no chance of promotion.  Second, in the remaining half, the Infantry officers’ packets were incomplete, filled out in pen or pencil (typed was required), had no regulation photograph, or were late.

Our fellow Infantrymen were not following basic Army policy on requesting promotion.  I took my findings to my commander, who said that I should help “get the word out.”  We did an Infantry-wide information campaign that encouraged these officers to properly submit the necessary paperwork to improve their chances of promotion.

After the first year where this was implemented, Infantry officer promotion rates nearly doubled, but still below other non-combat jobs.  After two years, they were even, and later our Infantry officers had advanced beyond their non-combat officer promotion rates.

Nobody will ever know how many officers fail to advance to the next grade that deserved it.  Consider these comments:

  • Paperwork is indispensable in our modern Army (or in any organization). Submitting the right paperwork at the right time and filled out correctly is vital for the individual soldier and the Army.
  • Paperwork is a wonderful way to show the service record of the soldier, but it takes keeping it up with accurate and timely information.
  • Paperwork is not infallible. Some officers have paperwork that makes them appear a lousy choice for promotion.  This is why an officer must be diligent in keeping up their personnel files and update them from time to time.
  • Decisions made based on paperwork are not infallible, but there is no substitute for a piece of paper in the record.
  • Finally, when completing paperwork, remember that while it’s only a lifeless piece of paper, the actions stemming from it concerns living people.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

15 thoughts on “Proper Paperwork is Most Important

  1. Doug Smith

    True, paperwork is important but YES we must remember that it represents real PEOPLE and thus never forget what the priority is and will always be … people first.

  2. Eric Coda

    Right, Gen. Satterfield, paperwork is also representative of a person. It is incumbent upon all leaders to make sure it is correct. Quickly establish the idea in your organization that sloppiness in paperwork (and in speech for that matter) is important to you. Enforce it. This will pay dividends later.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      True, Eric and you just beat me to this message. Junior leaders, pay attention to today’s article and the forum. Important points are being made here.

  3. Dennis Mathes

    Very good. I enjoyed your analysis of how paperwork functioned better for administrative officers (who make their living with paperwork) versus combat officers (who make their living as leaders). Shows us that care should be taken with paperwork and not ignored.

  4. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    “Paperwork is not infallible.” Let’s all keep this in mind. There will be mistakes. Be vigilant, accurate, and read what you sign carefully.

    1. Jerome Smith

      Yes, ‘read what you sign.’ Too many leaders fail to do this. I had a boss who would sign just about anything. Once, I had him sign a memo that gave me a year off with pay (just to teach him a lesson). He was only mad at me for a bit and finally got the message. Read what you authorize by your signature. Paperwork is never perfect.

  5. Army Captain

    Wow, interesting that you would have a story about how Infantry officers were promoted LESS than Admin officers. This is the opposite of what should happen. It is clear that the Admin (HR types) had done their homework and filled out their paperwork properly, submitted it on time, and oversaw their promotion packets that got to the right place. Infantry officers are more interested in properly training their soldiers than pushing a bunch of papers around a desk. Shows how their priorities differ but also how it can hurt you if you don’t pay attention to the paperwork.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Yes, quite right Army Captain. Life is a balance and regardless of what we personally think, there are requirements that get us from point A to point B in a more efficient and effective manner. If we want to get their easier and faster, then follow the rules.

    2. Maureen S. Sullivan

      True, so let’s just go by the rules unless we can find a legit way around them.

  6. Tom Bushmaster

    Interesting that Gen. Satterfield would put up the idea of the importance of paperwork (read that as bureaucracy).

    1. Harry Donner

      Tom, I disagree with you. Gen. Satterfield is simply acknowledging that paperwork is a necessary part of any organization that must survive. He tells the story of how it can also go awry. It is up to leaders to fix it when any form of corruption creeps into the process. Just my opinion, Tom. Thanks for reading my comment.

    2. JT Patterson

      Not so sure you got the issue down. It’s not “bureaucracy” that is the issue but the paperwork that goes with it. I think you might be confusing the two.

      1. Georgie B.

        Right JT. This article simply shows us some of the value of paperwork and how it can be a good and that it sometimes can get off track and harm us if we are not careful.

    3. Yusaf from Texas

      Others, IMHO, have made a good point but I would like to add that you also have a good idea here Tom with some value. Thanks!

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