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Intellectual Transformation: Professionalisation of the Other Ranks

Mobile devices on grass; Image credit: Pixabay user - Goumbik (userid 3752483)

Army is transitioning to a more mechanised, mobile and protected force structure. Amid billion-dollar materiel investment, the 2016 Ryan Review,[1] a subsequent professional military education (PME) strategy [2] and its accompanying CA Directive 22/17 [3] determined that the most pressing transformation that needs to occur in Australian land power is intellectual. Since then, a range of meaningful initiatives and contributions have made PME more accessible and prevalent in the Army training landscape.

One contribution of particular note came from COL Richard Barrett and was published in The Forge [4] in June 2020. In an essay titled The Professions of Arms Needs a CPD Program, [5] COL Barrett outlined a justification and structure for a formal program of continuous professional development (CPD) for the Australian Defence Organisation (ADO). This Land Power Forum Post supports COL Barrett’s proposal, both conceptually and in detail, and aims to build upon it.  It does so in a bid to resolve a challenge faced by many leaders throughout the organisation – how to achieve professionalisation of the ADF at the other ranks (OR) level.

The justification for a CPD program was laid out clearly by COL Barrett and should only need brief summation here. He argued that, if the military’s goal was to achieve an intellectual edge, then all personnel needed to engage in PME throughout their careers. It follows that, if Army seeks to professionally develop its people through PME, then it needs a system that encourages, monitors and measures participation in the process. COL Barrett rightly pointed to the JPME curriculum as an ideal content base – advocating that access to meaningful and engaging learning material is an important CPD pillar. I would add that any practice of mandating a prescribed number of hours within the JPME curriculum every year is unlikely to have a transformative effect on intellectualism or professionalisation. Another important pillar will be learner choice, achieved through a tailored but broad CPD curriculum, encouraging exploration and intellectual curiosity rather than the completion of a rigid task-list. Two more pillars will be the modelling of intellectual behaviours by senior enlisted personnel, and the achievement of a cultural shift in the way Army views its ORs, including the level of professional responsibility it expects from them.

A simple and industry-standard CPD structure might assign a ‘points value’ to certain activity types.  For example, twenty points for completing a Cove+ module, ten points for reading a book from a reading list and so on. Such an approach could require soldiers to accrue a certain number of points to progress through different stages of their careers. For example, a soldier may have to accrue 100 points to attain Private Proficient, and another 150 points – including at least 50 points from a leadership PME list – to be eligible to attend Sub 1. As with any CPD program, regular review of the structures and their effects on the program’s goals would be key to maintaining its relevance.

Senior enlisted personnel at the corps, unit and specialisation level should be tasked to implement tailored PME options that contribute to CPD requirements. These options should naturally be relevant to soldiers’ core roles. For example, a soldier might meet the CPD requirements by completing a unit of study on Cove+, reading a book recommended by his platoon sergeant and then submitting an entry in his brigade RSM’s essay competition. A different soldier in the same platoon might instead choose to read two books from the CSM’s reading list, complete a different unit on Cove+ and produce a 40-minute presentation on the Battle of Cannae to deliver to the member’s platoon. A third soldier may be interested in a book that is not on any reading lists, but makes a case for the book’s relevance during monthly reporting and the section commander then assigns a points value to the reading.

This flexibility contributes to the much-needed choice component of professionalisation.[6] Soldiers who are in control of their PME options, able to pursue areas of interest and to satisfy curiosity, are far more likely to see themselves as professionals in a profession rather than workers simply conducting mandated training within mandated timeframes. Reading lists, research tasks and essay competitions released by senior enlisted personnel reinforce the message that the Army values knowledge and help dispel the myth that “old-school” soldiering is anti-intellectual.

Much of a CPD program’s effectiveness will depend on how soldiers are motivated to engage with it. If PME is mandatory, then is there a punishment for failing to complete it? Social scientist Alfie Kohn suggests that influencing by punishment elicits, at best, “only resentful obedience” and at worst, “defiance, defensiveness, and rage.”[7] A simple analogy is the application of traffic law. In this case, there is a punishment for exceeding the speed limit.  As a result, most drivers habitually drive - not below the speed limit - but as far above it as they feel they can reasonably “get away with” without invoking the punishment.[8] Taking a similar approach to PME can hardly be expected to achieve an intellectually curious, innovative and quick-thinking force.

So, if punishing non-compliance is not the solution, should a reward be offered to encourage participation in a structured CPD program? Kohn suggests that - not only do rewards fail to influence long-term action - extrinsic motivators actually undermine an individual’s intrinsic motivation to engage in a task.[9] This seems counter-intuitive. One would naturally assume that, given the offer of a reward for completing a task, one would be more motivated. And this is true. Rewards are highly motivating when it comes to completing quantitative tasks. For example, if the task is to read books and a reward of $10 is offered for every book read, it is likely that people engaged in the rewards program will be motivated to read more books. The quality of the books chosen, however, is likely to suffer. After all, why read T.E. Lawrence’s 748-page Seven Pillars of Wisdom when Eric Carle’s 22-page The Very Hungry Caterpillar nets the same $10 reward?[10]

This analogy speaks to why Skinnerian [11] motivation practices are effective in training dogs to perform tricks, but ineffective in motivating humans to perform better at qualitative tasks over the long term. By offering a reward for the quantity of books read, the focus shifts from an intrinsic motivation for engagement and learning to an extrinsic economic calculation of how to achieve the maximum reward for the minimum effort. There is also a more dangerous side effect of such motivation methods. Specifically, by shifting the focus from qualitative performance to gaining a reward or avoiding a punishment, in a corporate context the Skinnerian approach has been shown to motivate all manner of unethical and illegal practices.[12] For an organisation like the ADO, which counts “integrity” among its values, knowingly introducing such a system is untenable.

This being the case, the challenge remains to introduce a CPD program, with a particular focus on the junior enlisted ranks, while neither financially rewarding soldiers for engaging with the program - nor punishing them for failing to engage. The solution is not policy based. It is instead dependent on a mindset shift among those who train, manage and lead ORs. This in turn necessitates an understanding, among all who lead soldiers, of the Pygmalion effect [13] and the power it has to influence qualitative performance. Essentially, how a leader treats a soldier affects how the soldier sees himself, which affects how he acts. Breaking the Pygmalion effect’s negative cycle requires leaders to resist the urge to reflexively introduce stricter controls in response to every breach of standards or behavioural shortfall.

A CPD program applied to an OR cohort of professionals could achieve force multiplying effects on an unquantifiable scale. A CPD program implemented as an additional burden on soldiers who lack the autonomy to pursue their own professionalisation will only rob already cynical junior enlisted personnel of any remaining enthusiasm. To make CPD work (indeed to make an intellectual edge work), leaders at all levels must treat soldiers like the professionals they are.  Further, senior enlisted personnel must model the knowledge-seeking behaviours desired of their subordinates. Finally, soldiers must have a wide array of options available to engage with the CPD program and those options should be open to expansion at the discretion of the participants themselves. Penalties and inducements to engage with PME must be handled delicately, through collaborative meetings and routine reporting, and not overshadow the goal of the CPD program.  After all, that goal is to professionalise the force, not simply to achieve a certain number of ticks in a certain number of boxes. If all this can be accomplished, then a CPD program offers considerable potential as the foundation of Army’s intellectual edge.

This article is a winning entry in the 2022 AARC Short Writing Competition, 'Transforming Land Power'.

[1] Ryan, M. BRIG (2016) The Ryan Review: A Study of Army’s Education, Training and Doctrine Needs for the Future, Australian Army,  available at:

[2] McDermott, T. LTCOL (2017) Evolving an Intellectual Edge: Professional Military Education for the Australian Army, Australian Army, available at:

[3] CA Directive 22/17, available at: drnet/Army/CA/Documents_Site/Pages/CA%20Directives.aspx (DPN only)

[5] Barrett, R. COL (2020) The Professions of Arms Needs a CPD Program, Australian Defence Force, published 23 Jun 20, available at:

[6] Kohn, A. (1993) Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes, Houghton Mifflin Company, pp. 221-23

[7] Ibid. pp. 135-36

[8] Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, Community Attitudes to Road Safety – 2017 Survey Report, Australian Government, S. 6.2 Acceptable Speed Tolerances, pp. 42-45, available at:

[9] Kohn, A. (1993) Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes, Houghton Mifflin Company, pp. 136-42

[10] In fairness, both books are worthy classics, the point of this reductio ad absurdum is only that Lawrence’s work serves as more appropriate PME than Carle’s.

[11] Skinnerian: According to the teachings of B.F. Skinner, the “father of behaviourism” and creator of the theory of Operant Conditioning – the use of punishments and rewards to influence behaviour.
Skinner, B.F. (1953 (original publication)) Science and Human Behavior, Simon and Schuster (original publisher). Digital edition referenced, published 2012 by Free Press.

[12] Sinek, S. (2019) The Infinite Game, Penguin Random House, Loc. 1955-1996 (Kindle edition)

[13] In Pygmalion in the Classroom, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson outline a study in which the authors identified to school teachers which of their students were expected, based on a “standardised test”, to experience a “growth spurt” in their learning and performance over the coming year. In reality, the test was a standard IQ test and the students identified were chosen at random. Nevertheless, those students identified to teachers as expected to improve in the coming year did perform better than their non-identified peers in a subsequent IQ test. Rosenthal and Jacobson suggested that the teacher’s change in expectation and consequent change in the teacher’s treatment of the identified students led to a change in the students’ expectations of themselves, which improved their performance. They further hypothesised that the opposite would also be possible (to lower a student’s performance by lowering his teacher’s expectations), but unethical to test in a live study.
– Rosenthal, R. & Jacobson, L. (1968) Pygmalion in the Classroom: Teacher Expectation and Pupil’s Intellectual Development, Holt, Rinehart & Winston 
The term “Pygmalion” is a reference to a character in Roman poet Ovid’s epic Metamorphoses. Pygmalion created a sculpture of a “perfect” woman with which he fell in love and began to treat as if it were a real person, so much so that the sculpture came to life.
– Ovid (8 CE (original)) Metamorphoses, Book X, Fable VII, English version referenced, translated by Henry T. Riley, reprinted 2010 by Digireads

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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