There are some problems with our PERs, but IMHO it is not with the system. The CFPAS system, if applied properly and completely with properly run sub-unit and unit rating boards, is a very good one. The rating boards, as well the practice of having several levels of review, should ensure accuracy and fairness. As a system, it is much, much fairer than anything we had before, and IMHO than anything that I have ever heard of on civvy street where promotion seems to be either quite arbitrary or based on seniority. The real problem IMHO is with the people who lack the courage to rate people where they really should be. I have seen several PER systems over the years, and each one eventually suffers from the same problem: the desire to get our people promoted, coupled with our inability to tell mediocre or marginal performers that that is what they really are.
Let's face it: the majority of people are average: no more. Average to me means you perform the duties expected of you in a competent manner, meet the standards set, do not screw up such as to harm the mission or the team, and are good to have around. Therefore, most people should be rated right around the middle. As well, we have a small but significant number of people whose performance is mediocre to marginal. They show little or no initiative, do not peform all of their duties adequately, do not meet the standards, and require more supervision than normal. They are not necessarily good team members. These people should be rated below average, over towards the left side. Probably, they should be put on the RW/C&P/release track if no improvement is seen.
Unfortunately, in my experience, what happens is that within a year of issuing a new PER system, we have begun to debase it by dragging everybody over to the right side of the scale, regardless of what they have actually done or failed to do. "Average" becomes the baseline rating that we give out, no matter how inadequate a person's performance. People who should be rated as "average" or perhaps slightly above, begin to drift to the right. Once that rightward drift starts, it is hard to stop or reverse because that is seen as "harming" the individual, regardless of whether or not the person actually deserves the scores. Aggravating this is a belief (strongest, I am sorry to say, amongst some older WOs...) that a younger person in a rank level "should not" get rated above those with more seniority in rank. This IMHO is unionism plain and simple, and just as in the civvy unionized work world is the weapon of the lazy and complacent against the hardworking and dedicated.
The Army, especially the Cbt Arms, is frequently criticized as being "too harsh" in PER ratings. (IMHO that is rubbish-we are often just as guilty as anybody else...). I have had several complaints against PERs I have written because the recipient felt that the scores were too low. Having defended my rating intent at unit rating boards before putting pen to paper, I believed I was rating them honestly. In the end I had to retract and rewrite on all of them.
I recall a story concerning the German Army. At one point in its history, officer evaluations went from being closed documents (the individual never saw them) to being open, as we know them today. The point of the story was that once the individuals could see what was being written about them (and thus complain or create a confontation....) the quality and accuracy of rating deteriorated. Now, while I immediately recognize the ethical implications of "secret PERs", this story brings me to the other problem we face (and I have faced it too, believe me...). IMHO we are notoriously bad at telling weak and incompetent people that they are weak and incompetent, and what to do to fix it, or what will happen if they don't. Typically we do nothing, or "damn with faint praise" (see above). As a parallel, if you were coaching a sports team and told one of your players that they needed to improve their passing or catching, they would probably accept it. Far too often I find that we in the military seem to get quite upset when we are told we have a weakness-people seem to take it as a threat or veiled insult, rather than guidance to improve. When people do not improve, too often we do nothing but ***** behind the individual' back instead of taking corrective action.
This score inflation is insidious and actually pointless: if everybody is "superior", nobody is "superior".