What role doe the Senior Appointed CPO1/CWO have in leveraging flexibility, creativity and innovation to effectively increase retention in the CAF?

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Par pm 1 Wist
Programme de nominations supérieures (PNS)
5 septembre, 2022


It is difficult to argue that the most important requirement for any Armed Forces is quite simply the people. They are the greatest asset to any organization and keeping them within the CAF requires ongoing maintenance to ensure they are healthy and truly appreciated for their contributions and sacrifices. Recruiting and Retention are significant problems senior leadership in the CAF is facing. The focus of this research paper will concentrate on addressing retention issues with a small reference to recruiting challenges. Arguments will be presented showing restrictions in current CAF policy that hinder retention of talented personnel as well as options to improve business.

The strategic initiative discussed is extracted from the Canadian defence policy, Strong, Secure and Engaged “develop and implement a comprehensive Armed Forces retention strategy to keep our talented people in uniform with a welcoming and healthy work environment”. This paper will not focus on retention of CPO1/CWO or General Officer / Flag Officer nearing retirement after 33-35 years of service, rather members releasing after shorter periods of service in the CAF, either due to dissatisfaction or due to medical reasons. CAF senior leadership need to concentrate on this part of the demographic and ask the question “why are they leaving, and how do we encourage them to stay?” The goal of this research paper will be to answer the question: “what role does the Senior Appointed (SA) CPO1/CWO have in leveraging flexibility, creativity and innovation to effectively increase retention in the CAF?”

In order to answer this question, the analysis will be conducted and presented in the following sections:

  1. Section 1 – Institutional Initiative and the barriers in CAF policies such as Preferred Manning Levels (PML), Periods of Retention (POR) and Universality of Service (UofS). Each policy, when analyzed separately, impacts the CAF in various ways, from restricting who can be employed, to how we employ them within the CAF. How does each of these policy documents hinder or support retention in the CAF and how can the KP/SA CPO1/CWO influence change to ease the impact to the CAF?
  2. Section 2 – CAF Effectiveness Framework dimensions to be considered include anticipating future threats and challenges, supporting innovation, developing external networks and collaborative strategic relationships. How does the experience of a KP/SA CPO1/CWO effect these dimensions of the effectiveness framework?
  3. Section 3 – Using the Institutional Initiative and Effectiveness Framework, how can the knowledge and experience of the KP/SA CPO1/CWO be leveraged to generate and influence innovative retention strategies?


The current retention strategies in place to support the requirements of the CAF are insufficient as indicated by the current HR crisis faced across all elements and at all levels of command. A deeper look at the Defence Policy initiatives, with a comparison of the effectiveness dimensions in the roles and responsibilities of CF Leaders and a detailed look at the roles of our KP/SA CPO1/CWO corps is required to determine how to improve our business.


Canada’s defence policy, Strong Secure and Engaged, introduced 111 initiatives under 23 areas of interest, designed to support CAF personnel and their families. With a twenty-year outlook, improvements to resources, increases to the size of the Canadian Armed Forces and how we take care of the personnel from recruitment to retirement and beyond, it is the most ambitious policy many serving members may have seen throughout their careers. The initiative under review in this research paper is found under the category of Recruitment, Training and Retention. These were put in place to ensure the effective recruitment, training and retention of the future work force. Initiative 5 states “Develop and implement a comprehensive Canadian Armed Forces Retention Strategy to keep our talented people in uniform with a welcoming and healthy work environment.”

While both recruiting and retention issues have led to a reduction in the total effective strength of the CAF, this research paper will concentrate on the retention issues primarily, with a small reflection on how recruiting issues also impact retention. Issues regarding retention exist at various levels and ranks, further compounding any recommendations available to address the issues as each would require in depth analysis. With the current HR crisis the CAF is experiencing as noted in several Town Hall sessions, retention continues to have an adverse effect to the overall health and capabilities of the CAF. We need to take a closer look into why members are leaving the CAF and offer methods of keeping them as serving members. While some policies support retention (Periods of Retention), others hinder our ability to retain members (Preferred Manning Levels and Universality of Service). These pose significant challenges as many of our decisions are based on applicable policy documents rather than discussing each case in depth based on their own merits. The challenge is implementing flexibility within the policies to allow for a case-by-case review of each member, allowing chains of commands to offer innovative options to keep members serving. This lack of flexibility forces members out of the CAF, again compounding our overall trained effective strength.

Multiple research papers have been drafted approaching recruitment and retention issues from various strategies, including addressing recruitment for Millennials by Major Waraich, Recruiting Culture by Major Vivian El-Beltagy, Comprehensive Retention Strategy for the CAF by Major Jeremy Cote, as well as the new CANSOFCOM Recruitment and Retention Model: The Targeted Approach by Selena Aral. All of these papers review retention from various lenses, based on specific criteria, however they do not include reference to the effectiveness framework and any relation to the role of the KP/SA CPO1/CWO.

This research paper will primarily discuss the policies and regulations involved that either effect or assist with retention. Preferred Manning Levels (PML), Period of Retention (POR) and Universality of Service (UofS). What are they and how do they effect or assist our retention strategy? A closer look and discussion of each is required to understand if they work with or against our retention strategy:

  1. PML is essentially guidelines on overall number of personnel within each occupation at each rank. In a perfect situation (or healthy occupation), when a senior member releases, it opens up the ability to promote members into the newly created vacant positions. This continues through the ranks till all vacant positions are filled, with recruiting efforts filling the final positions at the entry level.
  2. POR is a great tool towards retention of our members and often not utilize effectively. When members are being released, they are often provided an option of a short period of retention in the CAF while they prepare to transition out of uniform. These PORs, when offered, require a position number within the members’ occupation to be available at the member’s rank to accommodate for a POR being offered. When you link this in with PML, promotions can’t take place while a member is assigned a position for a POR. In a healthy occupation, this holds up promotions for deserving members, while we try to retain the talent and experience of our releasing member. There is no flexibility in this to allow for cross occupation positions being used, so in some particular cases, shorter PORs are offered to members who desire to continue to serve, but have medical limitations that restrict them from deploying or continuing to serve in our CAF.
  3. UofS is on the forefront of many medical releases. It ties in quickly to PORs and PMLs in that when members no longer meet UofS, they are often granted a medical release with possible PORs being offered. At this point, it is determined that these members are no longer “deployable” but one could argue that they remain fully employable, just with a few medical considerations to navigate. The policy itself is derived from the National Defence Act and Canadian Human Rights Act. As written, the policy lacks any adaptability as CAF members must at all times and under any circumstances perform any function that they may be required to perform. With the current HR crisis faced by the CAF, would it be possible to allow a little flexibility in this policy as long as members are still providing value and leadership to the institution? The impact caused by the PML is only found in healthy occupations, where sufficient personnel at each rank level are serving. Career Managers are not permitted to promote above PML, other than during transition of personnel during the Active Posting Season. This leads to shorter POR being offered to our talented personnel.

Before moving on, what are some of the Five Eye partner nations doing as they face similar issues with retention strategies?

  1. Royal Australian Navy: Retention Incentive Payment article. Australia is taking a different approach to retention, using a financial incentive to keep specific rank levels as they near their obligatory period of service. Is this a way ahead that the CAF should be considering in its retention strategy? Does Treasury Board policy allow for this option?
  2. New Zealand Defence Force Strategic Plan 2019-2025. The New Zealand Defence Forces are strategizing on improvements to talent and career management in an effort to increase retention in their armed forces. Many of the efforts listed in their strategic plan are very similar to those within the Canadian Armed Forces plans found in Strong, Secure and Engaged. The focus of the NZDF is primarily on their people, straight from the time they are recruited through how they are managed to support anticipated operations. As stated in the NZDF policy “the NZDF must continue to attract large cohorts of physically fit young people into the Services and then prepare them to operate advanced capabilities in complex, high-risk environments, including combat”. This can be compared to Canada’s concept “Mission First, People Always”.

It is interesting to see the different approaches being used by these partner nations with one concentrating on a financial incentive while the other looks towards improving talent and career management directly from enrollment with an outlook to operations. Which one might be better suited for the CAF? One could argue a little of both, used creatively, might be a good start.

DAOD 5002-0, Military Personnel Requirements and Production, highlights several specific requirements for the CAF, two of which are:

  1. Implement flexible military personnel doctrine, programs and plans that:
    1. comply with government human resource legislation and policies;
    2. ensure the most effective recruiting and selection, personnel generation, employment and sustainment of CAF members; and
    3. take into account the potential effects on CAF members and their families.
  2. Develop and maintain flexible, equitable and affordable compensation and benefit programs to attract applicants and retain CAF members.

Examining this DAOD with the context listed above, this should imply flexibility in utilizing the Royal Australian Navy’s concept of offering incentives to specific rank groups, or those nearing end of Terms of Service in order to generate interest in continuing to serve. Are additional pay increases the answer to retention? In some instances, an argument could be made to support this option.

During the recent CAFCWO conference, Master Sailor MacAndrew started off her brief with “We cannot make Masters, we cannot make Sergeants, we cannot make POs, so let’s keep the ones that we have”. What an impressive and powerful statement from this MS. Her discussion moved quickly to transparency in our pay analysis and a comparison of the pay for a CPO1/CWO to that of a mid-range Lt(N)/Capt. How does this link into the comparison between the Royal Australian Navy and NZDF approaches and current CAF retention strategies? It demonstrates that there is a relationship amongst all retention strategies and that perhaps creativity in using a combination of strategies may start to shape recommendations. It further highlights that listening to our Sailors, Soldiers and Aviators at the lower ranks is crucial to formulating retention plans that will eventually affect them.


After discussing PMLs, PORs, and UofS as well as concepts from two Five Eye partner nations in greater depth, how does this all tie into the CAF Effectiveness Framework and our role as KP/SA CPO1/CWO? To start, a determination of the dimension of the CAF Effectiveness Framework that is being focused on in this paper is required; External Adaptability with the major leadership function of leading the institution. As identified in the publication “Responsibilities of CF Leaders”, the dimension of external adaptability requires leaders to have a greater outlook on the bigger picture such as presumed future threats, strategic relationships, initiating and leading change, developing external networks and foster organizational learning. As leaders at the Operational and Tactical levels, the primary role is to look after the wellbeing of CAF personnel with an outlook to achieving mission success. Moving into the Strategic realm, the focus is required to shift upwards and outwards to the bigger picture that is the Institution, while still maintaining the role of looking after CAF personnel, just with a different outlook in mind.

How is external adaptability impacted by the requirement to develop and implement a comprehensive Armed Forces retention strategy? An argument can be made that the newly found focus at the institutional level would allow easier leveraging of our senior commanders to influence required changes to current and future CAF policy which in turn would greatly affect our retention strategy. Increasing flexibility within the PML and POR policies, adds capabilities to retain talented personnel in key leadership positions, greatly reducing retention issues currently faced. With one of the main future threats to the CAF being a shortage of personnel, fostering relationships with partner nations and information sharing has never been more significant or important to our senior leaders.


An understanding of the CAF Effectiveness Model and how it ties into PMLs, PORs, UofS and a couple of Five Eye partner nations has been established. Before we can firmly establish the role of the KP/SA CPO1/CWO, it is important to build a foundation of what our CPO1/CWO roles are and build up from there. At the entry level CPO1/CWO positions, focus is normally at the tactical and operational levels. The primary roles at this level are to provide advice to Commanders in all areas affecting the conditions of service of CAF personnel, particularly NCMs. Due to the years of service and experience, CPO1/CWO have influence and responsibility, they promote teamwork and professionalism within the various elements/environments/commands/and groups of the CAF. Specific attention is given to mentoring and coaching to ensure a high level of leadership, proficiency and competency exists in the CAF. As leaders and role models, physical fitness and mental fortitude are extremely important to maintain the ability to forward deploy in any conditions or area around the world.

With members progressing into KP/SA CPO1/CWO roles, what changes? The majority of the requirements of being unit level CPO1s/CWOs remain extant, with the exception of the new outlook to the strategic environment. While maintaining a constant focus and concern for the personnel in the CAF, KP/SA CPO1/CWO also need to see the bigger picture, including political impacts, policies and regulations, cross elemental concerns and institutional requirements. The advice provided to their commanders will continue to address the impact to the personnel serving in the CAF, however with the additional requirement to advise how changes in political direction will impact our members, our ability to perform ongoing operations as well as the impact of current policies in place which require regular review and updating. As a KP/SA CPO1/CWO it is important to maintain a higher level of awareness of the issues the CAF is facing and an appreciation that other nations are facing similar challenges. Recommendations based on successes or failures of other nations should be part of the dialogue to senior commanders. This will start to shape up possible creative, outward thinking solutions to some of the problems faced as an institution, including current retention challenges. The CPO1/CWO in a Senior Appointment position must also not only pay particular attention to, but act and promote the following areas:

  1. NCM individual and collective professional development and education;
  2. quality of life and conditions of service;
  3. diversity and conflict management;
  4. merit and awards;
  5. discipline;
  6. dress and deportment;
  7. morale; and
  8. drill and ceremonial, customs and traditions.

The final role to be mentioned is that of coaching and mentoring unit level CPO1s/CWO, however a continuing influence to all NCMs within the environment/command is still required.

How is the role of the KP/SA CPO1/CWO linked to external adaptability and leading the institution? Internal networking has been accomplished through extensive leadership training through the Primary Leadership Qualification (PLQ), Intermediate Leadership Program (ILP), Advanced Leadership Program (ALP), and Senior Leadership Program (SLP). Throughout years serving in the CAF, the KP/SA CPO1/CWO have often deployed or worked with partner nations closely, developing networking capabilities that align with leading the institution. All the skillsets listed in the Responsibilities of CF Leaders publication, table 4-1 under external adaptability, leading the institution, are skills developed and utilized by CPO1/CWO which enable effectiveness in supporting senior commanders. Leveraging external networks allows sound advice to be provided to commanders at all levels. When used effectively with competencies such as Adaptability, Partnering, Innovation and Organizational Awareness, coupled with the extensive years of experience, the voice of the KP/SA CPO1/CWO can be powerful when providing advice and guidance to commanders. How should a KP/SA CPO1/CWO leverage their experience, knowledge, voice, and influence with senior leaders of the CAF? Each will approach this differently and at their own comfort level. Experience has demonstrated that direct conversations produce highly effective outcomes. A recommended approach for a new KP/SA CPO1/CWO as they begin to integrate into their Command Team relationship, is to have a frank conversation with their commanders about how they wish to receive information. As the relationship develops further, pushing towards direct communications and conversations will ensure trust between command team members, brevity of information being shared and a collaborative approach to decision making.

Up to this point, separate discussions have taken place on a few subjects such as PMLs, PORs, UofS, Partner Nations, roles of a KP/SA CPO1/CWO and a variety of other policy documents. How does this all tie together to answer our main question: “what role does the Senior Appointed (SA) CPO1/CWO have to leverage flexibility, creativity and innovation to effectively increase retention in the CAF?” and our initiative from the Defence Policy, Strong Secure and Engaged “develop and implement a comprehensive Armed Forces retention strategy to keep our talented people in uniform with a welcoming and healthy work environment”.

Personnel in KP/SA CPO1/CWO roles have amazing influence through mentoring and coaching, as well as the voice they have with senior commanders. It is imperative to empower the creative and innovative junior members of the CAF and listen to what they are saying. They are on the deck plates of our ships, in the battle fields and airstrips and fully understand what is impacting those around them, pushing them out the doors. New generations offer different views on how to fix issues, senior CPO1/CWO of the CAF need to listen to them, use their voices, and speak on their behalf when in discussions with senior commanders. Any strategies produced with the intent of keeping members in uniform, need to include discussions and proposals of those that will remain in the CAF long after the current corps of KP/SA CPO1/CWO retire from the CAF. This will be their CAF and they need to have input towards how it looks for them in the future.


Retention in the CAF effects all personnel. As numbers dwindle, someone has to pick up the slack and continue to get the jobs done in support of operations and missions. With that comes the possibility of burn out amongst CAF personnel, who at the lower levels are often doing the jobs of two or three people to cover off the shortage. This further complicates the situation as these members are now faced with the question “do I continue, or seek other employment?” For many years there has been a saying around the military of “do more with less” simply indicating a requirement to continue to complete all the jobs directed by our government, but with less personnel. In today’s society, this is simply not acceptable and needs to be addressed. Unless the KP/SA CPO1/CWO are providing senior commanders with this information, it will result in a failure to address the needs of the CAF’s greatest asset which is the people. Earlier it was mentioned that that a brief discussion about recruitment as a strategy of improving retention would be provided. It is suggested that by simply bringing in the required numbers (IAW PML) it could address the issues faced with the burn out many CAF personnel are experiencing. The capability of bringing people into the Profession of Arms has its limitations. The training system can only handle a specific throughput of trained personnel, this means the reconstitution of the CAF will not be a quick fix, rather a long term operation.

Based on the information available and current policy documents, recommendations to develop and implement a comprehensive Armed Forces retention strategy to keep out talented people in uniform with a welcoming and healthy work environment could include the following:

  1. Allow Career Managers and Chains of Command flexibility when offering members PORs, enabling retention of their experience and leadership, while appreciating that they may not be deployable, but have a lot to offer the CAF prior to their transition to civilian life;
  2. Assess the possibility of incentives being available at specific ranks or time in, encouraging these members to remain in the CAF;
  3. Capture “lessons learned” or reasons members are leaving prior to normal or expected end of career (CRA 60 or 35 years of service). Apply lessons learned to improve employment within the CAF;
  4. Enable and encourage “out of the box” thinking and listen to CAF members that are exiting early; and
  5. Ensure discussions amongst Five Eye partner nations are taking place to determine any similarities in retention issues and assess what is being done outside the CAF to determine if these fixes could be applied to assist with CAF retention strategies.

Recruiting and Retention will continue to be challenges faced by the Canadian Armed Forces for years to come. Based on the throughput data of the recruiting and training systems, the ability to replace members as they release is insufficient. Concerted efforts to keep those already trained in the CAF should be in place to avoid further HR crises within the Armed Forces. Continuous review of current policies such as how PORs are offered to members in healthy occupations should be a top consideration for senior leadership of the CAF. Members being offered PORs remain very capable of providing the institution with much needed leadership and experience outside of their specific occupations. Even the application of short-term policy adjustments could considerably assist with improving the overall health of the CAF. As KP/SA CPO1/CWO, listening to the messages from all personnel releasing early from the CAF and informing senior leadership with sound recommendations towards adjustments with policy that could assist in keeping some of these members serving is imperative.

In closing, two powerful statements, both heard at the CAFCWO Conference in March 2022, are provided for reflection:

  1. as stated by MS MacAndrew: “We cannot make Masters, we cannot make Sergeants, we cannot make POs, so let’s keep the ones that we have”; and
  2. as stated by CPO1 Gregoire, CAFCWO: “Lets make it hard for them to leave”.


A-PD-055-002/FP-002 CPO1/CWO Corps MOS ID 00381, Occupational Specifications, Non-Commissioned Member Occupations, Chief Petty Officer 1st Class / Chief Warrant Officer Corps. Para 8. 15 June 2018.

A-PD-055-002/FP-002 CPO1/CWO Corps MOS ID 00351, Occupational Specifications, Non-Commissioned Member Occupations, Chief Petty Officer 1st Class / Chief Warrant Officer Corps, Senior Appointments List. Para 9. 15 June 2018.

A.S. Waraich, Major. CAF Policy Considerations Related to the Recruitment and Retention of Millennials. 12 May 2014.

CAFCWO Conference, MS Stephanie MacAndrew. Online via MS Teams. 31 March 2022.

Canada’s Defence Policy, Strong Secure and Engaged. Annex D. 7 June 2017.

DAOD 5002-0, Military Personnel Requirements and Production. Article 3.4. 14 April 2004.

DAOD 5023-0, Universality of Service. Article 2.4. 19 May 2006.

DAOD 5023-1, Minimum Operational Standards Related to Universality of Service. Article 2.3 and Article 2.4. 19 May 2019.

DAOD 5070-1, Military Employment Structure Framework. Article 2.5. 10 February 2015.

Jeremy Cote, Major. A Comprehensive Retention Strategy for the CAF. 2021

Leadership in the Canadian Forces, Responsibilities of CF Leaders. Chapter 4, Table 4-1. 2005

New Zealand Defence Force Strategic Plan 2019-2025. P 16. Published 2018.

Royal Australian Navy: Retention Incentive Payment, Matter 2 of 2019. Para 7. 6 May 2019.

Selena Aral. The New CANSOFCOM Recruitment and Retention Model: The Targeted Approach. 14 October 2018.

Vivian El-Beltagy, Major. The CAF’s Greatest Challenge: Retention Culture. 2018.

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