Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.

Idea Pitch – Humans Are More Important Than Hardware: Human Performance Optimisation in Army (Part 1)

December 1st, 2016 by Harry Moffitt

Courtesy of Australian Defence Force

Courtesy of Australian Defence Force


Human Performance (HP) describes efforts to maximise the potential of people in contributing to organisational objectives. HP is a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon that requires an approach that is multi-disciplinary and interdependent. The tangible benefits of human performance optimisation are, however, not always apparent or easily demonstrated. As such we are prone to under-resource its practice and underemphasise its importance. I believe it is time to re-imagine our investment in our people and their families.

What is the Human Performance Initiative?

The ADF’s greatest asset is its people. Despite this mantra, I contend that ‘capability development’ overly focuses on platforms and material, while ‘personnel support’ focuses on areas such as Workplace Health and Safety, pay and conditions, and soldier recovery post-injury.

These forms of personnel support are largely reactive in nature. I believe our emphasis on rehabilitation must shift to include ‘pre-habilitation’ approaches that seek to optimise performance prior to rehabilitation being required; thus placing the ambulance at the top of the cliff.

Ultimately, the aim is to optimise our people to improve our war-fighting capacity and, importantly, to take advantage of the potential that technology is increasingly enabling.

Army’s Human Performance (HP) Modernisation Line of Effort recognises that human capital development is a high priority for Defence; however, many Defence approaches to human performance are dated. Further, commitment in both resources and resolve remains indecisive, delivering a series of programs such as the Defence Assisted Study Scheme (DASS), joint health initiatives, wounded warrior programs and unit-level initiatives that I believe are poorly connected. At a soldier level, people tend to develop their own personal approaches (e.g. ‘bro-science’), which are often ad hoc and not holistic. Recent Australian Army research (of which I was a part) suggests that as much as 30% of injuries are sustained through self-directed PT. Army headquarters is currently working on improving human performance – note the preference for the term human rather than high as it places people at the centre of the effort.

Use of data analytics and smart-equipment in HP programs

Use of data analytics and smart-equipment in HP programs

A number of HP models have been recently tested by the Australian Army. These have been based on biopsychosocial models (e.g. Physiological-Psychological-Social pillars) and rooted in strong organisational (cultural and philosophical) foundations. A deeper examination of such programs uncovers emerging methodical, systematic and synchronised approaches to human performance.

One existing program runs as follows. The ‘physiological pillar’ focuses on physical training, bio-mechanics, injury management, nutrition and anthropometry. The ‘psychological pillar’ focuses on cognitive abilities, therapeutic approaches, behaviour and sleep. The ‘social pillar’ emphasises inter / intra unit communications, family engagement and enhanced support networks. Working together, and supported by a judicious application of technology, these three ‘lines of effort’ enhance human performance. Particular examples of cutting edge initiatives being tested within these programs include anthropomorphic screening; neuro/bio-feedback technologies; and the important introduction of SMARTABASE database tracking systems.

Such pillars are grounded in a cultural and philosophical focus on professional and personal development through leadership, culture management, adaptive and generative training and development, and notably, unique education initiatives.

Having been heavily involved in the testing and development of HP programs within Army, I believe we need to deepen and broaden such programs to encompass the whole of the Force.

How Does a Mature HP Program Enhance Capital?

The aim of a mature HP program should be to prepare, develop and maintain unit members along physiological, psychological, social and cultural lines in order to optimise performance and enhance their personal and professional lifespan.  HP programs should be developed to respond to preventable injuries, dated training methods and thinking, and recognition of sub-optimal communication between human performance specialists (medical staff, physical training instructors, commanders).

To achieve the aims of such HP programs, facilities need to be designed in such a manner as to physically co-locate human performance Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to support habitual interaction across the spectrum of human performance. Concurrently, it allows daily interaction with all members of the unit across all domains of HP. Physiotherapists, for example, absolutely have a role in shaping unit mental health initiatives, and PTIs should have a say in the provision of nutrition and sleep education. Empowered by access to up-to-date equipment and research via links to local universities, the emerging framework will complement the responsibilities of Joint Health Command and deliver outcomes that reduce the current need for reactive treatments.

Female soldier conducts tailored training in a HP-optimised gym

Female soldier conducts tailored training in a HP-optimised gym

Current trial programs in Army have progressed with minimal resourcing, mostly employing ‘lean start-up’ principles in an attempt to demonstrate the effectiveness of an alternate approach to improving HP. Funding has been ad hoc to this point; however the allocation of additional resources would enable the HP program to be tested and evaluated against the Army’s existing methods of personnel support to determine the true benefit and costs of HP.

What Might be the Benefits?

One of the major challenges of HP initiatives has been securing buy-in from both the military hierarchy and soldiers. The subjective nature of human performance challenges each of us, in that we might be training, eating, sleeping or thinking sub-optimally.

Improved access to modern equipment, innovative training techniques and the enhanced interaction between HP professionals appears to be shifting culture, and increasing buy-in through creating ‘a fear-of-missing-out’. Modernisation has been further stimulated through embedding HP SMEs in the military training environment, facilitating direct-to-the-soldier communications. HP benefits I have seen in the studies to date include improved sleep, nutrition and training methodologies; increased uptake of social programs for soldiers and families; mental health and cognitive enhancement initiatives; unit level research management; and a unique education program.

The early signs of the impacts of the trial HP program are positive. Quantitatively, injury prevention and management approaches appear to be positively impacting injuries and injury management; and qualitatively, members increasingly report satisfaction with input to HP provision and engagement. In particular, and indicative of the holistic approach of such trial programs, unique education initiatives have had significant buy-in from soldiers.

A recent education pilot run in Army is perhaps symbolic of broader HP program ambitions and potential. The trial sought to reposition education as an investment, rather than a cost, by creating open equitable access and encouraging continuous education through a soldier’s military service. The program is an independent collaboration between academia, business and Defence that provides members with world class non-PME based education opportunities during service – ‘learn as you serve as you learn’. This HP initiative in particular shows truly transformative potential for Defence.

While education is not new to Army, what is new is that the HP approach reduces access barriers and does not prescribe the type of education a member must study.  This highlights the need to evolve external engagement practises to provide lifelong, in-service and non-PME based education opportunities and pathways for soldiers that commence on day one of their service. That is, ‘preparation for transition should begin from enlistment’. This allows unconstrained inquiry across a diverse range of educational disciplines, contributing to military outputs in ways that are non traditional, non deterministic and unknown. It promotes broader thinking, creativity and curiosity. This is the crux of the trial HP program – the potential for alternate approaches to contribute to human excellence, ultimately contributing to military performance.


I believe the ADF’s approach to human performance is under-resourced in practice and under-emphasised in importance. Current approaches are largely self-determined, ad hoc and are not holistic. Further development of the current trial HP programs will require appropriate resourcing and support if we are to develop a framework in which Defence can adopt human capability enhancement practises. Mature and networked HP programs promise a transformative platform on which Defence can manage change into the future.  But most importantly, if constructed correctly HP programs promise to provide a vehicle to explore alternate lifelong approaches to enhancing and optimising our most important asset – our people.

What is the next step?

The basis of this article was awareness of one approach to HP that challenges conventional or traditional approaches to HP employed in the ADF. This article forms a primer for a concept to modernise the ADF’s approach to HP which will form the basis of my Idea Pitch. In realising my idea pitch I’d like feedback on the following;

  • What barriers exist to transitioning the focus of our health system to prevention over cure?
  • Are other Units in Army conducting HP programs? What else is being done in the HP realm across the ADF?

About the author:

Harry Moffitt is a Sergeant in the Australian Army with 20 years experience, including broad operational service. He is passionate about High and Human Performance initiatives in Defence, founding the first HP program in Defence in 2013. He is a registered Provisional Psychologist, and will complete a MPsych in 2017 in Melbourne.


Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.

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There has been a study recently in Defence (I think LTS for AHQ) investigating the opportunities within JeHDI for data analysis. Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to read it yet, but it sounds like it may provide insight into opportunities for integration of SMARTABASE (and similar) platforms with existing data-sources. This is one of the things I think we as Defence are very lucky with, we have lots of data, however we very often fail to leverage it effectively to improve outcomes for our personnel.