Counseling is the process used by leaders to review with a subordinate the subordinate’s demonstrated performance and potential. Counseling, one of the most important leadership and professional development responsibilities, enables Army leaders to help Soldiers and Army Civilians become more capable, resilient, satisfied, and better prepared for current and future responsibilities. Counseling is required of leaders and occurs at prescribed times. The related developmental processes of coaching and mentoring are done voluntarily. The Army’s future and the legacy of today’s Army leaders rests on the shoulders of those they help prepare for greater responsibility.

Types of Developmental Counseling

1-1. Regular developmental counseling is the Army’s most important tool for developing future leaders at every level. Counseling responsibilities are inherent in leadership. Leaders at all levels must understand the counseling process. More importantly, Army leaders must understand that effective counseling helps achieve desired goals and effects, manages expectations, and improves the organization. Leaders should emphasize routine counseling to reinforce positive behavior and superior performance. Regular counseling provides leaders with opportunities to:

  • Demonstrate genuine interest in subordinates.
  • Help subordinates understand their role in accomplishing the unit’s mission.
  • Acknowledge and reinforce exceptional work or dedication.
  • Evaluate subordinates’ potential for development.
  • Provide subordinates with assistance or resources to address issues or further strengths.
  • Empower subordinates to identify and solve issues on their own so they are more self-reliant.
  • Identify issues before they become significant problems.
  • Identify and pre-empt causes of sub-standard performance.

1-2. Developmental counseling is categorized by the purpose of the session. Understanding the purpose and types of counseling enables the leader to adapt the counseling session to the individual subordinate’s needs in order to achieve desired outcomes and manage expectations. Counseling is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor; it is a shared effort between the leader and subordinate.

1-3. The three major categories of developmental counseling are:

  • Event counseling.
  • Performance counseling.
  • Professional growth counseling.

1-4. While these categories can help organize and focus counseling sessions, they should not be viewed as separate or exhaustive. For example, a counseling session that focuses on resolving an issue may also address improving duty performance. A session focused on performance often includes a discussion on opportunities for professional growth. Regardless of the purpose or topic of the counseling session, leaders should follow a basic format for preparation, execution, and follow-up. DA Form 4856 (Developmental Counseling Form) provides a useful framework to prepare for counseling. It helps organize the relevant issues to discuss during counseling sessions.

Event Counseling

1-5. Event-oriented counseling involves a specific event or situation. It may precede events such as participating in promotion boards, attending training courses, and preparing for deployment or redeployment. It also addresses events such as noteworthy duty performance, an issue with performance or mission accomplishment, or a personal issue. Examples of event-oriented counseling include, but are not limited to:

  • Specific instances of superior or substandard performance.
  • Reception and integration counseling.
  • Crisis counseling.
  • Referral counseling.
  • Promotion counseling.
  • Transition counseling.
  • Adverse separation counseling.

Specific Instances of Superior or Substandard Performance

1-6. Often counseling is tied to specific instances of superior or substandard duty performance. The leader uses the counseling session to convey to the subordinate whether or not the performance met the standard and what the subordinate did right or wrong. Successful counseling for specific performance occurs as close to the event as possible. Leaders should counsel subordinates for exceptional as well as substandard duty performance.

1-7. Leaders should always counsel subordinates who do not meet the standard. If performance is unsatisfactory because of a lack of knowledge or ability, leader and subordinate can develop a plan for improvement. Corrective training helps ensure that the subordinate knows and consistently achieves the standard. When counseling a subordinate for specific performance, leaders take the following actions:

  • Explain the purpose of the counseling—what was expected and how the subordinate exceeded or failed to meet the standard.
  • Remain neutral.
  • Address and explain the specific behavior or action—do not address the subordinate’s character.
  • Explain the effect of the behavior, action, or performance on the rest of the organization.
  • Actively listen to the subordinate’s responses (see Chapter 2).
  • If failing to meet the standard, teach the subordinate how to meet the standard and recognize patterns of behavior that may keep the subordinate from meeting the standard.
  • Be prepared to conduct personal counseling, since a failure to meet the standard may be the result of an unresolved personal issue.
  • Explain to the subordinate how developing an individual development plan will improve performance and identify specific responsibilities in implementing the plan. Continue to assess and follow up on the subordinate’s progress. Adjust the plan as necessary.

Reception and Integration Counseling

1-8. Army leaders should counsel all new team members when they join the organization. Reception and integration counseling serves two important purposes:

  • It identifies and helps alleviate any issues or concerns that new members may have, including any issues resulting from the new duty assignment.
  • It familiarizes new team members with organizational standards, roles, and assignments.

1-9. Reception and integration counseling should include but is not limited to the following areas:

  • Organizational history, structure, and mission.
  • Organizational standards (such as discipline, maintenance, training, and fitness).
  • Organizational policies.
  • Chain of command familiarization.
  • NCO support channel familiarization.
  • Key leader contact information.
  • Soldier programs within the organization, such as Soldier of the Month/Quarter/Year and educational and training opportunities.
  • Security and safety issues.
  • On- and off-duty conduct.
  • Off-limits and danger areas.
  • Personnel procedures.
  • Initial and special clothing issue.
  • On- and off-post recreational, educational, cultural, and historical opportunities.
  • Support activities functions and locations.
  • Foreign nation or host nation orientation, as applicable.
  • Other items of interest as determined by the leader or organization.

Crisis Counseling

1-10. Crisis counseling focuses on the subordinate’s immediate short-term needs and assists a Soldier or employee through a period of shock after receiving negative news, such as the notification of the death of a loved one. Leaders may assist by listening and providing appropriate assistance. Assistance may include coordinating for external agency support, such as obtaining emergency funding for transportation or putting them in contact with a chaplain

Referral Counseling

1-11. Referral counseling occurs when issues are beyond the capability or expertise of a subordinate’s leaders. Referral counseling helps subordinates work through personal situations that may affect performance. It may or may not follow crisis counseling. Referral counseling aims at preventing a challenge or issue from becoming unmanageable for the subordinate. Army leaders assist by identifying issues in time and referring the subordinate to the appropriate outside resources, such as Army Community Services, a chaplain, or an alcohol and drug counselor.

Promotion Counseling

1-12. Army leaders must conduct promotion counseling for all specialists, corporals, and sergeants who are eligible for advancement without waivers (see AR 600-8-19). Army regulations require that Soldiers within this category receive initial (event-oriented) counseling when they attain full promotion eligibility and then periodic (performance/professional growth) counseling thereafter. Soldiers not recommended for promotion must be counseled as to why they were not recommended and should address these shortcomings and plans of action to overcome the identified shortcomings.

Transition Counseling

1-13. Transition counseling assists Soldiers who are demobilizing, separating, or retiring from active duty. Transition counseling prepares subordinates for employment, education, and other post-service opportunities and benefits. Transition requires planning throughout the individual’s service starting with identifying military and long-term goals at the first unit of assignment. Leaders and subordinates should review and revise these goals as necessary during subsequent professional development counseling sessions.

1-14. Leaders will assist subordinates with transition activities in concert with the servicing Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) office and other transition assistance resources (see AR 600-8).

Adverse Separation Counseling

1-15. Adverse separation counseling may involve informing the Soldier of the administrative actions available to the commander in the event substandard performance continues and of the consequences associated with those administrative actions (see AR 635-200).

1-16. Developmental counseling may not apply when an individual has engaged in serious acts of misconduct. In those situations, leaders should refer the matter to the commander and the servicing staff judge advocate. When rehabilitative efforts fail, counseling with a view toward separation is required. It is an administrative prerequisite to many administrative discharges. It is advisable to involve the chain of command as soon as it is determined that adverse separation counseling might be required. A unit first sergeant or the commander should inform the Soldier of such proceedings based on the notification requirements outlined in AR 635-200.

Performance Counseling

1-17. Performance counseling is the review of a subordinate’s duty performance during a specified period. The leader and the subordinate jointly establish performance objectives and clear standards for the next counseling period. The counseling focuses on the subordinate’s strengths, areas to improve, and potential. Effective counseling includes providing specific examples of strengths and areas needing improvement and providing guidance on how subordinates can improve their performance. Performance counseling is required under the officer, noncommissioned officer, and Army Civilian evaluation reporting systems (see AR 623-3 or AR 690-400 for specifics).

1-18. During performance counseling, leaders conduct a review of a subordinate’s duty performance over a certain period. Simultaneously, leader and subordinate jointly establish performance objectives and standards for the next period.

1-19. Counseling at the beginning of and during the evaluation period ensures the subordinate’s personal involvement in the evaluation process. Performance counseling communicates standards and is an opportunity for leaders to establish and clarify the expected values, attributes, and competencies. Army leaders ensure that performance objectives and standards focus on the organization’s objectives and the individual’s professional development. They should also echo the objectives on their leader’s support form as a team member’s performance contributes to mission accomplishment.

Professional Growth Counseling

1-20. Professional growth counseling includes planning for the accomplishment of individual and professional goals. During the counseling, leader and subordinate conduct a review to identify and discuss the subordinate’s strengths and weaknesses and to create an individual development plan that builds upon those strengths and compensates for (or eliminates) shortcomings. Leaders can assist subordinates in prioritizing development efforts based upon those perceived strengths and weaknesses.

1-21. As part of professional growth counseling, the leader and subordinate may choose to develop a pathway to success with short- and long-term goals and objectives. The discussion includes opportunities for civilian or military schooling, future duty assignments, special programs, available training support resources, reenlistment options, and promotion opportunities and considerations. Documentation of this discussion results in an individual development plan. Each individual development plan will vary as every person’s needs and interests are different.