The DA Form 4856 (Counseling Statement) is one of the most important tools in the small unit leaders’ toolbox. In the paragraphs below, I want to give you an overview of DA Form 4856 and show you how you can use this form to maximize the performance of the people working for you.
How I See It
Let me preface by telling you that counseling is a GOOD thing. When you are on the receiving end counseling helps you identify your strengths, weaknesses, shortcomings and performance. And when you are on the giving end, counseling shows your subordinates that you care because you took the time to do it. I honestly believe that the only bad counseling is the counseling that doesn’t happen.
If more leaders made time in their schedule and actually use DA Form 4856 to conduct formal counseling with their subordinates, there would be fewer problems in the Army. When used properly this form is a great way to reform bad behavior, recognize good behavior and provide feedback to the people you supervise.
When to Use DA Form 4856
DA Form 4856 can be used in a variety of different ways. You can use it for:
1) Initial Counseling: When you start a new job (or have new people assigned under your supervision) you should sit down and counsel them within the first 30 days. You can tell them your performance and professional expectations you have of them.
2) Follow up Counseling: If you are working with E4s and below, you can use this form for your monthly counseling. This provides an assessment of the soldier’s performance for the month. If you are working with E5s and above, you can use this for your quarterly counseling, in addition to the other resources available, such as a Support Form or JODSF.
3) Event Oriented Counseling: While most people use DA Form 4856 when a soldier does something wrong, it’s also a good idea to use it when a soldier does something well, too. I’ve always believed that you should put everything in writing: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some examples might include: failing the APFT, scoring a 300 on the APFT, being late for formation, shooting 40 of 40 of Weapons Qualification, or any discipline issue.
Sections on DA Form 4856
- Admin Data: This includes the soldier’s name and personal information. It’s pretty much self explanatory.
- Purpose of Counseling: This provides the reason of the counseling. The three most common reasons include performance, professional or event oriented.
- Summary: This provides of summary of what happened, or gives the details of the situation you are talking about.
- Plan of Action: This is the plan of attack, which covers what will happen to fix the problem. It could be what you plan to do to the soldier for corrective behavior, or outlines an assignment/task they must do to remedy the situation.
- Assessment: This is another important and often underutilized part of the form. This is where you follow up on the action in the days to come to see how the soldier has resolved the issue or improved their behavior or completed the assigned tasks.
10 Tips for Success
Here are a few tips I can recommend for using DA Form 4856, based upon my experience.
- Don’t just focus on bad. You can do counseling for good behavior too.
- Put EVERYTHING in writing.
- It’s okay to conduct the verbal counseling first, and then type this form up and have the soldier sign it.
- If the event (why you’re doing the counseling) made you angry or upset, make sure you wait to cool down before you do the counseling.
- Never put anything in writing that you will regret!
- Always keep copies for your records. And keep them in a SECURE place.
- Never forget to FOLLOW UP and assess the soldier’s performance, within days or weeks after the counseling.
- Whenever you do a negative counseling, have a witness with you.
- If necessary, have your superior or a trusted friend proofread the document (for typos and legalities) before you use it.
- Don’t worry about perfection. These forms can be handwritten. It’s more important to actually do it, than have it look perfect.
In summary, the DA Form 4856 is one of the most important documents in the small unit leader’s toolbox. As a leader, you should use this form to help develop your subordinates, to provide feedback, to address bad behavior, to provide career advice and to show your followers that you care. When used properly, this one document can have a huge impact on morale, discipline and esprit de corps among your followers.
On a side note, I would love to hear how you use DA Form 4856. Please share any success tips you might have with the rest of our community. Just leave a comment to this post to share your thoughts. Also, if you have any questions on the use of DA Form 4856, you can post them here and I will do my best to answer them.