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Following through with feedback

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Joesph Vanoni
  • 379 th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron

In the last year, we have seen the emergence of a new Air Force Feedback Form and release of the new Enlisted Performance Reports.  The Air Force developed both of these systems to improve how we as leaders, provide feedback to our Airman.  While I completely agree with changes to both, I believe real change will not occur simply because we have new forms to fill out and new policies to shape how we rate individuals.  In my opinion, real change will only occur when we change “how” we provide feedback.  For me, the “how” is broken into two parts: First, leaders must establish clear standards and expectations.  Second, leaders must hold the individual to the standards by routinely providing honest unbiased assessments.

The first step to effective feedback begins when you set clear standards and expectations.  We all know you are required to have your “initial” feedback 60-days after you begin supervision.  I would argue that in most cases, specifically in deployed environments, waiting 60-days is far too long.  Meet with your Airman within the first week you supervise them to provide them with the big picture overview of the organization and where they fit in the group.  Take this first opportunity to establish the standards you will hold everyone to in your organization.  This meeting should include items like general work-place policies, your zero tolerance policies, and your organizational goals/expectations.  Once you have established this baseline, every individual can at least begin to function in your organization and understand you as a leader. 

After the general overview, you should meet with each individual you directly supervise to provide them with your specific expectations.  You can take this time to reinforce your general policies, but it is more important to establish exactly what you expect them to do while they are under your supervision.  At a minimum, this should include job specific information, professional development goals, and/or personal goals.  Regardless what you discuss, the intent is to set the foundation of what you want and expect from them on a daily basis and long-term.  Additionally, I highly recommend you also provide this information to your Airmen in a written document.  Whether you use the new feedback form or a word document, having a written record of what you discussed provides you the framework to hold your Airmen to the standard.

The second step to effective feedback is actually holding the individuals to your standards through constant feedback.  Just as we have a requirement for initial feedback in 60-days, the Air Force has once again provided supervisors specific timelines when we are required to provide feedback.  Just as I did before, I would argue that waiting to give feedback until the “mid-term” or at the close-out of the OPR/EPR is too long.  To be effective and meaningful feedback, both positive and negative must occur throughout the period of supervision.

 If the individual is doing a great job, praise them early and often.  You can provide the praise directly to the individual, in front of the entire group, or through formal recognition programs such as quarterly awards.  No matter how you provide this positive feedback, always highlight the standard or expectation they exceeded.  This will reinforce your standards and demonstrate that you are aware of what your Airmen are doing.

While it is easy to provide positive feedback, providing honest unbiased feedback when an Airman is not meeting your standard or expectations is much harder.  If an Airman is not meeting your standard or expectation, meet with them privately to discuss the matter as soon as you are aware of the issue.  If it is a hardline standard then immediately correct the action, provide punishment if required, and inform them of the consequences if it happens again.  If they are not meeting your expectations, identify exactly what expectation they are not meetings and work with the Airman to find the root cause of the issue.  It may be as simple as they did not understand your expectation or as difficult as they were ignoring your guidance.  Regardless which it is, you must first reinforce your expectation, then you must provide the Airman with a course of action to correct the issue, and then you must provide the Airman with further consequences if they do not fix the problem.  The final and most important step in this feedback loop is to follow-up with the individual.  If they make the adjustment and begin to meet your expectation, make sure you provide feedback and reinforce the positive action.  If they do not make the change you must follow-up with them to provide further education or consequences.  You must continue this loop until the individual meets the standard or you remove them from the position.  As a side note, if you are following the negative path, make sure you are documenting every meeting, discussion, and action.

In closing, I am extremely happy to see the Air Force take strides to improve the feedback process. Especially since I believe feedback is one of the most important, if not the most important component of being a good leader adn supervisor. However, real change will not occur until we, as leaders fix "how" we provide feedback. Start by immediately establishing clear standards and expectations. Then hold the individual to your standards by continuously providing honest unbiased assessments throughout the period of supervision.