The power of proper feedback

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Mark Aman
  • 71st Mission Support Group superintendent
"You're doing a great job!"

Instant, on-the-spot, positive feedback is critical to nurturing a healthy human psyche. If overused it reduces credibility and meaning; similar to saying "how are you" to a stranger you pass on the street. Do you really care, or are you just being polite?

Performance feedback is a tool used to modify behavior, to ensure Airmen know what is expected of them and to assess how they are performing.

The Air Force recognizes two types of feedback; formal and informal. According to Air Force Pamphlet 36-2627, informal feedback is day-to-day communication with your subordinates. It helps keep the ratee on the road to improvement, increases motivation and prevents new problems from developing. Informal feedback is not planned, but it should be a part of your leadership routine.

Formal feedback is a critical link in the professional development of your Airmen. According to the Air Force Instruction 36-2406, Chapter 2, it "is a private, formal communication a rater uses to tell a ratee what is expected regarding duty performance and how well the ratee is meeting those expectations."

Use the feedback session to discuss objectives, behavior and performance with the ratee. This information should help the ratee contribute to productive communication, improve performance and grow professionally.

Feedback is not a passive activity. It requires an investment of time and energy. It requires complete honest on the part of the rater and complete acceptance on the part of the ratee.

OK, reality check; maybe I'm being over dramatic, but effective feedback cannot take place unless you clearly explain your expectations and how well the ratee is meeting those expectations - honesty. The ratee must see the benefit of the feedback and be willing to work hard to meet those expectations - acceptance.

Formal performance feedback is documented on an Air Force Form 932 for master through chief master sergeant, or Air Force Form 931 for airman basic through technical sergeant.

The front side of the performance feedback worksheet is self-explanatory. It is the vast white space on the back that seems to cause all the confusion.

According to AFI 36-2406, paragraph 2.8.7, "use the reverse side of the form to discuss ratee's strengths, suggested goals, professional development and additional comments."

According to Air Force Policy Directive 36-34, paragraph 4, as a mentor, "leaders should include at a minimum: promotion, professional military education, advanced degree work, physical fitness, personal goals and expectations, professional qualities, next assignment and long-range plans.

According to AFI 36-3401, "raters will discuss performance, potential and professional development plans with their subordinates during performance feedback sessions."

After reading these Air Force documents I noticed a few topics were not covered.

For instance, highlight the ratee's weaknesses and challenge them to turn their weaknesses into strengths. Tie their personal goal to the mission. Explain Air Force standards and core values. Be specific when giving your expectations.

I asked a small group of Airmen what they thought they should get on their enlisted performance report if they did everything they were told. I was shocked to hear them answer, in unison, "a 5."

I explained to them that if they do everything asked, they would meet minimum requirements and they would get a 3 for "meets requirements."

Needless to say it got quiet. I proceeded with a core values lecture and focused on excellence in all we do. The current generation of Airmen believes that doing what they are told equals "clearly exceeds."

As you can see it is important to be very specific when explaining your performance expectations with your ratee. Explain the difference between "meets" expectations and "clearly exceeds" expectations.

If you have a substandard ratee, they will require more frequent formal feedbacks. Minimum requirements do not meet the needs of every Airman. Make sure your Airmen know where they stand at all times, especially if they are not meeting your expectations. Tell them what they need to do and give them the opportunity to do it.

I challenge you to allow your rates to give you feedback on how well you are meeting their needs and expectations. It is important for us supervisors to modify our leadership style to meet the needs of our Airmen. They are not all alike, so we cannot lead them, teach them or mentor them as if they were. Open, honest and continuous communication is critical - your involvement is the key.