Giving Airmen proper feedback is crucial first step

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Griner
  • 71st Medical Group Superintendent
It all starts with feedback. 

"While giving our Airmen proper feedback is a crucial first step, it is vitally important to follow through and provide an accurate evaluation of performance, abilities and potential on enlisted performance reports," stated Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley, in the Aug. 18 edition of "The Enlisted Perspective." 

It all starts with feedback and ends with the EPR. For the enlisted evaluation system to work as it was designed, supervisors at all levels must give frank, candid and honest feedback to their subordinates. 

It is a reality that not all Airmen are "firewall 5s," and sometimes it is hard to tell someone they are not a stellar performer. We must rate Airmen according to standards
that have been set and how they perform against those standards. 

It should never be a surprise to an Airman when he receives less than a firewall 5, if they are receiving timely and honest feedback. 

We must provide accurate and timely feedback, in which we set the standard, clearly and concisely. We must also provide the necessary resources and training. Then it becomes a matter of holding the Airman accountable according to the standard. 

However, we must be fair and consistent on applying the standard across the organization and for any failure to meet the standard. Appropriate documentation must follow, whether it is paperwork for failure to comply with the standard or marking "meets" standards rather than "clearly exceeds" standards on EPRs for those who simply maintain and perform at minimal compliance. 

Feedback does not end with the required initial and midterm written evaluations. It includes daily communication that should occur when areas for improvement are identified or an Airman performs in an exceptional manner. 

I have lost count of how many times Airmen have asked me, "Chief, why are you (they) doing this to me?" when they received paperwork for failure to meet standards or when they received less than a stellar EPR. I always respond, "Were the standards clearly explained to you and did you meet those standards?" 

Inevitability, the answer is yes, the standards were explained. They understood the standards. And no, they did not meet the standards. It comes down to the fact that they did it to themselves. They knew the standards and expectations but chose not to live up to them. 

In my 25 years of service, I have experienced three different EPR forms. The new EPR markings have been changed to reflect how well an individual is performing against set standards. 

But too often the markings and overall rating do not truly reflect the performance of an Airman. They are inflated by raters and supervisors who are afraid of hurting an individual's career. 

However, they are not helping that Airman to develop because they are not providing a true evaluation of the Airman's performance and identifying his strengths and how his performance can be improved. 

When all Airmen are rated a "5" in an inflated system, the EPRs become less of a distinguishing factor when used in the enlisted promotion system. An injustice is being done when a mediocre performer gets the same points as a truly exceptional performer.
As Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force McKinley stated, "Airmen need to know their above and beyond efforts will be recognized and rewarded." 

In times of draw downs or force reductions, EPRs become a major factor in determining who stays and who goes, as in the case of Career Job Reservation restrictions. It is really a shame to lose an outstanding Airman and retain a mediocre Airman because they both have the same EPR ratings. 

For the system to work as it was designed, Airmen must be given an accurate evaluation of their duty performance, ability to lead and supervise and their potential for increased responsibility. 

Every supervisor must provide feedback and set standards, document substandard performance, hold every Airman accountable to the same standards, and provide an honest evaluation of his performance. The system must be grounded in integrity.