Fight for Feedback

I think it was in about 1992 that the Air Force revamped the officer evaluation system and added a key component, mandatory feedback. Prior to that time, you got your officer performance report at the end of the rating period and there was likely no dialogue with your supervisor discussing your performance and how your performance drove your overall rating. So the Air Force mandated feedback. They even prescribed a form that you had to fill out as a supervisor. Both the rater and the ratee had to sign the form and on your annual report, there was a mandatory date entry indicating when the feedback occurred. While it wasn’t perfect and at the risk of shaming an entire generation of AF officers, I can tell you that execution was less than perfect. For my part, while I may not have been 100%, I was pretty close in that if you worked for me and there was a feedback date on the form, then you and I had sat down face-to-face, and discussed your performance, expectations for the upcoming year and your future goals and objectives. Because the feedback process, in my view, was so poorly executed, I always made this a major point of my mentoring up and coming commanders.

Both giving and receiving feedback is difficult. No matter how unhappy your boss is with your work, they typically have a tough time telling you so, especially directly to your face. And, they are not always good at the emotional IQ aspect. In other words, they do not read you well and understand how to best connect with you. Growing up in the fighter pilot business, there was not a lot of sugar coating. I like to say that we spent 90% of our time talking about the 10% that didn’t go right. As I became more senior and worked with people who had not grown up in that community, I found I had to alter my style. I had to understand that different people required different approaches. Maybe I needed to spend a significant amount of time on things that went right, even if I considered those activities routine and expected. Because if I didn’t, the person on the receiving end turned me off, became unresponsive and whatever constructive critique I might have went unheard. At the other end of the scale, some people responded best to a figurative whack on the head with a two-by-four and that worked to get the message through to them. The point is, you need to be flexible in your approach as the one responsible for giving feedback if you want it to be effective.

The only thing worse than a bad feedback session is no feedback session. It is not fair to you to go through an entire performance period whether it is a month, a quarter or a year, and you have no idea of how you stand until you see the final assessment. So, Fight for Feedback; that is your right!

There is a lot more to say on this subject and I am really excited about some of the current trends in feedback, or feedforward, if you prefer that term. Some quick hits that I will explore in future blogs include: Most feedback should be short, informal but very specific. Focus on what went right and what should be reinforced. Then talk about areas to improve. Feedback should be frequent. The more often you engage in feedback, no matter which side of the table you sit, the easier it gets. Always remember, the objective of feedback is to make you better. Don’t let your boss off the hook, you are the one who loses out. Lastly, feedback is a 2-way conversation. I always tried to end a feedback session with this, “Ok, now give me some feedback. What can I do better, how can I make it easier for you to do your job?”

Copyright 2019  Brett Williams, Maj Gen USAF (Ret)  All Rights Reserved.


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