Feedback: key to Airman success

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mark Zimmerhanzel
  • 319th Civil Engineering Squadron commander
A key part of being a leader and supervisor is providing appropriate and timely feedback to the Airmen who work for you. Feedback on our job performance allows each of us to improve and is essential to building future leaders for our Air Force. As I look back on my own career, I have had a few bosses who provided good honest feedback, but that was not the norm, and this is one area that I admit I have not always done well.

Providing good feedback can be hard to do. It's easy to call a subordinate in and tell him or her that they are doing a great job. It is much harder to sit someone down and tell them they are not doing so well, and often times this is the kind of feedback some of our Airmen need. I ask you this: How many times have you gotten a feedback form with everything marked to the far right with no constructive feedback? How beneficial was that feedback? Regardless of who you are, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. As a good supervisor and leader you owe your Airmen an honest assessment of those strengths and weaknesses, as well as specific examples of how they are succeeding and how they can make improvements.

One of the indicators that makes me question how well we are doing at providing good feedback is the ratings I see on most of our Airmen's Enlisted Performance Reports. Most of the EPRs that I have seen throughout my career are 5s labeling them as "Truly Among the Best." Many of those reports are even listed as "firewall 5s," meaning they are exceptional Airmen. While I admit that we have some great Airmen in the Air Force, are most "Truly Among the Best?" Or are supervisors not making the hard calls and being honest with their Airmen? The argument I most often hear on EPR ratings is that the system is so inflated and everyone gets a 5. Are supervisors helping their Airmen and the Air Force by evaluating them in this manner? More than likely, they are allowing the individual to believe that they are doing a great job, when in reality, they have many areas to improve in and aren't ready for that next promotion. Appropriate feedback and ratings might hurt in the short term, but the individual may benefit and become a better member of the Air Force as their career progresses.

I personally challenge all supervisors and leaders to make the hard calls when needed and be honest with your Airmen. It may be hard at the time, but hopefully that individual will respect your feedback and will benefit from your effort.