Have you ever wondered how to get that one Airman to do exactly what you want? Ever wanted to find the way to motivate them so they will do what is needed even when you are not around? Picture that one Airman, we all have one, that you know deep in your heart is going to be great. All they need is inspiration or adjustment of their current habits, to get in line with Air Force and unit standards. Believe it or not, feedback (formal and informal) is the best way to achieve your goal, but it will take some work on your part that will give you the rewards you so desire.
I have struggled and watched others struggle with giving feedback for years now. For some leaders, they do not know how to precisely give the appropriate level of feedback (formal and informal) for what the Airman has done. For me, I have found that feedback is similar to Targeting. It helps that I was a Targeteer for a few years so it was easy for me to make this comparison since I was very comfortable with the job and knew it well. However, you could make the comparison between feedback and changing a jet engine, processing an evaluation or any other task we have in the Air Force.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the Targeting career field, let me explain a little bit about a Targeteer first before I get to feedbacks. A Targeteer must know a Commanders Objectives and Guidance for the current war or contingency. They will research and analyze the target, the area of responsibility, and the resources (munitions and delivery platforms) at their disposal. They will then decide the best way to ACHIEVE THE DESIRED EFFECTS to ensure they meet the Commanders Objectives and Guidance. It is about EFFECTS based operations at all times. Any fool can throw 10K pounds of munitions down range but what EFFECT are you going to achieve and is it the one you want to achieve? Any supervisor can talk at an Airman for hours, but what EFFECT are you going to have and is it the one you want to achieve? You must analyze your Airmen, decide on the proper kind of feedback, and then choose how to employ the feedback. If you do not do this, then you could end up wasting your Airman’s time and sending them on the wrong path, which could result in them separating or ignoring your valuable guidance.
First and foremost, you must know your target/Airman and where they are at. For a Targeteer they use Precise Point Mensuration to determine the exact location on the Earth that a target is at. Without this, the weapon will not hit the correct corner of the building or it will miss the bridge and potentially hit a school. The first-line supervisor must know as much as possible about their Airman. Is the Airman moving up, slowing down, having financial issues, starting a new family, do they work shift work, do they hate public ceremonies, do they thrive on public events, and more? Feedback must be precise and purposeful and requires you to know your Airman’s whole story. Without knowing all aspects of your Airman, your feedback will not achieve the desired EFFECT you are looking for. I believe this is important because it will help you shape the kind of feedback you give.
Now that the Targeteer has the Precise Point on the earth for the munition, they must then choose the munition. The Targeteer will choose from multiple bombs based on what is available in theater. Anything from a GBU-12 (500 pound) to GBU-31v3 (2K pound Penetrator). Each target needs a different munition and each Airman for each action needs a different feedback. If you are going to just give a mid-term feedback, then using an AF 931 in a private room is the right course of action. Schedule your hour session, be prepared, and fill out the form. If the Airman is a great Airman, then you should be very casual and start with a soft tone, thanking them for doing a great job. If they have had some trouble, but are improving, and you want to build a positive foundation on their progress, then you will highlight their improvements. If your Airman has been “hitting the big time,” with not showing to work on time, disrespecting coworkers, not completing tasks, then you might need to up the ante and get some LOC/LOA/LORs rolling. Another highly underutilized resource at your disposal is the positive paperwork. Using an LOC to praise an Airman can work towards overcoming their previous missteps. For example, if you’ve written two negative LOC’s for no-showing to work, and the Airman spends the next 90 days showing up 15 minutes early each day, it is time to use an LOC to highlight improvements.
When that PIF is opened for EPR season, it will go a LONG way. I’m saying this from experience as a three-time Squadron Superintendent. I love seeing positive LOCs! Additionally, NEVER, EVER do a desk drawer PIF. It hurts you as a supervisor and your Squadron Command team. It tells your Airman you do not have faith in your Squadron Commander, Superintendent and Shirt to see when they recover. It says that you as a supervisor have no ability to articulate their recovery and that your Command Team cannot see the person beyond the paper. It is just bad business all around. Just write the positive LOC and it will out weight the other LOC.
Now that you know your munition, it’s time to figure out how to employ it on the battlefield. When a Targeteer figures out that they want to put 4xGBU-12s they need to make sure they get the right jet(s). Sometimes it’s one F-15E Strike Eagle. Other times it will be a four ship of Strike Eagles or two B-1s. How you bring the munitions to the fight can matter just as much as the munitions themselves. For feedback, this is the exact same. Think about it this way; a pat on the back from a supervisor is one thing. It is good and says you did good and on a daily basis that is needed and positive for doing daily tasks. However, getting the Wing Commander and Chief to come down to *immediately* pat your Airman on the back for turning a jet faster than anyone or creating a process that saved the MPF hundreds of hours a month, might get you better EFFECTS with your Airman and those in the shop. If you know the Airman likes public recognition and you know the pat on the back or the coin is the proper feedback, bringing the Wing CC/Chief down might be the exact delivery platform that is required. This is the same for the negative. If your Airman has been just failing to drag their tail to work, it might be time for a visit to the First Sergeants office in Service Dress. Putting on the Service Dress and marching by the entire Orderly Room brings an EFFECT to their mind. Having to put the jacket together has a mental EFFECT. That First Sergeant is a tremendous delivery platform that can help multiply your desired EFFECT on your Airman.
In warfare, the Targeteer thinks about the Second and Third order of EFFECTS of their operations. When a building is blown up, the enemy knows about it and they must adjust their behaviors around the Targeteers actions. The associated units (other Airmen) will adjust their actions based on the EFFECTS that are put on the battlefield. As a first-line supervisor, know that you are always being watched. The EFFECT is not only on the Airman you gave feedback to, but also on those around that Airman. If the feedback is done in public, then the other Airmen will see how YOU care about your Airman. They will know you care enough to give them the day off that they value OVER the public praise they do not like. BELIEVE that they all talk to each other. What you do good for one, the others will soon know, what you do bad for one the others will soon know too. To reiterate, know what your Airman values, not what the Chief is telling you to give them (I say this as a Chief, I would like to hear a MSgt say my Airman wants X)! Not everyone values a Quarterly Award (don’t believe the hype). This is your Second and Third order of EFFECTS. Soon you will be the “go-to” NCO/SNCO. You will be rewarded with Airmen lining up asking for your advice on EPRs and career and even life decisions.
Before concluding, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a major shortfall we have ALL suffered from when giving feedback/mentorship to our Airmen, negative feedback. As humans, we want to be liked and it gets in our way at times of telling the honest truth that our Airmen need to hear. We owe it to our Airmen to tell the hard truth to give the negative feedback when they need it. I remember being told when I was falling short more than I remember when I was doing my best work. It made me who I am today. We learn more from our mistakes then our successes. I am so grateful to those leaders for having the AIRMANSHIP to strap on their boots and tell me what I needed to hear and not what I wanted to hear. As a leader, once you have experienced conducting a rebuilding feedback session that is done professionally and on target for both members, you will see that giving feedback (both positive and negative) is crucial to building a better work force. A good Airman will thank you for it every time.
Supervision and Leadership is a contact sport and a time-consuming process. I promise you that there is nothing more demanding and rewarding. Once you take the time and ensure that you know your Airman, you can then choose how to motivate, mold, and develop them to the Airman you know they can be. Spend the time on them that they deserve and you will be rewarded in multiple ways. You will gain an Airman that trusts you, that will work for you, and that will grow hundreds more that will continue to ensure our nation is safe for generations to come.