How many times have you wished that your supervisor had taken the time to develop you better? How many years have you gone wishing that your supervisor had taken expended the energy to truly plan a feedback more than just an hour before you sat down? How many of you honestly believe that your Airmen do not have the same dreams, desires and wishes of you? I have had the same struggles in my career with supervisors but luckily, I have found a way that I believe shows my Airmen that I am invested in them, their career and the potential they have to be great in our Air Force.
We have all learned how to conduct a feedback from multiple PME courses and have even gained some insights from our peers in these classes. I myself have developed my own process that I heavily derived from a feedback from my second supervisor, MSgt (ret) Doug Wilder (Thanks Doug E. Doug). I was just a SrA and he told me to keep a 6-part folder on myself so that I could track my career. The next year when I was given my first Airman to supervise, he told me to create the same folder for him. Doug also suggested that I keep a copy of the folder so that I would always know about my Airman on a moment’s notice. This has become my primary feedback tool ever since then.
I am going to assume based on where most of you are in your careers that you there are some basics that we don’t need to cover. Such as how to get to know your Airmen, pick a good feedback location, and gather background knowledge from other leaders about your Airman. If you are unsure what I am talking about, please seek out your supervisor or bust open your Airman’s Handbook Section 22D (formerly PDG) and get to reading.
Let’s start with the foundation. Each Airman MUST get 3 (THREE) formal feedbacks a year (only two on a 931/932) IAW AFI 36-2406. Yes, three feedbacks, people. The three types of feedback are;
- Initial Feedback: Within 60 days of being assigned as the Rater (within certain other guidelines outlined in AFI 36-2406).
- Mid-Term Feedback: At the midpoint during the evaluation year (within certain other guidelines outlined in AFI 36-2406).
- Upon receipt of the completed EPR: It shocks and frustrates me how often this is not done. This is a formal feedback session folks! The EPR should ONLY be delivered BY THE RATER TO THE RATEE! NEVER by vPC. Raters do not be lazy. Get the EPR once it is signed by the Commander and sit down and discuss it. Explain YOUR markings, YOUR bullets and why the Commander gave the specific Forced Distribution marking. If you do not know, then get the information from your Flight and Squadron Leadership. There is absolutely no reason an Airman should ever sign their EPR and not be given some sort of verbal feedback (face to face or telephonic) on what each word and mark means. They deserve it. They worked for you for the year. This is also the first part of your initial feedback for the new year. Get on it!
Now that we have covered when to conduct a feedback lets discuss how to conduct the feedback with my 6-part folder idea. Use the standard brown 6-part UDM folders. They work great for this. Get a few and keep them for each Airman you supervise.
Tab 1: Biographical Data. In this section, we are going to have some basics such as a SURF and Bio worksheet which I have created. For SNCOs, we will add the Wing’s SNCO Stratification Worksheet (known by different names at different bases) and the Data Verification Brief. The intent of this tab is to have the basics of FACTS about your Airman. This is how the system sees your Airman. Remember, “YOU ARE YOUR RECORDS.”
This is the first place that a feedback should start also. If there are errors on the SURF, then you must get them fixed. For a TSgt and below this is a chance to discuss the value of accurate records and how it matters for promotion boards. If your records look sloppy, then you look sloppy to the promotion board, and your board score could reflect. For example, having duplicate Duty Titles without changes except the date is lazy. Incorrect information shows a lack of attention to detail. We all learned at basic training, when we were folding our sheets, to pay attention to details. The same is true for these records of fact on our Airmen and the feedback session is a perfect opportunity to impart that on them about their records because as we all know, “YOU ARE YOUR RECORDS.”
Tab 2: EPRs and Feedbacks. I ask each ratee to give me their three most recent EPRs before I became their supervisor. I then add each Feedback and EPR I write with them to this tab (newest on top). For an initial feedback, we go through previous EPRs (along with Tab 1). I tell them what I see as their career trajectory based on their SURF (add Strat Worksheet and DVB for SNCOs) and their 3 most recent EPRs. We discuss this prior to reviewing the AF931/932 I wrote, so that we have a starting point for our discussion. Basically, we are just setting the stage. This is where I ask the Airman to tell me what they think their trajectory is and what they want out of a career.
It is your duty as a Rater to have the hard conversation with your Airman and tell them what is possible and what is not. If they are an 18-year TSgt with an Article 15 this year and a Do Not Promote EPR on top, do NOT tell them they will make Chief. It cannot be done. I also want to make another point, not everyone needs to be or should want to be a Chief. The system is built to only allow 1% to make Chief and I will tell you the demands are HIGH. Supervisors have a duty to the Airman and the Air Force to find the rank that their Airman can be the most successful at. When they reach that unique point, they will be happiest and most productive and also feel the most fulfilled. Do not make the mistake of promoting them beyond their abilities, it is a detriment to the Air Force, other Airmen and themselves.
Next, we will conduct the actual feedback. My initial is the same for each person in the same rank. We will discuss some individual specifics, but the words are the same for each initial feedback. With the changes to our feedback forms I had to add an AF174 for more space. Yes, I use a Letter of Counseling to supplement a feedback; after all what is feedback but counseling, plain and simple. One of the things I need space for is to list 6 lines that are fill in the blank. Three for the Airman and three for me. As we are wrapping up the feedback session I ask each Airman to write their three goals for the EPR year. The goals are to be a combination of personal AND professional. Additionally, I will write three goals for them, I base mine on what has transpired during the feedback session and getting to know them. For some of the Airmen it is a degree, some it is more family time, some it is a vacation, some it is a certification, some it is to complete a 10K run. The goals do not matter as long they follow the SMART formula. These goals are important, because they are the foundation for the mid-term feedback session. It is the way that WE will see how WE worked together as a TEAM to achieve the Airmen’s stated desires for the year. WE must make efforts towards them otherwise WE are not doing our job.
Tab 3: Training/PT/PIMR/Mobility Stats: This tab is simple. Before each feedback, I ask for an updated print out of critical mobility stats. Full ADLS, PT, PIMR, etc. Each job and location would have something different but this is basically a chance to personally review all documents and ensure that I have seen what is in the records, what the UTM/UDM/UFPM and the member are all tracking as facts. We are all supposed to be worldwide deployable, so as a supervisor this is a good time to check these data points with 3 feedback sessions a year.
Tab 4: Monthly Bullets/Write ups: For junior Airmen (TSgt and below) I have them provide me 5 bullets a month on what they were doing. I have two driving forces behind this. One was my own laziness. When EPR time comes around, I already have a folder with all the bullets I need ready to go. I could just pick the ones I want and turn in the EPR. The EPR should take me 30 minutes tops and it is over. Same goes for Quarterly and Annual Awards. Additionally, if a last-minute award comes down, I could always turn in a rough draft in 20 minutes. Second, was each month I got to work on developing the writing skills with my Airman. They had to keep improving the bullets and doing the research to make them solid. This way all the hard work of the bullet writing was taken care of during the month when the actions were fresh in everyone’s mind. This made it much easier during EPR and Award seasons. I also keep copies of any Awards I write the Airman up for on this tab. It’s just another copy of the bullets that I can use later. It also reminds me that they may have won a specific award that needs to be accounted for in their EPR or EOT Medal.
Tab 5: Previous Orders (TDY/PCS): I like to keep a copy of TDY and PCS orders for my Airmen. You never know when this will come in handy. They might get a TDY that results in a medal, or a voucher gets messed up. Since I keep these folders, they will always know there is another person they can reach back to.
Tab 6: Airman Benefit Fact Sheet: This is to be briefed to each Airman at each feedback. First term Airmen I will go through every paragraph. As an Airman progresses in their career I will shorten how much time I spend covering the Fact Sheet based on their knowledge and the point they are in their career. For a First or Second Term Airman that is getting close to a separation decision I will go through it with additional detail. For SNCOs I will glaze over the highlights of the document. Each case is individualized. What I do offer each Airman to go through it and to initial and date it with each feedback. Just like the entire feedback, this is tailored to the Airman and their education and life needs.
Each section allows me to effectively evaluate the whole Airman and review it at any time, so I can prepare them for a great career in the Air Force. Dividing the folder into sections is an effective way to organize the information that is relevant to the Airman. They have access to this folder at any time. My intention is for us to share the information as a team effort as they progress through their career.
There are two major benefits to all of this work. If the Airman creates their own folder, they can follow their career as I have mine. I can go all the way back to my first supervisor and see how each and every supervisor has rated me on feedbacks and EPRs. I can see my trends and use them for self-reflection. Has more than one person said I do not do enough for primary duties? Have I focused too much on volunteer work? What are my trends as a ratee? I can see all the markings on each feedback and EPR in a single place (I will admit, my 6-part folder is now a binder after 22 years). Seeing my whole career in one convenient place, allows me to have that hard conversation with myself. I had to stop blaming my raters for my markings and own my shortfalls in order to make the changes I needed so that I can lead my Airmen better.
As a Rater, having these 6-part folders (I’ve got a bunch now) allow me to evaluate myself over a long period of time. I can see how I have developed as a rater over the years when reviewing multiple folders. Do I have trends in my rating? Do I always rate education too hard? Am I always rating communication skills to soft? Do I hate on the volunteer heroes? What are my trends as a rater over my career and do I need to make adjustments? I get to critique myself and build a consistent standard set for each rank. This ensures that I am being as fair as possible to set and enforce USAF standards. I get to grade myself in a way that nobody else does and I hope that makes me a better rater for my Airmen.
We will have our own way to care for our Airmen. Each of us have best practices that can help everyone do a better job of taking care of our most valuable resource, our Airmen. I have used this process for almost 2 decades and many Airmen have taken parts of it for their own use to match their leadership styles. I hope you all found something good from this and wish you the best in caring for our Airmen.