I am currently working on a book about feedback and here is an excerpt from the rough draft:

Problem: SNCOs Shouldn’t Have to be Told How to do Their Jobs:

Not too long ago, I asked a friend how his new job was going. “I think I am doing well.” He noted with a questioning tone. After further discussion, there were no real expectations or direction laid out for him. This is a typical problem SNCOs have. Most of the time, there are no clear black and white guidelines for what our responsibilities are. This can be a real problem. We have all seen the new Flight Chief who is clearly feeling his new role out until something happens. There is a sudden trend in late training or a missed deadline. Now, he is off and running with a purpose. Basically, the team just gave him the direction he was seeking. When he started that role, it is doubtful he was given a clear path from his boss; however, now, he has something he can fix.

I have asked about situations like this as I saw them in motion. Peers of mine would tell me, “she is a MSgt, do I really need to tell her how to do her job?” I would always respond with, “No. You don’t have to tell her ‘how’ to do her job, but wouldn’t it be nice for her to know how her job aligns with your bigger picture?” We confuse the two quite often. Feedback solves this when we express the intent.

Solution: Deliver Intent

Correct. We do not need to tell SNCOs ‘how’ to manage their teams; however, we need to give them what our intent is.The Army has long used the ideal of “commander’s intent.” This is when the endstate is communicated and the team determines how to accomplish the mission. For example, if the goal is to gain an overwatch position on a building, it could play out like the scenario below. I know most Airmen are not taking buildings, but this was the best way I have ever heard this concept explained:

Option 1) Order was given to take building 7 and set up an overwatch on building 10. The team goes to take building 7 and realizes the vantage point is great, but it will be harder to defend. However, they were told to take building 7 and they expend extra effort and resources to make that happen.

Option 2) Commander’s intent was given to provide overwatch on building 10. Looking at the map, building 7 could be a good option. When the team arrives, they see the problem above and realize building 8 offers the same view and easier to defend. They take building 8 and communicate thier position.

Most of us only offer feedback similar to option 1 if we even do that. We typically are told or tell our teams, “here is your team” and nothing else. Then when our teams are not performing, we offer the option 1 micromanagement feedback.

Once I understood this, I would ask each new boss these three questions:

1) Is there something specific you want developed within my team? This would give me their intent. Sometimes, there was nothing special and that is ok.

2) What decisions do you want me to call you about? This question defined the lanes I was allowed to operate within. I would discuss with them what decisions I was comfortable making on my own and which I still wanted advice on before making the final call. This is also where some leaders delegate authority down when they are able.

3) What issues do I call you in the middle of the night about? This is important to clarify because every boss I have ever had, has had a slightly different list. If I missed a call because I was going off of my gut, it could really set them up for failure and as we all know ‘it’ rolls downhill fast.

In my opinion, these are the only three things that need to be discussed for a SNCO. After that, it is just getting to know each other a bit better. If you start going over the AF Benefits Fact Sheet with me, you will be wasting each other’s time.

Is this on track for a book you would want to read?

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