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Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

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EPRs, Bullets

What the Feedback: Escape the Feedback Famine

In my 19 years in the Air Force, I am one of many who have never really received a “formal” feedback.  Usually, all I got was “its feedback time… sign, date and return to me.”  Like magic, I had that phantom feedback date on EPR.  This phenomenon is what can be referred to as the Feedback Famine; a communication drought that occurs when people do not receive enough information about their performance. Looking back, how was I supposed to know whether or not I was performing to their standard? Better yet, how was I to know if I was even performing to my own?

To avoid the famine, we need to understand what feedback is and how to master it.  Now that I am a little wiser than I was when I just signed my phantom AF Form 931s, I understand that feedback is the information we all need to be truly effective. In fact, the most effective leaders actively seek feedback to enhance their performance. These leaders intuitively recognize the power of feedback.

While we could focus on textbook answers, it all boils down to this simple truth: we conduct formal feedback to relay expectations, develop goals, understand our people, and keep them on track. We could do better relaying the “why” of formal feedback to our people at large. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact the vast majority of our people WANT to do well; they simply lack proper guidance and direction. We MUST provide that direction and set the example.

 

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6-Part Folder to Support Feedbacks

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;

  1. Initial Feedback: Within 60 days of being assigned as the Rater (within certain other guidelines outlined in AFI 36-2406).
  2. Mid-Term Feedback: At the midpoint during the evaluation year (within certain other guidelines outlined in AFI 36-2406).
  3. 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.

Write your own EPR… Seriously.

“My supervisor didn’t do me justice.”

“I didn’t even see my EPR until it was time for a signature.”

“I submitted bullets and they didn’t even use them.”

Any of these sound familiar? It’s pretty common to assume that a performance report is going to be written by your supervisor, in any job, military or not. The biggest difference in the military though, is how much impact a collection of fragmented sentences have on say: Career opportunities, Early Promotion, Forced Distribution, Quarterly Awards, Annual Awards, AF level Awards, Promotion Boards, Stratification Panels, Job Interviews, Inbound Supervisor Perceptions, Quality Reviews and a few more that don’t come to mind immediately.

So here comes my analogy. Writing your own evaluation is akin to marinading a steak, seasoning it how you like it and handing it off to the Chef to cook. Sure, some Chefs are great on the fly… But some just make things taste bad… Some even burn things. Especially if they don’t have the recipe right.

Preparing your own EPR provides you not only practice on getting better with the whole bullet writing ordeal but it also allows your supervisor to tweak what you know you’ve done.  You may not have the final say, but doesn’t prep work make all the difference? Just remember; Act-Fact-Impact. What did you do? How did you do it? And lastly, who did it effect?

Take the lead. As an old Airman once said “The only person who will consistently take care of you, is you.”

Cheers,

JD

 

 

 

What the Feedback?

As supervisors, one of our biggest challenges is guiding and mentoring our people. Without doubt, feedback is our most critical tool, providing us with a broad mechanism that, when used properly, results in substantial gains on many levels. Unfortunately, we do not appropriately utilize this mechanism as often as required. In addition, we as supervisors often lack appropriate training and mentorship. As people, we often let personalities and emotion cloud our judgment.

There is no one silver bullet to solve our feedback dilemma. By dilemma, we’re referring to the constant struggle to both seek and provide feedback appropriately. Supervisors and subordinates alike often miss the point of feedback. Feedback is far more than simply sitting down with a subordinate and running through some check boxes on a form.

Feedback is about establishing a foundation of conduct and performance based on objective and measurable standards, identifying minimum expectations, and laying out individual and team goals. Moreover, feedback is an opportunity to re-address those same points over a period of time, to review a member’s performance over that period, and to provide an opportunity to help a member correct course when necessary.

Reference: The Total Feedback Package (v 2016-12-19-01)

**Editor’s Note: Join us over the next several weeks as we dive deeper into performance feedbacks with Daniel and Chief Vasser**

Gain a Space Within a 1206 or EPR Bullet

1206

(Updated: 29 June 2017, with additional shortcuts at the end)

Sometimes, when working on an awards package or evaluation, you just need one more space to fit a word that will make a bullet come together…well my awesome admin taught me there is a way to make this happen that feels like magic. In fact, one of my friends asked me if this was some “Swordfish hacker voodoo”.

Missing an 's' on the last word, but out of room
Missing an ‘s’ on the last word, but out of room

Typically, this calls for an overhaul of the bullet to try and get that extra space. However, there is an easy fix.

1.  Open Microsoft Word or a new email in Outlook.

2.  Type “2009”1206-2

3.  Highlight “2009”, and press “Alt” and “X” key at the same time.  2009 will disappear and a blank space will be left. This appears to be half of a typical blank space.1206-3

4.  Next, press “Ctrl” and “C” at the same time.

5.  Open the awards package or evaluation, and highlight a blank space and press “Ctrl” and “V” at the same time and watch the space shrink.1206-46.  Repeat this for each blank space until to reach your desired effect is reached.

1206-5

I was able to work in my ‘s’ and realized I forgot the ‘r’ in “instr” needed to meet the requirements of my wing writing guide. Most of the time it will free enough space for two lowercase letters. I just learned this trick before the TSgt SCOD and it has saved the day on almost every EPR I have reviewed/written.

Here are some additional shortcuts you can employ using the same method as above for varied space sizes:

2001 (creates a XXL space)
2003 (creates a very large space)
2000 (large space)
2004 (larger than normal space)
2008 (slightly smaller than normal)
2009 (smaller)
200A (very small)

Bullet Writing… For Dummies (like me)

Ah, the art of bullet writing. From the very first Air Force evaluation in the wonder years of the late 1940’s to today’s latest EPR form, many have been bested by the arduous task of taking life itself, amplifying it’s quintessence, whittling large narratives and compartmentalizing facts into… A single; three part bullet–with an impact [here].

So, where to begin? Let’s take into account how much weight an Air Force bullet holds. It’s a remarkable statement that can change the tide of a SrA Below-the-zone competition, it can validate those who are, as written, the best performers of the quarter/year and it can make or break promotion recommendations and even promotions themselves.

The bullet formula has many styles; from it’s simplest form of “Act-Impact”, then to a more in-depth and commonly used “Action-Result-Impact”.  Personally, I find the latter to have two parts that are redundant. A result is and can also be an impact.

So we arrive at what I prefer, “Act-Fact-Impact” or AFI for short. Vaguely familiar right?

The end result of shaping your bullet with “Act-Fact-Impact” allows you to write in an active voice. Active voice is the preferred way of speaking as it is direct and to the point. “Airman David ate breakfast”. The active voice is broken into 3 parts as well; Actor, Action and Recipient.

Let’s put it to practice. If Airman David helped with base clean-up, spent 8 hours bagging leaves, cleaned 4 square miles and led his fellow airman in the charge we can extract this bullet:

– Led 4-man team in base beautification; cleaned 4 sq miles in 8 hours–improved image of facilities & compound.

Sure, this is a simple bullet, but it’s exactly what happened. And anyone who reads it regardless of AFSC will know what it means. As we said at the begining, let’s keep it simple. What did you do(act), tell me something about it(fact) and how did impact others?(impact).  Now take this simplistic bullet and fine tune it with a much stronger impact such as cost savings or manpower efficiency and you’re good to go.

A common thought is that this is acceptable:

– Led 4 BSRP Ann/NCO TARPA proj; 6 BMP/JPG/MOV increase vs ABCsec tm–inc prod 500% to USAF std

For your career field, that may be the trend.  It is not acceptable as it isn’t helpful.  Bullets weighed down with catastrophic acronyms and decoder ring secured details may seem important, but let’s be honest. Any reviewing panel previously mentioned that oversee awards or such will start drooling as the grey matter leaks out of the judges’ ears. Keep it simple. For the judges… think of the safety of the panel.

To conclude, these “great works of fiction” or similar language that some have come accustomed to referencing, don’t have to be that.

Just remember, AFI or Act, Fact & Impact. Often times, the best solution is also the simplest.

Cheers,

JD

What Should be on a TSgt’s EPR?

One of the most frequent questions I get as the senior enlisted leader in my unit is how an EPR should read. I love getting this question because it means people are looking out for their subordinate or doing their best to improve themselves. For this article I will go into how I think a TSgt EPR should read.

First of all, I don’t think most people ask this in order to game the system and fabricate bullets that do not exist. Rather, they are often trying to find the result from the task that would best set their teammate up for success.

Now, an EPR should not be written to meet the suspense. It should be written all year long and then tweaked to perfection to meet the suspense. If we wait to capture our accomplishments until then, it shows.

Most of what I say is based off of the Little Brown Book (AFI 36-2618, par 4.2.2.) but is often overlooked. Let’s face it, the brown book is a great resource for showing us what to expect as we progress. In the paragraph referenced, it says Technical Sergeants are often the technical experts who are growing as technicians, supervisors, and resource managers. So, we need to actualize this on their EPRs.

Technicians: Look for ways to showcase their expertise. Show how they solved a problem no one else could. Did they re-invent the wheel and remove wasteful steps from the guidance. Their impacts should not be basic and read as if they are simply doing what is expected.

Supervisors: Are they leading people? How many and to what extent? NCOIC of 10-person team who made 300 more widgets than all other teams on base, etc. Show effective leadership and then how are they taking care of their team. Are they submitting awards packages? Did 3 Airmen make BTZ under their watch? Leadership is more than just kicking down walls, it is taking care of the team. The board wants to see those who are ready to be SNCOs and taking care of the team is a great way to showcase this.

Resource Managers: TSgts are often program leaders or managing some side project in the unit. On our team, all of our members have additional duties and a program they manage. What I look for are those who are making the program better for the next person when the torch is passed. Are they improving the process and making the unit better? Anyone can ensure compliance and create a crappy tracker showing how we are “on-track”. However, it takes someone who really wants to own their program to streamline it for the next person.

I know this is not spelling out specific bullets, but the intent is to show how we should be mentoring our TSgts and how they should be looking at their EPR. When they paint themselves in the ways listed above, they will stand out among their peers to the board and to their commanders.

Bullet Writing Tips (TSgt Jeffrey Henebry)

Here is a really good bullet writing presentation and tracker courtesy of TSgt Jeffrey Henebry:

bullet-writing-for-jr-enlisted-final-locked

bullet-tracker

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