WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Many years ago as a new technical sergeant, I asked my master sergeant supervisor for an initial feedback. After a few weeks, I reminded him, and again a few weeks later.
Finally, he huffed and said, “You know, if I give you one, I’ll have to hold you to it.”
That was a costly feedback, let me tell you. It cost him his credibility, showing he didn’t live the values and expectations found in The Enlisted Force Structure (AFH 36-2618). It cost him an opportunity to help mold an NCO. It cost the unit because I had lost the opportunity to clear some of my blind spots and have a stronger impact.
That short retort was something that stuck with me for over a decade.
Fast forward a few years. Chief Master Sgt. Amber Mitchell, a mentor and supervisor at the time, sat me down for a conversation.
“Bruce, just so you know, your midterm (Airman Comprehensive Assessment) is going to be completely honest,” she said.
I nodded in understanding and then opened the folder to a checkered feedback with markings that stretched second from the left all the way to the right. Most were on my performance being “acceptable, good, or met,” and one was even marked indicating a conversation about it later.
She proceeded to tell me about my blind spots in communication and leadership, ways to improve my speaking skills and recommendations to serve outside the organization, as well to develop my networking ability. She gave me specific suggestions on how to develop myself personally and professionally.
That too was a costly feedback session, but this time, the cost was invested. There was an investment in me, to learn and grow as an Airman, better my supervisory skills, and sharpen my leadership and management abilities. The investment was also a solid reminder that no one is perfect, and a great model to follow as I grew into a senior NCO.
It was an investment in her credibility as a leader, building our relationship as someone I could trust to have the hard conversations with because I know she cared about me, our fellow Airmen and the Air Force.
All supervisors should know feedbacks (ACAs) are required multiple times per year, upon initial supervision, between the beginning of supervision and end of the rating period, and its conclusion, where you should discuss the performance report and plot a way forward for the next rating period.
In February, the Airman Comprehensive Assessment Addendum (Air Force Form 724-A) was published to “focus on character and competence,” which added other key leadership and followership elements, such as fostering an inclusive environment, emotional intelligence and innovation. Unfortunately, as I poll our Airmen, I more often than not hear they receive little to no feedback, or their assessments are mere markings on the page and not actionable for personal or professional improvement.
So while we are required by Officer and Enlisted Evaluation Systems (Air Force Instruction 36-2406), let’s recap why it is truly crucial to our force.
First, your Airmen NEED it. We must develop our teams and build tomorrow’s leaders today. Second, your Airmen WANT it. They want to know about their blind spots and actionable ways to eliminate or reduce them. They want and need to know what you think about their performance.
And team, please remember this is the minimum official feedback. Your Airmen deserve to know how they are doing throughout the year. So I encourage each of you to keep the dialogue open, make feedback a regular occurrence and also be open-minded to feedback from your Airmen.
Renowned entrepreneur and businessman Elon Musk says: “It’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”
So I ask, are you costing your unit and Airmen or investing in your unit and Airmen to develop tomorrow’s Airmen today?