Commentary by Lt. Col. Monte Munoz
4th Space Operations Squadron commander
Have you ever run into anyone who was bent out of shape because of a bad rating on their annual report? This article will likely help you to avoid this type of situation by leveraging honest feedback. Below, I will cover the definition of feedback or honest feedback, give some possible negative impacts if not delivered effectively and end by giving an example. The goal of this article is to depict the value of honest feedback in order to avoid surprising subordinates with their annual report because it wasn’t effectively delivered by a supervisor.
I define feedback as communication between a supervisor and subordinate to ensure the subordinate understands the current standing and ways to improve his or her performance. This feedback does not just concern the individual’s duty performance, but rather the performance as a “whole person.” A few main characteristics include: job knowledge, fitness, ability to work well with others, communication skills and decision making. Bottom line, anything that goes into a supervisor’s decision, with respect to how an individual will be evaluated during a performance period, should be assessed and discussed with a subordinate during a feedback session. An important thing to keep in mind is these expectations must be clear, realistic, attainable and measurable. Ambiguous standards or expectations aren’t helpful. Honest feedback represents reality, which is how the individual measures up against the supervisor’s communicated performance expectations. As a leader, it is your job to let them know how they measure up against those expectations; good, bad or ugly. Keep in mind, your delivery is just as important as the honest feedback. Obviously, you don’t want to crush a person’s spirits, you simply want to make them aware of reality.
Why does it matter if people are surprised by a bad annual report? It matters because they tend to become resentful and may act in ways that negatively impact unit morale and/or good order and discipline. They talk to peers about every reason why they didn’t deserve the poor rating and how their supervisor somehow did them wrong. The last thing they normally do is look in the mirror and come to the realization that the bad rating is most likely reflective of their efforts. What isn’t their fault is that they were surprised about the rating; it was their supervisor who didn’t effectively communicate honest feedback to them and give them the opportunity to improve. You see, if honest feedback were communicated effectively the subordinate could have changed their behavior or would have expected the rating they received.
So how can we avoid surprises that negatively impact the unit? As hard as it is to tell a subordinate they aren’t cutting it, it has to be done. It is part of being a leader. Not only do we owe it to the individual, we owe it to everyone in the unit. Giving honest feedback will help us avoid most problems described above. An example of providing honest feedback is as follows:
“Senior Airman, in our last feedback session, I made it clear, if you want to stand out in this unit and not receive a markdown on your annual report, I expected you to complete your required training (unit level certification, mission readiness/skill-level upgrade) by date X. You did not do so, so be aware, at this point you are failing to meet the established expectations. If your report were to be written today, you would be marked accordingly.”
What this does is inform the Airman they need to improve or change a specific behavior to achieve a specific result. This is just a simple example; as stated earlier, feedback needs to cover all areas relevant for an individual to be a well-rounded member of the unit, i.e. a “whole person.”
By considering this information during your feedbacks, you will be able to avoid surprising subordinates by the reality of their annual report. Bottom line, leaders deliver honest feedback effectively. When they do, it is not only apparent to the individual receiving it, but also others in the unit. Honest feedback helps to set an environment where people know where they stand and why. It motivates the hard chargers to do better and lets the rest know what’s coming so there are no surprises.