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It all starts with feedback

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- It's been 27 years, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. My Military Training Instructor, Staff Sgt. Murphy, from Squadron 3743, Flight 366 was standing about four inches from my face providing feedback on why I needed to keep picking up my bags and then put them down. The entire time Sergeant Murphy was yelling at me, I was asking myself three things: What am I doing wrong? What would happen if I offered him a breath mint right now? Now, what am I doing wrong?

Ok, to tell the truth, I was only asking myself two of those three questions, but I could tell by the bulging vein in Sergeant Murphy's forehead that I needed to take action by picking up and putting down my bags. But to this day, I still cannot tell you why. Providing clear and constructive feedback is one of the most basic and probably most important, aspects of being a supervisor.

Feedback comes in many forms and from many people--superiors, peers, and subordinates. The most common form of feedback in the military involves "formal" performance feedback between a supervisor and subordinate. Without this feedback, Airmen are unaware of how their performance lines up with Air Force standards and their rater's expectations. It has been my experience that Airmen really want to learn how to improve and be more effective. They crave feedback that is honest, positive, objective and timely.

The Air Force believed feedback to be so important to the growth and development of its Airmen that it was made a mandatory part of our evaluation system. According to AFI 36-3401, "supervisors must discuss performance, potential and professional development plans with their subordinates." In addition, supervisors should also include: Professional Military Education, physical fitness, professional organizations, promotion opportunity, the Enlisted Force Structure, short/long-range goals as well as individual weaknesses that need to be converted into strengths.

As supervisors and leaders, it is our responsibility to make and take the time to conduct these feedback sessions. If we provide these properly, our feedback sessions will enhance performance, which will make the evaluation reporting clear-cut and easy to anticipate.

Along with formal feedback, it is also important we frequently provide constructive "informal" feedback. Informal feedback can assist leaders in setting the standards in the workplace and can be used to reinforce the behaviors valuable to the organization. This can easily be accomplished by simply getting up from behind your desk and walking to an Airman's duty section to thank them for a job well done. When done sincerely, this type of feedback acknowledges their contributions in a specific way that recognizes true service to one's unit, mission or goals.

I challenge you to ask yourself, "Am I a supervisor or leader who gives open, honest, constructive and specific formal or informal feedback or are my Airmen left wondering, what they are doing wrong?"