What do enlisted performance reports, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America have in common? They suffer from bad brand name recognition. So, what should we do? Should we bail out our EPR system?
We should rename the EPR system. We could change the name to Yearly Evaluation Report or YER? Years ago, we hoped a change from Airman Performance Report to EPR would do the trick. If it had, you would not be reading this. So maybe, that is not the answer. It is as though the name change worked for some, but the culture persisted.
Recently, the Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, James Roy spoke during an assembly of Airmen, and inevitably, somebody brought up enlisted performance reports. Laughter spread throughout the audience and I wondered why. I figured that we were all thinking the same thing: Here we go again!
Why do we immediately go there with that question? I believe it is because we communicate our message ineffectively.
It is easy to communicate orders to your people on what to do and how to do it. The pitfall is when communicating in this manner, we neglect the most important part â€” why we need them to do it.
Author Simon Sinek stated this is why we fail as communicators and why our messages fail at getting through to the receiver. Sinek theorized that great organizations communicate by focusing on why and placed less emphasis on the â€œwhat and how.â€
Think about everything we have been taught about the enlisted evaluation system. It states in Air Force Instruction 36-2406, â€œOfficer and Enlisted Evaluation Systems,â€ and explains what we are supposed to do. We should be conducting initial, midterm and follow up feedback sessions.
We send Senior Airmen to Leadership School to learn how to become effective leaders. We teach them to sit at a 45-degree angle, ask open-ended questions and set standards and expectations.
This process is failing in our organizations. We continue to communicate incorrectly by focusing on what and how and not why?
Roy said the key to our evaluation system is the periodic performance feedback sessions. Evaluation reports are capstones to feedback. Ok, but why?
When I arrived at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, my new supervisor was Tech. Sgt. Christy Jones. She changed my life by giving me an initial feedback. I did not just passively sign the form, but instead, was carried through standards and expectations.Â Jones actually got to know me on a personal level, so she could help me develop on a professional level. I remember a lot from that day, but what stood out most was why we had the feedback session. She said, â€œRight now youâ€™re a three. Every person I supervise starts with a clean slate. You will earn your rating.â€
I saw my career flash before my eyes! I knew I had always performed like a four.
So, what did I do? After thinking that I would end my career as a staff sergeant with a four on my EPR, I decided to get my act together. I accomplished a long overdue Community College of the Air Force degree, completed upgrade training and started projects around the base. Before I knew it, my midterm feedback was due. I felt my chest swell with pride as my supervisor looked me in the eyes and said, â€œI donâ€™t know what has gotten into you, but youâ€™ve exceeded all my standards.â€
What got into me was her performance feedback! What got into me was a supervisor who wasnâ€™t going to give me a five, but allow me to earn my rating. What got into me was a supervisor who held me to high standards through the feedback process.
At the end of last year and having earned a five, I did not need an EPR to tell me I was truly among the best, I felt it in my heart. The journey taught me more than a piece of paper ever could, the EPR just served as my epilogue.
With harsh economic prospects on the horizon, we are going to continue downsizing and reshaping our Air Force. However, we must continue to fly, fight and win. The only way to achieve this is to start with feedbacks and develop our Airmen much faster than you and I were developed.
When we ask an Airman if theyâ€™ve gotten all their feedback sessions, why are weÂ surprised when the answer is yes? If we change our culture, we should be surprised if the answer to the question is no. Who knows, maybe one day we wonâ€™t need to ask.
This is why feedbacks matter. This is why our EPRs matter.