In each of our offices or shops, we work alongside some of the brightest and hardest working people in the world. We work long hours together in all types of adverse conditions.

In our down time, we get to know each other and each other’s families personally. We build relationships, dare I say friendships, with those with whom we serve. Part of it is because we must be proper wingmen, but part of it is because we all have so much in common. These relationships are what can make what I have to say difficult.

Honest feedback is going to be the most important tool supervisors will have available to them to ease the transition to the new forced distribution style enlisted performance reporting system. The previous system allowed supervisors to avoid delivering feedback that was too critical.

Let’s be honest, most Airmen were given the highest rating on their performance reports as long as they accomplished what was assigned and they avoided negative attention. Forced distribution will not allow that. Receiving what equates to a four or a three in the new system will be quite a shock for those Airmen who are used to getting nothing but fives. Rest assured this is going to happen as only a small percentage of members will be given the top rating.

So, how do we reduce the shock associated with receiving such a rating? First, supervisors must come to terms with the fact that what was previously acceptable for feedback is no longer adequate. They must look at their subordinate’s performance more strategically. The question when assessing their member’s performance should be, “How do they compare to their peers across the entire squadron? Or for small units, how do they compare to their peers from other small units?”

Next, it is imperative that supervisors tell their subordinates exactly what they need to do to be in the top percentile. Feedback should be constructive and considerate but painfully honest. Finally, feedback must happen throughout the entire rating period. When the time comes for Airmen to sign their EPRs, there should be no surprises when they see which boxes are checked.

If supervisors choose to avoid candid feedback due to fear of conflict in their relationships with their subordinates, they are only going to cause more issues down the road. Airmen may not always appreciate criticism, but they will appreciate that their supervisors have taken the time to pave the way for them to achieve their highest potential. What they will not appreciate is being told they are the best and then receiving anything other than a top rating.

Will we experience some heartache in this transition? Yes. But together, through positive and honest feedback, I believe we absolutely have the ability to successfully navigate through this change and emerge stronger.

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