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Feedback best fuel to help Airmen

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth L. Jones Jr.
  • 60th Logistics Readiness Squadron superintendent
Catch phrases, mottoes, and vision statements give us a peek into the values of an individual or organization.

They also are great ways to start a conversation. Every time I permanently change station, one of the first catch phrases written on my white board when I setup my workspace is "Feedbacks are more important than performance reports." Then whenever someone visits me and I catch their puzzled look at the quote, it gives me the perfect opportunity to explain exactly what it means.

At the mention of feedback, most Air Force members immediately think about a supervisor and subordinate discussion and the completion of the required form. But to understand the phrase, we need a common understanding and definition of feedback. Then, to be used effectively, the supervisor has to give honest, accurate and timely feedback.

I compare feedback to the practice before or the coaching during the game - it's what helps us get better. Whereas a performance report is more like the game score, it only records how we did, but has nothing to do with making us better.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides the definition of feedback I like best: "helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance or product."

Feedback is everywhere and every successful event depends on some kind of feedback. The NASCAR driver races toward pit row talking on the radio to the maintenance team. He's telling them how the car is performing, giving them feedback so they can make the adjustments for the team to win the race.

In the football huddle, the quarterback isn't just calling the play, he's giving feedback, telling the linemen who they need to stop, who is getting through the line.

Even video games give feedback with clues or warnings through the controller vibrations. Feedback should be much more than a pat on the back, its information to improve performance and help the team win.

The role of the supervisor should be as the coach, the quarterback or the video game controller. Their job is to provide the effective feedback to get better performance from the team. It has to be honest and accurate. Telling the offensive linemen they are doing fine when the quarterback has been sacked 10 times isn't honest or accurate.

Feedback also has to be timely to be effective. If the race car has been sluggish in the straightaways, pulls hard to the right all day and the driver waits until the last to laps to provide the feedback, the pit crew cannot make the correction before the race ends. At a minimum, an Air Force supervisor should give initial and a midterm feedbacks, but make them honest, accurate and timely or they'll be ineffective.

It's pretty easy to get agreement on the definition of feedback, but how can it be more important than writing someone's performance report? After all, we have an entire Air Force Instruction on them, bullet-writing classes to teach them and squadrons spending a fortune in manpower reviewing, editing and approving performance reports. Keep in mind, a report is the summary of the event that is already done. It's akin to what position the NASCAR driver finished in the race or the final score of the football game. Performance reports document what happened in the past, but have little effect on improving the current results. This is exactly why feedback is more important than the report.

If you want to improve your Airmen, coach them with honest and accurate feedback. Tell them what they do well, but more importantly tell them what they can do better. Make it timely and give them opportunities to practice, perform and improve before the report.

Remember the driver or quarterback can't provide last-minute feedback and expect the team to have time to achieve victory. Feedback provides the opportunity to improve performance and the report only documents the results. The feedback is more important than the personnel report.