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Feedback: A form of guidance we can’t do without

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Most people do not fail on purpose. People usually fail for one of three reasons: lack of training, lack of resources, or lack of guidance. As supervisors, guidance is one of the most important actions we can take to ensure the success of our people. Guidance in the form of written feedback is an important technique. Furthermore, it's inexpensive and offers a great return on investment

As a squadron commander when reviewing draft EPRs, I often found evaluations with markdowns in performance areas. Many times, I've reviewed the performance feedback to see if the ratee's feedback generally correlated to the markings on the EPR. More often than you might think, the ratee received no feedback or received feedback with no reference about performance issues identified in the EPR. Delving into the ratee's Personal Information File (PIF) and talking to the rater, I often learned that the supervisor never presented any letters of counseling, (LOC), letters of admonishment (LOA) or letters of reprimand (LOR) to rectify behavior and rehabilitate the individual. Many times the feedback just said, "You are doing great, keep up the good work." And yet, the ratee received an EPR with one-or more markdowns.

When asking supervisors why they didn't provide feedback or take disciplinary action, most said they didn't want to hurt their subordinate's career. Nonetheless, they chose to use the EPR itself as a counseling tool and marked the person down. That is quite a contradiction. Where an LOC or LOR don't become part of an enlisted member's permanent record, the EPR does, and it seldom explains the reason for the markdown.

By all means, a supervisor should honestly evaluate a subordinate's performance. But the old line, "you'll know if you're not doing well because I'll tell you," doesn't cut it. Supervisors must have the courage to look their subordinates in the eyes and give them honest written feedback that defines their strengths and improvement areas. Feedback must be relevant and outline performance expectations. Don't candy-coat it. It's better to receive a brutally honest negative feedback than a career impacting EPR. The markings and the rating should never be a surprise to the ratee. The first time a subordinate finds out they are not performing well, should not be when they read their EPR.

Sometimes strong feedback isn't enough and an LOC. LOA, or LOR is appropriate. But it doesn't mean a career death sentence. Depending on the disciplinary issue, it is possible for an enlisted member to receive an LOC or LOR and completely recover during the reporting period. With the concurrence of the squadron commander and first sergeant, if a person had no further disciplinary issues during the period, a supervisor may request the LOC, LOA or LOR to be removed from the subordinate's PIF. In that case, the document served its intended rehabilitative effect with negligible if any adverse impact on the EPR.

Bottom line, at the end of the reporting period both the rater and ratee need to stand on solid ground. Written feedbacks - LOCs, LOAs and LORs - provide the tools for supervisors to provide guidance and for the ratee to understand expectations and areas of improvement. If used properly. feedback ensures subordinates will never be surprised by their EPR ratings and supervisors will have concrete examples that justify EPR ratings.