Commander's forum- Honest feedback and self-assessment essential to Airmen's success

  • Published
  • By Maj Anthony Antoline
  • 412th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander
The Air Force requires that each supervisor sit down and give Airmen feedback. This can be one of the most important ways to help individuals set a path for success; another critical element is for members to assess themselves. There are performance reports, award packages, professional military education, civilian schools, decorations, and many more opportunities for individuals to develop an opinion of themselves and their job performance. A self-assessment will help you, your supervisor, and commander to plan the next steps in your career.

One method for self-assessment is the quadrant method. Consider figure 1, and choose the quadrant that best fits you. (Math is not the focus of this article, just using it as visual aid.)

Figure 1
Quadrant three makes up a small percentage of the population and is mathematically described as (-x, -y). This group tends to be those who are not happy in their career, and their behavior reflects the same. Poor performers make up about 2.14 percent of the population, and will most likely be exiting the Air Force at a date to be determined by their leadership.

Quadrant four is comprised of the solid citizens of the workforce. Integrity is a key part of the character of these people. Q4 individuals come in to work, do what is required, and leave on time. Q4 people make up about 47.72 percent of the population. The mission will not get done without this sector. Q4 people tend to be difficult to recognize for awards or special recognition because it is hard to distinguish themselves from the majority.

Quadrant two makes up about another 47.72 percent of the workforce. These folks are hard charging, making choices to propel the mission forward. Service before self starts to play heavily in their thought process, as well as excellence. These folks start to seek help from supervisors and commanders to create plans to push themselves forward for the common good. This group is easily recognized for their contributions due to their positive attitude and dedication.

Quadrant one are the true superstars; everything they touch turns out right. They also represent a very small percentage of the population, 2.14 percent. This can be equated to our senior enlisted ranks of senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant, which total 3 percent of the enlisted force. These types of people make the mission happen every day and fill the critical role of leader. Not only do they understand what the mission is, where they fit in that mission and what must be done to accomplish it, but they help others to understand as well.

Before you get up in arms about my percentages and make the argument that the Air Force is a cut above the rest, which I tend to agree with, Figure 2 is another run at these numbers to help with the analogy (but still uses math, "I know, boo."). Better yet, come up with your own numbers from your experience. The idea is to see where you fit and realize that not everyone is the same caliber of performer.

Figure 2
Not everyone is a superstar and the quadrants are not stable over time. The quadrant you find yourself in may shift from time to time, so assess where you are and where you want to be. It is crucial to have this in mind when having feedback sessions with your supervisors and commanders. They will be able to help you achieve goals or realign focus.

A problem can occur when your self assessment differs from your supervisor's by more than a quadrant, or standard deviation. This is where feedback and honesty from both sides becomes critical. You may have heard that people rarely set out to do a poor job, and I believe this to be true. Most people try to be successful. As a supervisor, being able to communicate what is "success" is key to helping Airmen achieve personal goals as well as the goals of the Air Force. On more than one occasion, I thought I was going to succeed but was surprised to find out after the fact that I did not in some cases. This was because I did not fully understand the measure of success my supervisor had in mind. The more specific those conversations are, the more beneficial they are.

Most categorize feedback as being positive or negative. Everyone likes the positive feedback that we receive, and cringes at the negative. Hopefully when we receive feedback there is a little bit of both used in our session; then it can be seen as constructive feedback, and that is more useful to the individual. Try not to take negative feedback personally, but look at it as opportunities for improvement. This allows you to synchronize with your supervisor, learn what is important in his or her eyes, and be able to set goals to attain them. Glowing feedback makes us feel good but often yields no direction. Have you ever heard, "just keep on doing what you are doing"? Those who find themselves in Q4, Q3, and Q2 need feedback that sets a path for success. If you are unsure of what your boss's priorities are, it is best to ask for feedback. Remember, though this can be uncomfortable for both parties, a supervisor who gives no direction or guidance is not doing anyone any good. Take the opportunity to sit down and spell it out; in the long run your Airmen will be better off.