The Importance of Formal Feedback

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Wes Smith
  • 55th Wing Inspector General
As your 55th Wing Inspector General, I feel if Airmen do their job right, their actions should reduce the number of complaints destined for the IG. The IG office would rather spend time educating the base population and leadership on their rights and responsibilities under the IG system than addressing issues that could have been easily prevented with better communication.

For example, we have started to see a trend concerning a lack of formal performance feedback. As you may know, formal feedback is an integral part of the evaluation process and is required by AFI 36-2406. It's the responsibility of the rater, the ratee, the rater's rater and the commander so; a lack of feedback is a failure at four different levels. This issue typically comes to our attention when a person comes to the IG because he or she is unhappy with a performance evaluation. The first question we ask is; what were you told during your formal feedback sessions? Expecting to hear his or her rater outlined a failure to meet expectations. All too often we are told formal feedback didn't take place. Looking over a report after it has gone final isn't the method for a ratee to learn what was expected during the reporting period. No evaluation should be a surprise. To make matters worse, in all of the situations I have seen a feedback date is listed on the performance report. Therefore, in addition to an important process not taking place, there are also integrity issues involved.

The people with less-than-optimum performance are the people who need formal feedback the most. Often times people are very new to the Air Force and junior in rank. Many don't reach their potential without mentoring and being challenged. Formal feedback is the ideal tool for this. Personally, I look at my subordinate's performance, good or bad, as a reflection of my leadership. I'm successful when he or she succeeds; I fail when he or she fails.

Next we ask if the ratee requested feedback, since accomplishing feedback is also a responsibility of the ratee. It's hard to sympathize with a person who isn't doing his or her part; communication is a two-way street. Since it is the member who is being evaluated, it is in the member's best interest to ensure feedback gets done and he or she act on it. The feedback session is also a great time for the member to let a supervisor know his or her career aspirations. My personal philosophy is, "if it's important to you, then it's important to me." If members are willing to give it their all, their supervisors should be willing and engaged to help them achieve their goals; communication is again the key.

It is also in the best interest of the rater's rater and commander to accomplish required feedback. Since lack of feedback is a violation of an AFI, we contact the rater's commander and formally refer the complaint if a member alleges feedback didn't take place but the performance report indicates otherwise. Additionally, AFI 36-2406 states, "unit commanders should consider disciplining and removing from supervisory positions those raters who fail to conduct documented performance feedback sessions." I have seen this happen. While lack of feedback doesn't automatically invalidate a performance report, I've seen members successfully appeal their performance evaluation solely based on a lack of feedback.

I know a lot of people feel they give informal feedback everyday; they should, and that's fantastic. However, it doesn't negate the requirement for documented, formal feedback. We collectively spend a lot of manpower doing great things for our Air Force and our country. We also spend a lot of time documenting these accomplishments in performance reports that become an important part of our permanent records. We take that part of the evaluation process very seriously. We should also spend the extra hour or so it takes to prepare and perform a formal feedback session as they are also an important part of the very same process. There is really no valid excuse for not conducting formal feedback. If people know exactly what is expected and understand they will be held accountable, they are more likely to meet those expectations that benefits everyone involved and makes the Air Force more effective. Put it on your calendar, remind your rater, track it or do whatever it takes to ensure formal feedback gets accomplished. We owe it to our Airmen and to our Air Force. It's required and it's the right thing to do.