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News > Commentary - Clearly exceeds: the Airman vs. the report card
Clearly exceeds: the Airman vs. the report card

Posted 1/10/2013   Updated 1/10/2013 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Chief Master Sgt. Jon Jefferson
673d Communications Squadron superintendent

1/10/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Should most Airmen be considered among the best? How about more specifically? In primary duties? When it comes to adhering to and enforcing standards? How about meeting personal and subordinates' training needs? Or how about as teammates, followers or leaders?

If we're honest, the majority of us will admit the answer is "no" with regards to at least some areas. But when it comes to evaluating our subordinates and stating how they performed, for a long time we haven't been completely honest or had the integrity to document it properly.

Yes, we have many high-quality Airmen. The key, though, is some of them are great while others are actually "only" very good.

So why is it important to differentiate between the two?

First, and most obvious, differentiating means being accurate and accuracy means you're telling the truth. If you rate Airmen as "clearly exceeds" when you know they don't, you're lying. I can't be any more blunt than that.

Second, we need to look at the impact and consequences of inflating a report. First, if you don't accurately rate your subordinates, they won't know if they're performing with sufficient quality and quantity or whether they're truly doing everything required of someone at their rank or position. In that case, the Airmen will likely not be properly prepared for more responsibility, the next duty position or the next rank.

You're likely setting them up to struggle, and maybe even fail, in the future by not telling them the truth today.

Documented performance is used in many instances. We use it to select the right people for promotion, certain assignments and duty positions, and commissioning to name a few.

If you're not accurate, we could fail to choose the most deserving or best Airmen. Not only is that unfair to the individual who should have been selected, but you're hurting the Air Force mission by increasing the chances we choose the good Airman ahead of the great one.

The most prevalent form of inaccurate rating is overinflation where the supervisor rates their subordinates higher than their actual performance warranted.

A very common excuse we hear is "Other raters are doing it and I didn't want to hurt my Airman's career."

That argument is frustrating and a cop out. First, it's saying that you're going to purposefully lie and fail your responsibilities because others are doing it. You need to ask yourself why you're letting their actions dictate yours.

Second, you can't hurt an Airman's career if you set clear and fair standards, let the Airman know where they stood against the standards, gave them time to improve wherever necessary, and helped them when needed. If you do that, not only are you providing proper initial, midterm, and follow-up feedback, it clearly puts the responsibility of performance on the Airman's shoulders.

It's up to the Airman to not meet, meet or exceed the standards. Since it's in their control and you gave them the necessary information, tools and assistance, all you're doing is reporting the outcome. How does that hurt them?

Maybe the problem is you didn't provide adequate feedback and assistance and then you're stuck with no true measurement for evaluation. Nah, that can't be it. We all know every supervisor is giving their Airmen plenty of meaningful feedback.

The countless stories from Airmen who didn't receive feedback at all, had it pencil-whipped, or received only brief and general feedback are all a myth. No one has ever had a feedback that only lasted 10 to 15 minutes or consisted of little more than being told "keep doing what you're doing."

The following illustration demonstrates another way to consider that you won't hurt their career. Let's compare three Airmen.

Airman Great has all "5" enlisted performance reports, Airman Good's last EPR was a "4" with the rest "5s", and Airman Average's last EPR was a "3" with the rest "5s" (or swap the "3" with two "4s").

When they're considered for promotion, Airman Great will have approximately 7 more points in EPRs towards his/her overall score than Airman Good and 13 to 14 more points than Airman Average. That means Airmen Good and Average have to be better in other Weighted Airman Promotion System categories to achieve the same overall score.

There's plenty of room to make up the points via testing where the historical averages for Airmen testing for staff sergeant are in the mid-50s, technical sergeant are around 60, and master sergeant are in the mid-60s. There are then 70 to 90 points available between the two tests for an Airman if they only study a little more or harder than the average.

Doesn't it make sense that an Airman who doesn't perform quite as well as another then needs to show a little more knowledge on the tests to compensate?

But let's say they demonstrate equal knowledge by scoring the same. Then of two Airmen who demonstrate the same amount of knowledge, shouldn't the one who outperformed the other be considered first?

It just so happens Airmen and noncommissioned officers gain about 8 points in time-in-grade and time-in service each year (roughly the same difference between having all "5" EPRs and having one "4," and the difference decreases the older the "4" is in the record).
So if the Airmen demonstrate the same knowledge, Airman Good would have to wait one year and Airman Average two years to earn the same number of points as Airman Great.
It doesn't look to me like we're hurting Airman Good's or Airman Average's careers if we evaluate them properly. It looks like we're ensuring they have to make up for their lower performance level or they aren't promoted at the same time as the Airman who outperforms them. And with Airmen vying for senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant, accurate evaluations are critical to ensuring only the best are promoted to our two highest enlisted ranks.

Hopefully you see the importance of providing accurate evaluations. So let's now discuss what "clearly exceeds" means.

When you check the "clearly exceeds" block on your rated Airman's EPR form, what went into your decision to mark it? It's possible you haven't defined it or we disagree on what "clearly exceeds" means.

In general, "meets" means the Airman is doing the minimum required. But how much beyond the minimum must an Airman perform to be rated "clearly exceeds"? In general, the Airman who "clearly exceeds" is a difference maker and stands head and shoulders above his/her peers in a particular area ("truly among the best" is an Airman who outperforms his/her peers in multiple areas).

More specifically, let me provide some examples of someone who clearly exceeds the standard. I know some Airmen will probably say they're just my opinion, but instead of getting focused on identifying individual examples with which you disagree, consider the type of Airman the examples paint and how they show that "head-and-shoulders above others" quality.

Airmen who clearly exceed not only perform well at their current rank and duty position, but show some abilities required for the next ones They not only identify problems, but offer solutions. They don't just do a good job, but make improvements and leave their position, work center, and unit better than they found it. They not only excel at their job, but also share their knowledge and skills with others.

They consistently build both depth and breadth of experience; they're proactive, display initiative, and complete tasks ahead of the suspense. Their impact reaches beyond their primary mission to their subordinates, peers, unit, base and community.

They don't only comply with standards, they set the example and enforce them. They go beyond just attending organizational events by leading, organizing and executing them and also encouraging and influencing others' involvement.

They don't just "check the blocks" as a supervisor, because they're actively interested and involved with their Airmen and purposefully guide and develop them. They tackle more than the minimum required training, education and self-improvement; and they're not only active in private and/or civilian organizations and volunteer opportunities, but they lead their peers and assume roles commensurate with their rank and experience.

Hopefully, you now have a clearer picture of what an Airman who "clearly exceeds" looks like.

I've seen in different forums that some Airman want senior Air Force leadership to change our evaluation system to eliminate overinflation and other rating inaccuracies. Some even say there's nothing we as individuals can do about the problem. They're

We shouldn't label a process as bad when we aren't executing it properly. While no evaluation system is perfect, our current system as a whole is fine. The biggest issues we face stem from how many of us implement it.

So now the question is, "What are you going to do about it?" Will you choose to do nothing and keep perpetuating the problem? Or will you choose to change the one thing you can control: you.

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