July Commander's Corner
By Col. David Meyer, 169th OG
/ Published June 26, 2013
MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, South Carolina -- It has been a couple years since my last Commander's Column, and this wing has continued to set new standards and demonstrate the patriotism, professionalism, and performance that make me so proud to be a Swamp Fox. You have all epitomized the Air Force's core values of "Service Before Self" and "Excellence In All We Do." I am humbled to be part of this organization. But this does not mean we are beyond improvement.
I'd like to speak to current and future commanders and supervisors, although these points equally apply to parents and spouses about "expectation management" and how it should be applied to mission accomplishment and our lives. It really is a simple concept, but we often fail in its application. Have you ever been disappointed or frustrated with the outcome or product produced by one of your subordinates? How did you deal with it? All too often, I have seen supervisors or commanders take no action other than maybe fixing the outcome to their level of satisfaction. How many simply walk away frustrated and now hold a negative opinion of the member who didn't perform to their expectation? How many ask themselves, is this my fault? Did I adequately communicate what I expected? Am I adequately holding myself and the member accountable to the proper performance of the task at hand?
For any given task, there should be an expectation set by the person or organization that assigns it. This starts with effective communication. Ensure the member(s) clearly understand what is expected of them. One technique is to have them explain to you what they think the task is. Encourage them to ask questions if there is ever uncertainty. The ideal situation is for them to "take the ball and run with it," but it is often prudent to follow up during execution to ensure things are going as intended. Hold them accountable and instill a sense of ownership.
The last step, and probably the most under-executed is "the debrief." We often praise a job well done (hopefully in public). But how often do we avoid the sometimes uncomfortable (private) confrontation of advising someone that they did not live up to the expectations set? This step is the most important part of improving future performance, yet we often fail to execute it. We can always reflect upon and emulate success stories, but learning from our failures is how we grow and improve. I am no psychologist, but I assume we fail at this step in order to avoid confrontation. Commanders and supervisors need to be able to communicate with complete candor regarding a member's job performance. It's never personal; it's just business. We owe it to the individual and the organization in order to improve the performance of both. Members need to have thick skin and understand that negative feedback is not given to offend, but to improve the member and the overall mission execution. We all benefit.
There are numerous methods with which this can be accomplished. An on-the-spot (private) discussion, a performance feedback session, a retention interview and a letter of counseling are a few examples. Regardless of the method, we have to be able to look a member in the eye and give them honest feedback in order to improve. If we fail to do this, we need to look no farther than a mirror as to why our organization is not performing to its capacity. It is a simple concept that we all could get better at performing.
I could not be more proud of all that we have accomplished over the last couple years. We are blessed with incredible people that have impressive commitment. Let's do all we can through effective expectation management and communication skills to sustain, support, and encourage our Airmen.