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Assessing enlisted performance

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Our Air Force has recently implemented a new enlisted performance system along with a new feedback system. The new forms leverage the strengths of our feedback process and aim to be less cumbersome and more responsive. They have also driven hard questions about how to curb EPR inflation while not hurting our enlisted troops.

I've found it helpful to use the word picture on the new performance report as I try to determine how to evaluate our Airmen. On the new form, a 5 rating is reserved for "Truly Among the Best," while a 4 rating is for performance deemed "Above Average." A 3 rating is "Average."

In a normal statistical distribution, the "3s" would make up the bulk of the ratings. However, our system is not meant to imply quotas or hard boundaries. Instead, it is left to supervisors and leaders to lend the human touch. When you talk to a squadron commander or superintendent and ask them who are their very best, they can usually rattle off a short list of names from the top of their heads. These are the folks who do great work, are completing their Professional Military Education, are on top of their Community College of the Air Force requirements and typically are leaders in the unit and the base/community. I would suggest that those are your 5s.

To get a feel for how the new system would be applied within the 45th Space Wing, a couple of groups ran mock evaluations. We asked supervisors at all levels to provide feedback and tell each of their ratees "if I were giving you an overall performance assessment rating today, here's what you would get." The mock rating data was very interesting. Here is a sample of 70 Airmen in the 45th Launch Group:
5 rating - slightly over 50 %
4 rating - about 30%
3 rating - about 10%

Your initial reaction to this might be "too many fives" or "not enough threes." However, I look at it as a prime example of why a quota system was not invoked - consider the fact that the NCOs that come to the Launch Group typically have over 10 years experience and require a 7-level certification as well as quality assurance and/or evaluator experience.

My point here is that strict rules and quotas won't work in this system-it is only supervisors stepping up to honestly rate our folks that will carry the day. I challenge each of you to sit down face-to-face with the Airmen in your section, flight or squadron and discuss the new performance system with emphasis on what it should take to get that "5" and how you can set your folks up to succeed in being rated "Truly Among the Best." When providing that feedback, I suggest you refer to AFI36-2618 "The Enlisted Force Structure" as well as the little blue book entitled "USAF Core Values."

The system is only as good as the leaders implementing it-be a leader!