Feedback focus--situation, behavior, impact

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Alex Perry
  • 81st Training Wing command chief
The chief master sergeant of the Air Force recently authored a perspective on "Evaluating our Airmen." He talked about "the constant challenge of over-inflated performance reports, and distinguishing between our truly exceptional performers and those who are just meeting standards." 

As leaders we have a responsibility to fairly and accurately evaluate the performance of our Airmen in accordance with the standards outlined in Air Force Instruction 36-2406, Officer and Enlisted Evaluation Systems. Before an evaluation takes place though, Airmen are given initial, midterm and follow-up feedback. Regular and periodic feedback helps "an individual contribute to positive communication, improve performance, and grow professionally." 

How often have you actually had feedback in accordance with the AFI? I've had many different supervisors throughout my career -- some do feedback in accordance with the AFI, and some ... well, not so much. Each type of feedback is different by design. For instance, initial feedback is not really feedback at all. Per AFI 36-2406, "the primary purpose of the initial feedback session is to establish expectations for the upcoming rating period. A rater is not expected to have already developed a clear-cut opinion of an individual's performance by the time the session is conducted. Therefore, raters are not required to place any marks on the scale in Section III of the (performance feedback worksheet) for the initial feedback session." 

So feedback really occurs 60 or more (generally 180) days after the initial session. During the mid-term and follow-up feedback sessions, supervisors begin providing "feedback" about an Airman's performance compared to the expectations set in the initial session. At each subsequent feedback session, supervisors then place marks on the lines next to each item on the PFW, indicating where the person being rated stands and how much improvement is needed. When we follow the process in AFI 36-2406, most Airmen respond favorably because they know what's expected and their supervisor took the time to identify areas for improvement. 

How do you give someone effective feedback? Select a time and place where both you and the receiver can be free from distractions. I grew up in our Air Force where I learned, "praise in public, and criticize in private." Why? Most Airmen are good-natured, so taking time in private to point out areas for improvement affords them the dignity and respect they deserve. It also allows them room to consider the feedback without the pressures of others in the work center. Telling someone they've made a mistake, need to correct something, or giving criticism is almost always better received in private. 

Once you've selected the right time and place, consider and prepare your approach. Before jumping right into a feedback session, here's an approach I learned at the Center for Creative Leadership for giving feedback called SBI -- situation, behavior and impact. 

Here's how the SBI approach works. Describe the feedback in terms of the situation -- yesterday at lunch, for instance. This helps the receiver connect and recall the time and place of his actions. Next, describe the behavior -- what was said or done -- to help the recipient acknowledge the behavior. Lastly, describe impact the behavior had on you or others. Describing how it made you feel removes judgment and helps the recipient open up. By following the SBI approach, you can package your feedback in a manner that shows respect and allows the recipient time to process it and understand the areas for improvement. 

After the recipient accepts the feedback, the next step is to provide recommendations for improvement. Providing examples gives the recipient a starting point to begin his improvement and shows you're interested in his success. 

The next time you plan to give feedback, try the SBI approach and help your Airman grow to realize his potential.