'So, why didn't I win?'

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Keith Pudlowski
  • 366th Medical Group
"Why don't I win awards? I do a good job." It's an all too commonly asked question. 

I offer the words passed down to me from the leaders who mentored and molded me. The harsh reality is, individuals don't earn (win) awards for doing a good job; they earn a paycheck. Like most words of wisdom, only through personal development do we appreciate the message. What does it take to be competitive in the recognition program?

In today's down-sized, right-sized and shaped force, only the best Airmen, with little exception, remain within our ranks. Remaining in the Air Force requires a distinct level of technical and professional competency and proficiency. The demands on our work force have intensified, and Airmen across the board stepped up and met that challenge.

Most Airmen today demonstrate day in and day out the will and ability to do a good job. The Air Force is a devastatingly lean and lethal fighting force attributable to the combined efforts of a large number of individuals recognized as doing a good job.

Back to the harsh reality. Since the exceedingly vast majority in the force are doing a good job and raised the bar to the next level, simply doing a good job equates to mediocrity when it pertains to competing in a formal recognition program. This is not to diminish anyone's duty accomplishments. Meeting the mission takes tremendous dedication and hard work. It's the norm in our service today.

It's important to understand award winners are recognized as the "best of the best." They stand above their peers in many aspects. If you are merely focused on doing a good job, kudos and congratulations. I appreciate your good work, but the stark reality is you are running with the pack. You are neither out in front leading the pack nor are you putting any distance between yourself and your peers and co-workers. If you present to a board expecting to come away with honors under the assumption of doing a good job, your naivety will get you trampled on by your competition and leave you defeated and deflated.

So what does it take? Above all, it takes an understanding of the program. Supervisors and subordinates alike need to know what the boards are looking for, how packages are scored and how to be competitive in a highly competitive program.

Don't get frustrated with the recognition program because inexperience fails to produce the desired results. Fight for feedback, learn and seek guidance from superiors, especially those with experience sitting on boards. Mentorship is an important facet of the program.

Awards are based on the "whole person" concept. There are actually several aspects of the whole person, but these are traditionally lumped into or limited to the "big three," leadership and job performance, significant self-improvement and base/community involvement. Points on boards are awarded in each category, so it's essential to be solid in all three areas to be competitive.

In breaking down the "big three," the first requirement, ironically, is success in your job. That is the bedrock and foundation in competing. Absence of solid work performance is a definite show stopper. If you are weak in your duty performance, you simply will not and should not be considered for awards.

Again, most troops do a good job, but revisit the harsh reality. Distinctly superior duty performance might earn you added points compared to your competitors in that sole area. But if that is your only strength, any advantage gained will quickly erode as the rest of the package is compared and scored.

Next, it takes a balance of significant personal and professional self-improvement. I have seen more fluff and filler in this category than any other.

Weaknesses in self-improvement tends to be obvious to the reviewer. A bullet referencing reading Lincoln on Leadership only carries so much weight. Additionally, recurrent training required by everyone in the group or wing tends to have minimal impact.

So what are major impact bullets in self-improvement? They include success at professional military education including recognition and awards, higher education, earning degrees, College-Level Examination Program, upgrades in minimal time, 90+ scores on career development course and end of course exams and formal training to name a few.

In conjunction with solid leadership and self-improvement, the whole person concept requires base and community involvement. Let me point out all involvement is good. However, involvement certainly differs with importance and impact. The level of responsibility associated in involvement speaks volumes.

Organizing a function is much more hard hitting than a couple hours of participation. Being an elected official of an organization scores more points than being a member. Some examples of more notable involvement includes chairing committees, being active in the local community, participation at the group and wing level, organizing events, mentoring in PME, recurrent involvement to a cause (like AADD) and tutoring grade school children.

I often hear concerns awards are won based on how well a supervisor can write a nomination package. I concede there is limited merit behind this statement, only in the fact effective bullet writing is a bonus. However, substance in a bullet trumps flash and style. The fact is the meat of a bullet is clear and evident to board members. A weak bullet covered in glamorizing and glorifying words is still weak. Without legitimate substance, it's impossible to sway a board enough to alter a decision from someone who is more deserving. Supervisors do owe it to their troops to write effective, hard hitting bullets that fully capture the subordinate's accomplishments just as subordinates need to provide supervisors with the meat necessary to make a package competitive.

An understanding of bullet writing is important as well. Grab the reader's attention. Strive to incorporate the three main parts of a bullet; action, impact and comparison (when applicable). Make the accomplishments stand out.

Now a word about favoritism. It is an ugly word that strikes a nerve with me. Does it exist? I would be foolish to universally disclaim its existence. However, I refuse to accept condemnation of this program based on extremely isolated cases.

Most often, claims of favoritism are unsubstantiated rhetoric by inexperienced, uneducated and non-competitive individuals who use this claim to cover their inadequacies. It's infuriating to witness the extraordinary accomplishments, dedication, commitment and all-around efforts by our award winners only to have a few who lack competitive attributes claim the awards winner's achievements were based on favoritism. To those individuals, I say put up or shut up.

The recognition program is a vibrant, viable tool to reward our deserving "best of the best." It gives me a tremendous sense of pride to be witness to so many shining stars. The caliber of our Airmen is staggering. Doing a good job is only a part of the equation needed to successfully compete at any level. The whole person requires time and sacrifice, much of it during off-duty hours. Being successful in the work center in conjunction with the extra efforts and dedication to self-improvement and base and community involvement makes you competitive for awards.