Every subordinate deserves a supervisor who can write

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Dave Goldie
  • 5th Bomb Wing command chief
Every subordinate deserves a supervisor who can write. This is a critical point I want to get across to you because Air Force careers depend on skilled writing as applied to performance reports, award nominations, decorations, letters of recommendation, etc.

Writing effective enlisted performance reports impacts assignments, promotions, careers, paychecks and families. As a supervisor, it's imperative you understand your responsibilities both as a rater and a writer.

When you rate a subordinate and write their report, use the "whole-person concept." Factors to evaluate include duty performance, professional qualities, leadership, scope and level of responsibility, depth and breadth of experience, specific achievements, community involvement and significant self-improvement efforts.

Be honest in your ratings and comments. Not everyone is a star performer, and you're doing those truly superior performers a great disservice by grouping them together with your good, satisfactory or marginal performers. It's important the markings on the front of the report match the word picture on the back. I've seen performance reports with significant mark-downs on the front of the form and a corresponding low promotion recommendation on the back, while the rater's comments read like a "firewall" 5. I call these reports a do-over or, for you golfers, a Mulligan. Remember to emphasize and evaluate duty performance, both good and bad, and differentiate between performers.

To effectively evaluate duty performance, you need to gather data and feedback. Although as a supervisor you should be involved with the day-to-day activities of your subordinates, there's no possible way to know everything a person has accomplished over the course of a year or reporting period. Therefore you should insist your subordinates provide you with the information and feedback necessary to write an effective report. By the way, this is a perfect opportunity to sharpen interviewing skills.

In addition, you also need to conduct research to fully understand organizational and operational missions in order to capture the full impact of a specific accomplishment. Ask yourself how this person ultimately contributed to the security and defense of this nation. This is the "big-picture" stuff you need to communicate in the report. During my research, I've gained much insight from fellow chiefs, particularly those who have had the opportunity to serve on promotion boards and have gained insight into what works and what doesn't work on a performance report.

For the enlisted performance report to be truly effective, it's critical to understand some of the basic elements of good writing. Although not all-inclusive, here's a short list of those elements I find most important.

First and foremost, be focused and organized. Use all available space on the form and quantify your statements; that is, be as specific as possible. Consider also the audience and avoid job-related slang or jargon. Don't weigh performance reports down with unnecessary, ineffective flowery language. Use direct, hard-hitting, fact-filled, results-oriented bullet statements to describe accomplishments. Each bullet statement should state what a person did, how they did it, and the result or impact. Use active verbs and write in the past tense to reflect the rating period. Again, be specific and quantify.

As you craft the performance report, prioritize statements and determine who is saying what. The more significant accomplishments and larger impact are reserved for the higher-endorsement blocks. Be aware promotion statements are allowed and encouraged. If it's missing, the signal is: "do not promote." Build a word picture that clearly illustrates the person's record of achievements for the reporting period. Say how standards were exemplified or exceeded.

Finally, never underestimate the importance of the duty description. This is one of the primary items the promotion board will assess for promotion to senior and chief master sergeant. You need to update it annually and show increased responsibility.

Another technique to writing an effective report that I've found useful over the years is to draft an electronic report and continually update it throughout the reporting period. This provides a means to work on the report as time permits and to review and tweak it as many times as needed. As a result, I was never rushed to write a performance report and I submitted the best-possible product that I could write because every subordinate deserves a supervisor who can write. I've also utilized helpful writing tools like the Tongue and Quill, dictionary, thesaurus, Writing Guide for Air Force Efficiency Reports and wing word guides.

Why is this important, Chief Goldie? Well, I'm glad you asked! It's important because it directly impacts a person's Air Force career and quality of life. In a nutshell, an effective performance report or Air Force award form makes the difference whether or not an Airman is promoted to senior airman below the zone or is selected for that terrific special-duty assignment or is ultimately promoted to chief master sergeant.

These are just three examples I use to help illustrate how writing an effective enlisted performance report impacts assignments, promotions, careers, paychecks and families. It's my firm belief that using your ability to effectively articulate a person's accomplishments on a performance report is your most important supervisory responsibility. Proceed thoughtfully and write someone else's report like you'd want your own written.

Remember, every subordinate deserves a supervisor who can write.