Monday, October 26, 2009

Feedback

One of the keys to continual improvement is constructive 360 degree feedback. The problem is, we are not accustomed to providing others with honest feedback, nor do we ask others to provide the same to us. Yes, each year we receive at least one Fitness Report (FITREP) or Evaluation (Eval); and yes, for those of us in leadership positions, we write the same on our subordinates. The issue is most of us do not take advantage of these opportunities, nor do we create other forums for such feedback. It shouldn't take long for a Sailor to connect the dots and recognize a FITREP/Eval is designed to speak to a promotion board and not serve as a true performance appraisal. That said, a FITREP/Eval should be accompanied by a true assessment of one's performance. At the same time, mid-term counseling should be the same, vice the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, consider yourself counseled" evolution most have made it (I personally do not remember the last time a senior made use of a mid-term counseling opportunity).

Though the Navy has created opportunities for such feedback to take place, we not wait for them. When was the last time you asked a mentor for feedback? A junior for an assessment of your performance? A peer how you might be able to improve? Such 360 degree feedback will not happen by accident and we need not wait for CO/XO school or Navy Corporate Business Course (NCBC) and the like (two of a few fora that make 360 degree feedback a part of the course).

Recognizing that my actions in the area of Total Force Integration, though deliberate, have not resulted in meaningful progress, I asked a Reserve Information Warfare Captain for honest feedback. We have a TELCON set up for Thursday. I know the intentions of my actions, and I know how I hope they are being received, but a lack of progress clearly demonstrates something is lost in translation. It's clear the important assessment is not a self-assessment, but the perceptions of others. Unfortunately, without asking for feedback others will not willingly provide it and even if they do, it may not be completely honest (people are not willing to tell the emperor he is not wearing clothes, though clearly none of us claim to be emperors). As one of my valued mentors eloquently stated, "There is no more exacting a method of determining an officer's worth - than asking his (her) Sailors." To that statement, I would also add hollow feedback is a determination of little worth, while honest, constructive, and often times negative feedback, is a determination of great worth.

I look forward to my feedback session on Thursday and I will continue to seek feedback from multiple sources, as we can only improve upon our shortcomings if we now what they are. Likewise, I am prepared to respectfully provide feedback to others even if not specifically asked (which may have turned a few people off over time).

At the Naval Academy, we were continually asked to recite the Laws of the Navy, but none was more meaningful than the fifth:

On the strength of one link in the cable
Dependeth the might of the chain;
Who knows when thou mayest be tested?
So live that thou bearest the strain!

Asking for feedback is but one means of ensuring we are not the weakest link, and offering it to others ensures the chain is as strong as possible.

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