Is enlisted performance reporting inflated?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Phillip Browning
  • 80th Flying Training Wing command chief
The Enlisted Performance Reporting system constantly comes under heavy criticism from all ranks in the Air Force. The primary complaint is that the system is considered inflated. So, let me simply say, "If you want it to be, it will be."

I recently met with a group of NCO's during a Professional Enhancement Course and received both verbal and non-verbal cues from many in attendance who feel that our reporting system is inflated. When asked why, a few mentioned knowing other supervisors who are giving "Firewall 5" EPRs to troops who are, in their opinion, average or below average performers. Because of this, some indicated that as supervisors, they weigh their decision on what ratings to give their folks based on not wanting to hurt their opportunity to fairly compete for promotion. This attitude is the one reason why our performance reporting system continues to be inflated.

How do we resolve the problem? Change the form? Remove it as a promotion factor? In my opinion, changing the form, removing it as a promotion factor or attempting other radical measures isn't the answer. Simply put, the solution stares at each of us every time we look in the mirror.

Supervisors first need to take time, even if it takes more than an hour, to give an honest, thoughtful and documented performance feedback to their people. Second, they need to provide verbal feedback as needed and, when necessary, write letters of counseling, admonition or reprimand to remind folks when they're not meeting standards.

This adds up to the final step: writing the EPR based on one's actual not potential performance during the rating period. If the first and second steps are done right, the third shouldn't surprise the individual being rated.

One argument that comes to mind: what if leadership within my chain of command questions a rating? Though this may happen, I suspect it's infrequent, especially if leaders are kept informed about performance or lack thereof during the rating period. Even then, most of the time those in the chain of command are just doing a sanity/integrity check, as some still believe that a 3-level first-term Airmen cannot get a "Firewall 5" EPR. Remember, the purpose of having a system that is built with checks and balances is to provide the most objective rating possible for a member. You as the rater should be able and ready to justify the marks earned by the member being rated. If you can do that, stick to your guns; if you can't, reevaluate whether or not you've provided a fair and accurate assessment.

Another argument: I don't want to hurt my folks' opportunity to fairly complete for promotion against peers who are given undeserved "Firewall 5" ratings. Sure, there are ramifications to lower ratings; they are there for a reason. But consider the end-state of what you've been entrusted with as a supervisor -- to build a capital "A" enlisted Airman. Ask yourself, are you chartered to develop an Airman or to create an E1-E9? How many of us have inherited someone who's an E1-E9? On paper, they walked on water; in reality, they are a disappointment.

You're just adding to the E1-E9 pool if you give, and I stress GIVE, your folks a "Firewall 5" report who don't meet the performance standards that you set for them. Simply put, if you fall prey to the same practice, you're just as wrong as those supervisors that you criticize.

Here's my point: focus on rating your folks based on the standards that you set for them as a supervisor, not on the watered-down practice of others. Don't worry about what that 4 or less rating is going to do to those you supervise and let it push you into giving a 'sympathy' 5. Trust me, they worked hard to earn that 1, 2, 3, or 4 rating and you would be wrong not to give it to them. Set the example -- provide honest feedback by laying out clear standards and expectations, and if the member is serious about their career, they will measure up.