Formal, informal feedback key to motivation

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. William Routt
  • 95th Fighter Squadron commander
Motivation. What motivates you? Equally important, how do you motivate someone else or others? 

We have a tendency to come up with slogans or processes that attempt to make us better or more efficient, but this author believes nothing is more important than getting someone to want to do more or, well ... do less with less. 

Embrace change; it will make us more efficient. Computers, slide shows and spreadsheets will make our job easier. They "lean" our processes out. These are needed and they're beneficial, but the desire of the worker is more important. 

Jack Welch, former chief executive officer of General Electric, talked about "differentiation" and his 20-70-10 categories of people. To paraphrase him, the top 20 are the show ponies, the middle 70 are the normal majority, and the bottom 10 are the slugs. 

According to Welch, "Differentiation is about managers looking at the middle 70, identifying people with the potential to move up and cultivating them. But, everyone in the middle 70 needs to be motivated and made to feel as if they truly belong." Hope for advancement or a chance to enter the top 20 must be provided to the middle 70. 

Performance feedback is habitually lacking for those who surround us. Often, even acknowledgement is not there. As a leader or supervisor, do you provide feedback? 

Obviously, the Air Force dictates it. Performance feedback worksheets are a great point of departure. But, what about informally? For example, a "Hey, that was exactly what I was looking for" comment as you visit an Airman's workplace or pass them in the hall counts as informal feedback. 

All too often, whether the suggestion of a different format or acknowledgment of a good job, the chance to provide informal feedback is neglected. 

Talk to your people. Patton's, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what needs doing and they will surprise you with their ingenuity," is a great example. 

Nonetheless, if people are never told, "Good job!" or given constructive criticism, expect them to avoid thinking outside the box in the future. 

Informal and constant feedback is more effective than the required twice a year sessions with your Airmen. Ask yourself if you've gone home after completing a project and wondered if that was what the boss was looking for. Have you wondered if you overstepped your bounds or stepped out of your lane with some idea you pressed with? That being said, could there be someone who works for you wondering the same? 

Recognition comes in a number of different ways. Medals and ribbons are presented. There is the quarterly or yearly awards program. There are nice letters and congratulation notes from bosses. All are truly great but, that is not enough. How you communicate with your Airmen needs to extend beyond the monthly commander's call. 

Indeed, Maj. Gen. Perry Smith (retired) put it well, "Leaders should recognize not just the top performers, but also the many others who are competently doing their jobs with good attitudes and a strong commitment to the institutional goals. Making continuous efforts during the morning, at noontime and before leaving in the evening to thank people is an important part of taking care of them." 

Noteworthy is that this cannot be insincere or done flippantly without thought. Do not coddle or thank someone for showing up to work on time. You can and should, however, recognize their completing a project or job on time. 

In our profession we serve our country. That, in and of itself, is worthy of thanks. Nevertheless, everyday thank yous from those other than civilians can get mundane. It is right and should be acknowledged from time to time, but it must be done with honest sincerity. 

Next time you look in the mirror, ask yourself, "How have I done with motivating my Airmen?" Smiling when you enter and leave the workplace is nice. Better yet, get up from behind your desk, walk the halls and pat someone on the back. Recognize true service to one's unit and its mission and goals. Acknowledge someone who put forth his or her effort even if it fell short of how you may have wanted it. Just by talking to that person you will be helping them for future endeavors and motivating further efforts. 

Don't stop the formal stuff, for that is just as critical. But, do put forth effort to be there informally for your Airmen.