Thursday, August 2, 2007

COMMENTARY>>It's high time we deflate EPR ratings

By Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Bulmahn
88th Surgical Operations Squadron

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) — The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base chief master sergeants assembled in July to discuss the new Enlisted Performance Report form and all the peripheral issues attached to it.

Two hours in a conference room with 30 chiefs can be a bit tenuous and draining. Chief Master Sgt. John Hake, the command chief for Air Force Materiel Command, fielded some pretty tough questions that have no easy answers. Anytime there is change, there is resistance but the chief had some great answers and opinions.

One message really resonated with me. We must deflate our EPR ratings. I have felt this way since they replaced the inflated Airman Performance Report with the EPR in 1990. Back then, the Air Force made a serious attempt to force supervisors to give more reasonable ratings to their Airmen. They set “expectations” of what percent of the enlisted would get what rating. At some bases, the expectations where interpreted and enforced as quotas while some bases stuck with inflated ratings. This caused some disparity.

In hindsight, that probably wasn’t the best way to reduce swollen ratings so that temporary, instant deflation lasted a year or two before the air nozzle was reattached to our appraisal system. Unrealistic assessments cause serious problems for our Air Force, but it seems few want to be a part of the solution. I was pretty angry a few years ago at another base when a flight commander was resistant to appointing a particular master sergeant as his flight chief. I had already reviewed the senior NCO’s personnel record, and he had “firewall” five ratings; two from the supervisor who was trying to convince me he was a dirt bag! The problems don’t end there.

Inflation begets inflation. What do we do once we have given a mediocre performer three or four years worth of “five” EPRs? You guessed it; the mediocre performer gets a medal he never earned. How can anyone reviewing it refuse based on the documentation in front of them? Group and wing leadership rely heavily on those performance reports when they make decisions on decorations.

Trust me on this: The tougher you are as a rater the more your subordinates will “up” their game. Our people are smart. They know what they put into their career and what rewards they get from it. If they can perform mediocre work and get rewarded like a superstar, why go above that level? I know it’s politically correct to say all of our Airmen are driven, motivated, and fiercely dedicated, and thankfully many are. But the reality is most fall in a spectrum of below average to excellent yet we give them all the same rating. Why would we do that?

You can call me crazy, but after a while I believe some of our average performers start to think they are superstars. I gave an honest midterm feedback to a technical sergeant several years ago who was so upset at my brutal honesty that we had to break and reconvene twice because she was so upset. She had straight “five” EPRs along with a much higher opinion of herself than her superiors, peers and subordinates. Imagine that.

Inflation really hurts our very best in two ways. First, it can be very demotivating when Staff Sgt. I. M. Fantastic, who works very hard and produces exceptionally quality work, finds out from Staff Sgt. Ben Slacking, a substandard performer, that he also received a five rating. Why try so hard if the reward is the same? Secondly, it hurts them under the Weighted Airman Promotion System. I argue whenever you give a rating that is not earned, you hurt every Airman he will ever compete against for promotion. What a profound shift in thinking for some.

Honest assessments will bring out the best in our Air Force team. The substandard will improve or leave, the average will perform better, and the exceptional will truly be recognized above their peers. They will stay motivated and will serve as role models for peers and subordinates.


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