Toward the end of week 3 (remember week 0 was the first five days) we had something called peer evaluations or peer feedback. I am sure every flight received different variations of instruction, but our flight was told to compile a list of strengths and weaknesses for each of our fellow flight members. The strengths and weaknesses were discussed as a flight with all flight members present. Each cadet took turns being in the spotlight and we all went through our list out loud for all to hear. This was very awkward for us all, priors and non-priors alike. The one thing I like about how our flight did this is that we all kept our feedback constructive and professional. Some of the other flights were extremely brutal and used this as an opportunity to rip into each other. My advice for this is to be thoughtful but don’t be afraid to share your observations. The only way you will make each other better is if you are honest with each other. If you are receiving feedback, don’t take it personally. Take notes so you can truly understand what you need to work on and honestly ask yourself how you can improve. Another aspect of the feedback you will receive is perception. I learned a lot about myself because I was told by others how my various actions were perceived during training.
As a private exercise we were also told to rank all of our flight members from best to worst. Our flight sent this list directly to our Flt/CC and we never really heard anything back. I think it ultimately tied into how we were stratified by our Flt/CC which I will talk about when I get to the mid-course feedback. I found it extremely difficult to stratify my peers. I will have to work on this because I know at some point I will have to stratify my subordinates. I will have to determine what criteria I will use to rank others and how to fairly implement it. There is no easy answer but stratifications are an important aspect of providing honest and valuable feedback.
You will need to learn how to work with your flight because these are the people you will be living with on a daily basis. The peer reviews broke down a lot of barriers with our flight. After we finished the exercise we were much more comfortable with providing feedback to help each other improve. OTS injects another aspect into flight dynamics with something they called morale reports. As part of this exercise we were required to identify the best and worst cadets for the week and why. I was never comfortable with this because it felt like I was snitching on my flight mates. I also found that recording my thoughts reinforced the positive and negative opinions I had of my flight mates. I think my take away for this was to be honest and straight forward with your opinions. If you think someone is pulling your flight down, let the person know so your feelings do not leak into your other subconscious actions. Your subconscious actions can do a lot of damage to the success of your flight or of an individual.
As you are identifying the worst flight mates for the week it is important to remember there is a difference between someone who doesn’t want to be at OTS and someone who is simply struggling with the course. You should make the distinction very clear in your morale report. If you give the impression that a person is not trying it will be perceived that they do not want to be at OTS. If they later fail a graded measure, that information can be used against them when they are going up for review for dis-enrollment. Instead, I tried to always clearly state that a person was struggling with something and explain my plan to help that person out. This still met the intent of the assignment by informing the staff of potential problems, but it reinforced a positive development opportunity instead of a negative opinion.
My Perspective – Feedback
I appreciated the peer reviews because it required us to provide and receive feedback. Feedback is not popular. If feedback is not required it will probably not happen. If this is the case I think it is detrimental to personal development. I learned a lot of things about feedback in OTS. Since I was a prior enlisted supervisor I was already familiar with providing feedback to subordinates in the formal and informal settings. Something very valuable I learned during OTS was how to provide feedback to peers and superiors. Peer feedback is an art because you have to do in a way which is not condescending or will not put the person on defensive. People do not like being corrected. You have to be in touch with the people around you because this is the only way you will know how to approach a situation. Sometimes you need to be direct but other times you have subtly use comments or ask questions to help a person understand something from a different perspective. While it is easier to say or do nothing, I personally believe providing feedback ultimately helps others. The trick is to determine the correct approach based on the person and the situation.
Feedback to Superiors
Providing feedback to superiors is something I have never heard anyone talk about. In the enlisted force it is more common for the troops to complain about or to leaders about a problem, not provide them with constructive feedback. This is not ideal because it creates a culture of negativity. A positive example of this is to tell your supervisor if there is something that can be improved and your recommendation on how to improve it. During OTS do not be afraid to tell the staff if something can be improved. Don’t focus on things which are by course design or something you can fixed at the cadet level, but think about things within the realm of responsibility of the staff. If the reporting instructions are terrible, make them right and send your draft to the staff. If you don’t agree with an OTS procedure, re-write the regulation. If something doesn’t exist but it could greatly help the course, produce the product and send it to the person who is responsible. I believe this is a trait of a good officer. A good officer should be able to see how things could be improved in all directions (subordinates, peers, and superiors) and have the credibility, tact, and experience to make it better. Stay within your lane, but don’t be afraid to step up and fix something that is broken. Again, don’t stomp on those around you but make genuine efforts to make improvements. Most people will sense your authenticity and appreciate your efforts.