Force management: leading Airmen through change

by Lt. Col. Michelle Tarkowski
786th Force Support Squadron

If you’ve read or listened to the news any time in the past year, you’ve probably heard stories about the dire situation surrounding the Department of Defense budget. The Air Force is and will continue to be affected by the changes in funding levels that are being discussed. Many of the most visible and personal effects of these changes are likely to occur in the realm of personnel pay, retention and benefits.

None of the challenges that have been announced, or those yet to be realized, change the responsibility we have to care for Airmen and to continue to strive for excellence as the world’s premier air, space and cyberspace force providing global defense and security options to national leadership. If anything, the responsibility of leaders at all levels to care for Airmen and nurture the core values within our ranks will increase due to the change that is sure to take place.

What are the expectations of leaders at all levels in an environment that will include multiple ongoing force management programs?

Superior performers should continue to be groomed and encouraged to seek out opportunities for growth and development.
With fewer people to complete a mission that isn’t dwindling, the temptation to hang on to the best and brightest will be great. Commanders must resist the urge to hoard their star performers even in the face of shrinking organizations, continued deployments and the loss of experienced professionals due to selective early retirement boards, retention boards and reductions in force. Only by continuing to develop our best will the U.S. Air Force remain great.

Leaders have a responsibility to provide timely and useful feedback to their subordinates. This means giving motivated and talented Airmen ideas for improving performance. It also means delivering immediate corrective feedback to members that are not meeting the standards. Annual performance reports and appraisals, likewise, should be an ongoing dialogue between superiors and subordinates, not a piece of paper filed in a member’s record that describes everyone as above average.

Leaders must clearly and consistently ensure their subordinates know and understand the expectations that come with the tremendous opportunities the Air Force provides and then be willing to identify members who should begin looking for opportunities outside of the Air Force if they are unable or unwilling to meet those expectations. The Air Force currently has more people who want to stay and serve than it has room for and more people seeking to enlist or graduating from commissioning sources than people retiring or separating. There is no room for mediocrity. There should be no tolerance for substandard performance.

Finally, leaders from all career fields need to ensure their Airmen understand the force management programs that will be a part of the overall budget plan. By developing our best and brightest, providing timely and accurate feedback regularly and reinforcing that excellence is the expected standard. Every Airman should have a realistic expectation of what these programs might mean for them and their future.