Courtesy of https://twitter.com/jbyerly81
How does the military approach negative feedback?
Performance feedback is imperative to create the kind of team you need to achieve your goals. As an employee, honest feedback (however difficult it may be to hear) is the only way you can improve, learn, and deliver your desired results. One would assume that in an outfit as organized and proactive at the US military, feedback would be simple and direct. But just like any other industry leaders in the military struggle with communicating their less than complimentary criticisms. So what lessons can we learn that will inform our candor going forward?
Joe Byerly is a Major in the United States Army with over 13 years of experience in garrison and combat environments. He served two tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and is the recipient of two Bronze Stars and one Purple Heart. He writes on the topic of leadership and has published articles in Military Review, ARMY Magazine, Small Wars Journal, and many others. His blog is From The Green Notebook.
I recently interviewed Joe for the LEADx Podcast, where we discussed his successful blog, leadership tips, and his thoughts on effective feedback. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Tell us about your recent experiences in the army and about your blog, From The Green Notebook.
Joe Byerly: Sure, Kevin. I recently served as the executive officer for First Strike and Brigade Combat Team for the Fourth Infantry Division out at Fort Carson, Colorado. In that job I was essentially the chief of staff for a 4,500-soldier brigade combat team and our mission was to deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours to meet our nation’s call.
For my job specifically, it was to ensure the synchronization of all those moving pieces, both in training and on the deployment side, if that situation ever arose. I also managed a fairly large budget and then I managed the readiness for both the soldiers and the equipment. So I made sure that everyone remained healthy, that all 4,500 of those soldiers could get out the door and that everyone had a vehicle that worked, and a weapon that shot. That was my last assignment and that was a very challenging, yet rewarding assignment.
Kruse: When did you start this blog and why is it called The Green Notebook?
Byerly: I started the blog about four years ago, and it’s something that we take for granted in the military. When you take a step back, it really is a cool idea and concept. In every supply room—and this isn’t just the army, this is marine corps, the navy, the air force, and the coast guard. We have these small, green notebooks that anyone can sign out and take with them. They fit in your cargo pocket and typically, in our culture, you bring your green notebook everywhere with you. Your green notebook contains everything from to do lists, to meeting notes, to your notes from a leader professional development session you went to, notes from training, and lessons learned from your training events, because we’re constantly learning as we train in the military.
In essence, these books represent the collective knowledge of the army, so at first I just thought that I would provide a platform to share my experiences. But then I found that there were so many people across the military that have these great stories and lessons learned on leadership that they can share.
Over the last four years, we’ve had everybody from enlisted soldiers, those are soldiers that, in a lot of instances, haven’t been to college yet, all the way up to four-star generals posting on the blog. It’s really been great and we’ve also brought a lot of authors in and people outside the military who have a lesson to share that resonates in our community.
Kruse: You wrote, “We in the military don’t always do a great job of giving folks the cold, hard truth about their performance.” Why do you think people are holding back?
Byerly: I think it’s because it’s human nature. I think for most people, you want to lift others up. You want to make other people feel good. Don’t get me wrong. There are folks out there who have no problems telling somebody that they’re doing a horrible job. But I just think that naturally, it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to sit there and look at somebody across the desk, and a lot of times in the military—just because of how the officer and NCO structure works out—you may be 23 years old talking to somebody who’s twice your age and who has three times more experience than you do about their performance. It’s hard and it’s uncomfortable for people. I think that’s a big thing, but I think that deep down, if you truly care about the folks that work for you, and you care about their development, then you’re doing them a favor by telling them, “This is where you’re failing. This is where you’re falling short.” You’re actually hurting them when you sugarcoat it or you avoid the topic altogether.
From my experience in the military, I find that those relationships always end in a dead end because there’s no communication there. The person that’s working for you is not meeting your expectations. They’re not meeting their performance objectives. Then eventually, you have to give them a bad evaluation, which is way worse than having that initial conversation three or four months a year before that, to tell them, “Hey, these are some areas that you can work on.” It’s been my experience too, that when you do tell somebody that, “Hey, this is where you’re failing right now and this is what you need to work on,” they actually try to get better at it. I’ve seen people go from being the worst-performing soldier to being one of the top two or three once they received that critical and very important feedback.
Kruse: What are your views on balancing military and career?
Byerly: I don’t think that you’re able to actually balance anything. I think that either you’re giving your family everything or you’re giving your work everything. It’s just managing when you’re going to be giving work and when you’re going to be giving your family time. I’ve found that if I’m not good with my own personal time management, that time will slip away from me. Next thing you know, I’ve gone several weeks without eating dinner with my family or spending time with my family. I do my best to do exactly what you’re talking about, Kevin, is instead of keeping a straight to-do list, but try to schedule things.
From the family aspect, too, one of the things that we try to do as a family is continually schedule events. Because if we just say, “Hey I think we’re going to go try to do something this weekend,” Friday’s going to roll around and I’m going to be tired. “I don’t want to do that. It was a crazy week at work.” Then next thing you know, I’m sitting there watching football all weekend eating Cheetos and drinking beer, and not really doing anything positive with my family. One of the things that we try to do as a family is continually schedule events, either date nights, short little weekend trips, and then we always schedule either a big fall vacation or a summer vacation. We make sure that’s blocked off and on the calendar. When I do those things, I’m giving all my attention to them, and not continually slipping back into work mode.