Show me the mission

I submitted this to the Military Times back in July, it was timed for the debut of the new OPR.  Apparently it didn’t make the cut, so I’m posting it here.  If the Times ever changes its mind, I’ll remove it from here. 

Show me the mission

Officer performance reports (OPRs) have reportedly been overhauled, but it looks more like they have been stripped.  The mission has been abandoned, and a standards consolidation will test the integrity of the raters of company-grade officers.

Yes, it’s shorter, but at what cost?  The one-page OPR format was made possible through data reorganization and a disappointing elimination of unit mission descriptions and the officers’ impact on those missions.  The reorganization cost raters 33% of their space to assess their people, the additional raters gave up 20% of their space to concur, and the reviewers’ space was shrunk by 20%.  However, most of the space was purchased by combining the pre-existing 6 performance factors, along with a new fitness factor, into one line, which requires only one X to be entered.  The new form has been highly praised, but I’m not sure if it meets standards.

Years ago, OPRs had 10 performance factors, each of which required a small paragraph to explain how the officer actually met those standards.  After a while, it became obvious that while most officers were doing good work, sometimes their work had nothing to do with the mission they were supposed to be doing.  Some people argued that the wrong officers were being promoted because of a flawed OPR form.

So in 1988, “the mission” became the focus of officer performance reports.  The unit’s mission was described at the top of the form and the officer’s performance was required to have an impact on that mission.  The performance factors were reorganized into 6 and no writing was required to explain their performance, merely an X was placed in the meets, or does not meet, standards block.

But now, all we’ve done is go full circle back to the pre-1988 form and leave out the writing part which explained the officer’s performance.  It gives the appearance that the Air Force has decided that the mission doesn’t matter.  The form is praised as being based solely on performance, but it appears future promotion boards will be making decisions based solely on 6 lines of assessment given by a rater with an unknown mission.

For years, I heard it preached that, as a supervisor, one of our most important jobs was to ensure we accurately documented the performance of our people in writing.  Since Air Force officers are promoted and chosen for special duties mainly from what is written in the performance reports, OPRs are of paramount importance to their careers.  Was that just another one of those old-fashioned ideas that needed to fade away?

But there is another, more dismal change in the new form.  Since the same form is used for all officers, from Second Lieutenant through Colonel, the performance standards for field-grade officer and company-grade officer are now the same.

While the Air Force has often treated many of their field-grade officers, especially aviators, as if they were company-grade officers, it has always expected them to behave and perform as field-graders.  But now the new OPR form clearly shows that company-grade officers are to behave and perform to the same standards as the more seasoned field-grade officers do.

So, will Lieutenants and Captains suffer when evaluated against these new standards?  Probably not.  More than likely, busy supervisors will give as much adherence to holding the company-grade officers to the new performance standards as they have given to the requirement to provide performance feedback.

Will the Air Force’s mission suffer if its officers focus more on their personal performance metrics than they do on their unit’s mission accomplishment?  You can bet on it, because it just makes sense.

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