Why military aviators love feedback...

Maj. Mary Clark, Instructor Pilot and 1st Lt. David Shadoin, student pilot. (US Air Force photo by Jim Fisher)

Maj. Mary Clark, Instructor Pilot and 1st Lt. David Shadoin, student pilot. (US Air Force photo by Jim Fisher)

You might question why anybody would love feedback, especially people with the egos the size that military aviators have.

Well the thing is, although we’ve all experienced negative feedback and probably didn’t enjoy it very much, military aviators are created in training systems that are all about feedback.  Without feedback these high performance individuals would never make it through incredibly difficult flying training courses and earn their ‘Wings’.

Why do they need feedback? Let me give you a scenario.

You are a trainee Naval Helicopter Pilot, you have just embarked in a ship to undergo the last part of your Navy Pilots course, this is where you learn how to fly and fight your aircraft from the deck of the ship. You have operated from airfields before, but never from a warship. 

The ship is only available for a few days as it needs to be available for operational tasking with the Navy, time is tight.  This means that in order to achieve the required number of training serials you need to be operating at your maximum possible performance at all times.

The training is sequential, it starts with relatively simple exercises, such as landing a helicopter onboard the ship during the day, but then it progresses to more complex missions, eventually operating tactically at night. 

There is very little margin for error, there is limited to time for you to reach the required standard, if you don’t make it, you don’t get your 'Wings'. The pressure is on.

You've studied for hours preparing for these flights, you’ve even flown in the simulator to practice, but now it's for real.  Each flight contains a number of manoeuvres that you must carry out using a set procedure, during the flight, after each manoeuvre you get feedback from your instructor on how it went, this allows you to understand what you need to do next time. 

By using feedback from the instructor, you are able to fine tune your actions in order to successfully achieve the standard and complete the flight.  Each flight is one step closer to getting your 'Wings'.

Without feedback you would be unaware of the effect of your actions, you may notice some, but some will always be in your blind spot. (Look up Johari Window).

In order to maximise your performance you need to know what the most important adjustments are that you need to make.  Effective feedback will give you this information.

So how can we apply this to our teams that we work with every day?  We don’t have instructors sat next to us, monitoring our every movement and giving us feedback every day (thankfully!). But how can we use the principles to maximise our performance?

Here are a few tips from my experience:

  1. Debrief regularly - Take the time to reflect and analyse your performance as an individual, as a team and as an organisation regularly. It is during this debrief that you can discuss performance.

  2. Be positive - Make sure you give feedback on what went well, not only does this re-enforce positive behaviours but it also helps to motivate and reassure your team member that what they are doing is being appreciated and noticed.

  3. Be specific - Talk about what actually happened, what they did and what effect that it had. If you can actually show somebody what happened using recordings, images or data it will help them to understand what really happened, not what they thought happened. Avoid giving general statements on whether you thought that something was good or bad, that type of feedback is not useful as people need to know the facts and decide themselves whether it was what they wanted to happen or not.

  4. Make it concise - Prioritise what you want to say and keep it brief. Don't give more than three points or your team member will lose focus.

  5. Ask - Now you’ve armed your team member with some facts, ask them what they think and what they would do to improve next time. The chances are that they already know what they are aiming for, they just didn’t quite get there this time.

Those of you that are familiar with coaching will recognise these techniques. 

Coaching is often seen as a time consuming and unnecessary alternative to just telling people what they did wrong and what they need to do to fix it.

But from my experience though, time invested in high quality feedback conversations pays off in the long run.

Why? 

Because high quality feedback empowers people, it helps them own their performance and take it to the next level.

Military aviators love feedback, do you?

If you liked this article, you might like to look at my article on why military pilots debrief every mission.

Iain JardineComment