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Cultural shift in personnel management means biannual evaluations for Air Guard noncommissioned officers

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ARLINGTON, Va. -- A cultural shift has begun in the Air National Guard when it comes to how Airmen will be evaluated not only in their job performance, but also as an Airman as a whole - on duty and off.

Enlisted Performance Reports - a tool already in use by the active Air Force and the Air Force Reserve - will be used by Air Guard leaders to evaluate their subordinates in areas such as job performance and physical fitness, as well as in off-duty categories like continuing education and volunteerism.

"This is a huge change culturally for us in the Air National Guard because now we are requiring that our traditional Airmen receive EPRs," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Allyson Solomon, assistant to the director, Air National Guard, focusing on manpower and reserve issues. "Change is always so difficult, especially when people try to quantify it in terms of 'is this going to take more time? What is going to be the added value?'"

That value, or worth, is something that Solomon said some Airmen are already questioning.

"From my perspective, and the reason why I think it's a good thing ... is that if we say that our Air National Guard Airmen are the best, this gives us a fabulous opportunity to document some of their value to our organization by quantifying what they bring to the table every two years," she said. "If it's done well ... it's going to foster a much more open dialogue between a supervisor and a subordinate regarding expectations and mission accomplishments."

Solomon was quick to point out that the only feedback Air Guard members had received prior to this change occurred when commanders would sit down with their Airmen once a year. However, there was nothing documenting performance history and there was nothing from these meetings going into official records.

This new requirement is a way to ensure that Air Guard members get the feedback they need and deserve regarding their performance, and how that relates to their place within the organization, she said.

Solomon said the Air National Guard is the last Air Force component to implement this requirement for its traditional Airmen, and it is a requirement that has been asked for by Air Guard leadership at the Enlisted Field Advisory Council for many years.

It's never had any traction until leaders really started looking across the spectrum and trying to figure out ways in which the playing field across all three components could be leveled, she said.

One way in which this could level the playing field within the Air Guard itself is when it comes to promotions and competition for senior positions as people navigate through their career, she said.

Another benefit, according to Solomon, is in cases where Airmen want to transfer between the three Air Force components.

"We talk about the facilitating or the movement of folks from the [Air Force] Reserve, to the Guard, or to the active force - back and forth - and making that process more seamless and transparent," she said. "The EPR process was one of those gaps between how we do business in the Air Guard and how the other two components do business, and this is a way to alleviate that gap when it comes to transitioning between components."

Solomon said rolling out the EPR process to traditional Air Guard members falls in line with the Air Force's 3-to-1 initiative.

"The goal of 3-to-1 is to help Airmen transition across the three components without any barriers," she said. "A lot of times, paperwork can become cumbersome as we flow from one system to the other, but what [is it] about our human resource management processes across the components that make that difficult?"

"We need to integrate how we manage our human resource capital and the management of our personnel to make that flow truly 'total force,'" Solomon said.

"We want to make it easier to go from one component to the other, or move within a component, by streamlining those current personnel processes. It's a more efficient way to operate as a total force."

So what does this all mean for the Airman?

The initial rating period began Jan. 1, and includes approximately 32,000 senior airmen and staff sergeants. The rating period for these Airmen is scheduled to end in 2014, and is based on their birth month. So, if you were born in January, you should receive you first EPR sometime in January 2014. If you were born in December, your EPR should come in December 2014.

The rating period for the approximately 33,500 technical sergeants and above is scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2014, and initially it too will be for one year and based upon an Airmen's birth month.

After the initial EPRs, both groups can expect to be rated during their birth month every two years.

"The idea behind this is that we didn't want to overwhelm the field with a lot of work, and we also wanted to be able to learn from any mistakes we could make along the way," Solomon said. "This is new for everybody - from the folks being rated, to those who are processing the forms."

Solomon said that there would be training modules and video teleconference training sessions on the Air Force's myPers website to illustrate, step-by-step, how the form is correctly filled out.

For Solomon, the costs outweigh the benefits, and she believes other leaders will feel the same way.

It's a way to allow Airmen to make their own decisions about their careers because if the feedback is negative, that may mean that some adjustments are needed, but that individual wouldn't know that unless they got the feedback, she said

"It's intangible to me the value of the feedback that will be given to the individual and how that knowledge might increase their performance - you can't quantify that," she said.