In the world of recognition, you most often get what you ask for

  • Published
  • By Maj. S. J. Brown
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
My mother had a saying she used quite often, "you have to make your own happiness and not expect anyone else to make it for you." I used to think she was crazy because I figured I could leave my happiness fate in the hands of other people - children, bosses, spouse, friends, family, etc. One thing about growing old is that with age comes wisdom. Age also heralds in that fateful day when you realize your mother/father was absolutely right about some things.

Heeding and adapting my mother's good advice about making my own happiness, I've learned to do a lot of things for myself. One thing in particular I am proud to say I do for me is telling my own story without sounding too haughty or puffed up. I don't expect others to sing my praises for me (although it is really nice when they do so unsolicited, isn't it). Besides, who knows me better than, well, me? Good or bad, I've had some experience in telling my own story so I'd like to give you a few tidbits of advice on appreciating yourself:

When I was in the corporate world, I was either required to submit a resume -- if applying for a new or different job -- or keep one handy for performance feedback purposes. It's often hard to find time to update your list of outstanding accomplishments when you feel like you can't even get your regular work done in the short hours of the work day. I understand and I used to think the same thing. But make an appointment with yourself to at least go over your resume annually because the cold, hard fact is no one cares more about your career than you do. Your boss is busy with leading/managing the office/unit, your spouse is busy with his/her own life, your peers have their own resumes to update and the human resources department of your work doesn't have time. Besides, nothing says "I'm ready for a challenge" when you whip out, on a moment's notice, a freshly updated resume.

I used to think list makers were just scatterbrains who needed extra reminders of what to do during the day. But, making an appointment with yourself for a few minutes to go over your big accomplishments for the week, month or quarter (whatever time frame you choose to annotate and update your list) is well worth the effort. For one, it does serve as a memory jogger of your accomplishments and it helps keep you on track. I don't normally go out for lunch but eat at my desk so once a week, usually Friday, I eat my lunch while sifting through my calendar and jotting down important, noteworthy things I think my supervisor would want to use on a performance feedback. I actually keep these memory joggers on my phone's notes feature as well as on a word document. It has become such a habit that it now takes me less than five minutes a week. This habit proved vital when, a few years ago, one of my dream jobs became available. Resumes for this job were due in just a few days so if I hadn't already had my resume updated and significant accomplishments written down, I might not have been prepared to apply for, and be offered, this great job.

Does anyone else find it strange that we train our Airmen to be ready to deploy at a moment's notice but we don't teach them to sing their own praises? That we inadvertently teach them to expect others to do it for them by telling them "you shouldn't write your own EPR/OPR"? I've heard a multitude of excuses from people for not keeping up with their own accomplishments:
· My boss knows how important I am/my work is.
· I don't want to sound conceited.
· If I have to tell my boss what I do, it means he/she doesn't care about me.
· Nothing I do is that important, not like I saved a life or a million dollars.
· It's not my job to write my own bullets for my EPR/OPR.

When I write EPRs for my employees, I ask them for their significant accomplishment. If they tell me they don't have any or send me a list of "fluff points" (what I call normal, non-noteworthy daily activities), I give them one chance to remedy the situation, trying hard to jog their memory of some significant event like a distinguished visitor tour or an idea they had that saved a lot of money/time for the unit. I ask them why I should think they are important if they don't feel they are important themselves. If I get a shoulder shrug, I then ask them if they warrant a "3" on their EPR or if they want me to just mark them "middle of the road" on the civilian feedback sheet. This usually causes them to sit up in their seats and start spouting out all the reasons why they are phenomenal at their jobs. So, why didn't they just say that in the first place instead of wasting my time acting coy and reserved? I get it -- they didn't want to sound haughty or conceited. To employees who do this I advise you to just say it the first time, don't waste your boss' time having to pull it out of you. To bosses who have employees who do this, cut them some slack - the first time -- ask questions, pull it out of them, there might be more to the story (i.e. the employee doesn't really feel appreciated or valued).

The bottom line here is that if you expect your boss to keep tabs on every aspect of your career so that he or she can write you a glowing EPR/OPR or other feedback when the time comes (with little or no input from you), you will be sadly disappointed. Besides, I don't want my boss to keep that detailed of tabs on me because it probably means he or she is micromanaging me (how I feel about micromanaging is another blog altogether!) and no one I know likes being micromanaged.

I'm a big fan of putting my employees in for awards and not just the typical ones we hear about (quarterly, annual and Outstanding Airman of the Year programs, Air Force or Department of Defense recognition, etc.). There have been several times an employee has introduced me to a civilian award (e.g. Cicero Speechwriting Award or Hermes Community Relations Award) in which they feel their efforts would qualify. Do a bit of research in your career field. Bring up the subject with your boss. Not only will he/she learn another avenue in which to recognize individuals (or groups/shops) but it will show him/her that you feel your work is valuable and should be recognized. It will also show your boss that you are looking out for the team as other members of the unit might be put in for the new recognition/award program you found.

One area you can recognize yourself is through the Department of Defense's Hometown News Release Program (this is only an option for military members). I always say an HTNR is not really for you, its for your family and friends to read about your career successes, changes, etc. The HTNR program takes your military news (deployment, re-deployment, change of station, award, decoration) and sends it to the media outlets (television, radio, newspaper, magazines, online sources) where your family lives. This was an especially nice program when I lived overseas and my family could read about my promotion or that I was selected to attend a special training in the Birmingham News or Valdosta Daily Times. Filling out an HTNR takes about five minutes and is all online.

Remember, it's not really for you but something that will make your family proud.
What you should take away from this is that you usually get what you ask for when it comes to recognition. In a perfect world, your boss would have hours upon hours every day to admire your handiwork as well as countless hours of time to write you firewall five EPRs and put you in for several awards a year. In reality, bosses barely have time to keep track of their own accomplishments while also doing that little thing they were hired to do, yeah, their job. So, to get the recognition you want, need and deserve, you should keep track of your career successes, update your biography/resume, ask for what you want/need and, perhaps, just give yourself some recognition. Start "making your own happiness" and stop expecting others to do it for you and you will find you are better at it than they are anyway.