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Learn a lesson in HR from the Air Force

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Below is a lesson I learned in an underground bunker on an Air Force Base.

Over a number of years and hundreds of interactions with Australian employers it has become ever apparent to me that the majority of employers in Australia are “reactive” rather than “proactive.” It is quite a common practice for employers and managers to mentally take note of an employee’s mistakes and performance issues but, instead of saying anything to the employee in question they keep it to themselves.

Eventually, the employer reaches their boiling point and wants to take immediate action against the employee. It is usually at this point that the employer approaches their HR manager or their HR provider to make this happen. Unfortunately, this is where we have to let the employer know that without a body of evidence and an established due process the required disciplinary process can be rather drawn out and is far from something that can be actioned “straight away”.

So, what can be done as an employer to ensure you are always ahead of these issues?

There is a great example that I share with employers that I learned whilst doing leadership training with the Australian Defence Force.

When setting up for an operation the Air Force follow the principals of the acronym P.B.E.D.

P.B.E.D. Stands for Plan, Brief, Execute and Debrief.

At the “Planning” stage they make sure that they have the right personnel and assets allocated to the mission. For example, if a mission requires four F18 Hornet jets to complete the mission they will already have a plan in place to complete the original mission with three jets so that in the event that something unplanned happens such as the loss of a jet the mission can still go ahead without having to go back to the base and re-plan the mission. The same is true when it comes to our business plan or strategy. Make sure that you have the right assets and personnel allocated to your vision and strategy.

Remember to also always allow for contingencies. Prepare for the unexpected.

Following the “Planning” stage the Air Force then enters the “Brief” stage. It is at this stage that everyone is briefed on the role that they will play and the purpose that they will serve in the coming days or months. It is imperative that each person truly understands their role in the success of the mission. Each person plays a key part in the operation.

It is also very important to not only brief team members on their role but to make sure that they understand what their mission is. For example, prior to the operation all involved are quizzed by various parties about the role that they will be playing to make sure that they understand what is expected of them.

The same is true in the workplace. We must make sure that all team members truly understand the role that they play in the success of the business. Highlight the value that they bring but also stress the importance of each team member achieving the targets and KPI’s set out for them.

The “Execution” step is quite straightforward. This is when we put into practice everything from the “Planning” and “Briefing” stages. Regular communication is integral to keeping the execution of the mission on track.

Following the “Execution” stage we enter the “Debrief” stage. Now, this is the stage that relates to the overall theme of this article. The “Debrief” stage is what allows us to be “Proactive” rather than “Reactive”. Following a mission, the Air Force gather all personnel involved in the mission together for a debrief to look back on the mission and to identify what worked, what didn’t go to plan and how they can improve this on the next mission.

Whether an Employer, Director or Manager, ask yourself, when was the last time that you debriefed your staff? When was the last time that you sat down and went over the results of the last quarter?

Implementing a debrief, appraisal or check-in process on a regular basis (I recommend each quarter) is a valuable tool in any business. It allows you the opportunity to have a regular touch point to with your employees. This neutral platform allows both parties to provide feedback on what is working, what isn’t and then allows you to establish a plan moving forward. It also allows you the opportunity to address performance issues and offer support and assistance to the employee.

Unfortunately, some employees may not reach the standards that are required of them however, unlike the situation at the outset of this article in the event that there is a pattern of under-performance, thanks to the appraisal process you will have a strong body of evidence to support your performance management process.

If you would like any further information on performance management, the appraisal process or would like to speak with a Blackstone consultant about our complimentary appraisal forms we are contactable at

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