Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Process

A disclaimer before I start this post: I don't know anything more about OERs than the next O...never had any special training, no inside knowledge, nada. This is just my opinion and some insights I've picked up along the way. Anyone out there from OPM, selection panels, promotion boards, whatever, is welcome to chime in if I get it wrong. Or even if I only get it partly right.

Now with that out of the way...one of the *BEST* things about making O3 is that the evaluation period goes from every six months as a LTJG to every year as a LT. It's great!! only having to write input for an Officer Evaluation Report (OER) once a year. Like amazing great. But it still comes around, and because I'm departing soon, my OER input was recently due, which was the inspiration for this post. Since it was only a couple months from the end of the regular marking period (end of May for O3s) to my departure, and since my next unit is grad school (where my OER is my report card!! Reason #84 why grad school is gonna be awesome!), I was able to delay my OER to align with my departure.

The one downfall to annual reviews is that you've got to remember what you did 12 months (or in this case 14 months) ago in order to include it. Do you remember what you did a year ago? I vaguely remember being on Oahu, whining about drydock, not knowing that we were going to get extended another three times and have fits with the alignment. And there's a lot that's happened since then.

But I've been an O3 since 2004, so I've got my process for remembering. I've got a process for the entire...process (hmmm, gotta work on those synonyms; the "Thesaurus" function on Word is definitely my friend when writing input). My process for approaching my OER starts with three pages of scrap paper, old emails from the deleted file and sent file, and my calendar. On the scrap paper, I write the titles of the performance dimensions (Using Resources, Teamwork, Professional Presence, etc) and then go through all the old emails and calendar information and scribble any significant events or projects in the relevant performance dimension. I'm able to count numbers of events this way...KISKA transited restricted waters more than 140 times since Oct 2009 by my count.

It is tough sometimes to decide where something goes. Are those 140 transits Professional Competence (good shipdriving), Directing Others (giving commands to focs'le and fantail) or Teamwork (getting all the parts working together)? Or is the request for additional messing funds for the crew Initiative or Looking Out for Others? If something doubles up, I'll usually write it in both spots, and then work out later which element needs more beefing up especially if it's a particularly important tidbit.

So that's Day 1...or how I spent Wednesday this past week. It was actually kinda multi-tasking this time around. I found a lot of good stuff to include in the Change of Command binder that 1/C Gookin is putting together.

Day 2 was actually writing the input. I usually like to take two days for this part, but I procrastinated (something about being underway makes it tough to focus on writing OER input, go figure), so I only had Thursday. But three bullets per performance dimension, as impactful as possible (huh, I guess "impactful" isn't a word...it's got a squiggly red line under it as I'm drafting this post). Now ever since I wrote my first OER input, I was always told, "Don't just say what you did, tell what was so important about what you did; what was the impact?" I never really got what that meant until I tried to write an OER for someone else. You can put all kinds of data into an OER, lots of numbers and describe lots of effort, but if all that effort was just effort, with no results, it was just hot air. Writing OERs for the JOs on HAMILTON helped to make my own OER input so much better.

I'll never forget my first OER-writing experience. I had been onboard HAMILTON as OPS for about two months. I was off at Tactical Action Officer (TAO) school, and had to write 6 regular ENS and 1 departing LTJG OERs. Oh. my. gawd. What a horrible experience. When I left the ship for TAO school I forgot to take my own OER folder with me, and had to write them all from scratch. It was painful. Thankfully TAO school wasn't all that challenging, and I had plenty of time to dedicate while I was there to churn out the OERs. I remember a lot of emails back and forth to the JOs asking piddly little questions, details about such and such an operation to help me find just the right words to use to properly capture their performance. By the second round of OERs I had to write, it was a lot easier (and I had my own OER folder as well as the first set from which to plagiarize). I wrote more than 25 OERs while I was onboard the HAM-bone.

I like to think big picture...like really big picture when I write my input. Sometimes it sounds over-blown and seems kinda silly and almost painful to brag about myself so ridiculously.

From last year's input for Results/Effectiveness: "Completed eight NAG (Northern Arabian Gulf) patrols and one TSC (Theatre Support Cooperation) event, totaling >XXXX hrs underway, >120,000 nm transited, 80 moorings/unmoorings, 32 security sweeps, 8 querries, 8 special operations, 7 training exercises; supported coalition goals of regional stability, transition to Iraqi control, intelligence collection against international terrorism organizations (ITO) and destabilizing forces in the region."

See, all the nice descriptive numbers at the beginning, and then the save the world stuff that puts the numbers into context. I think of it as a suspension of reality...the reality is that I'm Just a Girl Doing My Job, the suspension is that I'm doing a Really Important Job that Makes a Difference.

I forgot to mention a very important step before I start Day 2. I read the relevant Promotion Year's Commandant's Guidance to Boards and Panels. Not that I expect to have my OER write itself by reading this document, but it helps me find some good, powerful verbiage. This year I found myself relating a lot more of what I did to being innovative and adaptable, able to consider different solutions to problems, based on what was in the Guidance. It helps to frame the discussion.

I admit to liking to show off my vocabulary in my input. Using big words and finding nearly poetic turns of phrase helps me find something enjoyable about writing it...I mean, how can I not like writing something like: "Spearheaded CO/OIC ownership of WPB schedule." Mercurial, heuristic, systemic, debilitating, contentious, imbued all make me smile.

Day 2 is a grind-stone kind of day. But if it's done well, the OER writer should just be able to cut and paste some of the bullets into the comments blocks. Which is what I found myself doing on Day 3.

I learned something really important on Day 3 this year. I had planned to cut and paste a lot of what I put in XO's OER straight into mine. I figured, sure he did most of the grunt work, but I'm the one who told him to do it, so I get credit for it. But then I realized the difference between the CO's and XO's jobs. What I did this year was long-term, strategic type stuff; XO did the more tactical execution of it. I don't know why that was such a revelation, but it was. And it made it so that I couldn't cut and paste on Day 3.

Day 3 is the writing of the comments. Seven blocks (yes, I'm including Description of Duties), all very tightly proscribed by length. It's almost a game to get the stuff to fit...rearranging lists to make sure there's no white space at the end of the line, using abbreviations that still make sense ("ID’d & implemented long term sol’ns for reducing units' environmental footprint & save CG $$"), strategically spaced hyphenated words, deciding what is important enough from the input to include in limited space. I think that's why I actually prefer to provide a recommended version of the actual OER to my supervisor...it allows me to tell them what I did that I thought was important.

I got my input in on time last week. Or well, almost...I didn't account for an early weekend on Friday afternoon in anticipation of the holiday, so I had to call my Supervisor to let him know that it wouldn't be there by 1100. But he'd be sure to have it by 1500. I think I emailed it off at 1445. So, almost on time. And then I realized just yesterday that I forgot to put a couple of important incidents in...like that guest post I wrote for the COMDT's blog, and that whole debacle about that gunshoot we did. Oh well, there's a bunch of other good stuff in there. Maybe no one will notice. And thank goodness it's done for this year!


tko24 said...

I hope you continue your blog after your transfer. I love reading your posts. On another note, I just started using the Coast Guard Learning Portal, it's a great resource!

Azulao said...

Well, at least you don't have to write a tenure dossier. For those, we go by weight.

Ryan Erickson said...

As always Charlotte spot on and some great insight for a junior LT. Thanks for keeping the site going and I too hope to see you continue. Of all the Coast Guard blogs I follow (and I follow a lot) yours is the one I look forward to being updated the most (no joke). Keep the good working coming. (and in the event you haven't been near a workstation the new promotion guidance is out (http://1790.us/2010/07/06/want-to-know-how-to-get-promoted-heres-what-the-coast-guard-promotion-boards-are-looking-at/). ~Ryan

Just a Girl said...

Thanks y'all. I can't believe I got away with a post that suggests writing an OER can be fun :)

And I did see the new guidance for promotion/selection boards. Good stuff in there.

My sister and I were talking about performance evaluations a couple months ago. I was amazed to learn from her that she has never been formally counseled on her performance, despite having been at her current job for nearly three years. She figures she does a good job, because if she wasn't there's enough of a money crunch at her University that she probably wouldn't have a job if she wasn't good at it.

From my perspective though, after so many years of regular evaluations, the concept of no feedback is so foreign and a little scary. I know OERs and EERs aren't the best system but at least we have one!

coastguardcupid said...

i remember you doing my OER while you were at TAO school. that sucked. but now that I am OPS boss, i can appreciate all the red pen with IMPACT??? written all over my bullets. and my ENS write their: action, result, impact for me, which is going to make them, in turn, better bosses down the line.
-karen love

Anonymous said...

Talk about leaving a footprint on what you do! Way to go Just a Girl!

Just a Girl said...

Best of luck! I know you'll do a *great* job. Did I really use a red pen? Sorry about that, but I'm glad to hear that it was a good learning experience for you in the long run. Be safe out there.