"Performance review." Does the mere mention of this event make your heart sink?
Employees and managers the world over dread this ritual and therein lays the main problem: We have institutionalized the giving and receiving of feedback. We save up our comments and document all the things we note about a person's performance. And then, like a big cat ready to pounce, the manager brings a hapless employee into the office and springs a year's worth of "constructive criticism" onto him or her.
No doubt the process is seen as unnerving and fear provoking. And this is exactly the wrong emotional environment in which to discuss performance, introduce suggestions for improvement, and talk about goals for the future. This is a shame, because giving and receiving feedback is some of the most important communication you can engage in with members of your team.
When done in the right way and with the right intentions, feedback communication is the avenue to performance greatness. Employees have to know what they are doing well and not so well. For them to really hear your thoughts and suggestions on ways to improve, though, that feedback has to be delivered carefully and frequently.
Giving feedback effectively is a skill. And like all skills, it takes practice to build your confidence and improve. The following is a collection of "feedback giving" tips that you can start putting into practice today.
Before giving feedback make sure you remind yourself why you are doing it. The purpose for giving feedback is to improve the situation or performance. You won't accomplish that by being harsh, critical, or offensive.
That's not to say you must always be positive. There is a role for negativity and even anger if someone isn't paying sufficient attention to what you're saying. However this should be used sparingly. You'll most often get much more from people when your approach is positive and focused on improvement. (Use tools like the Feedback Matrix and the Losada Ratio to help you get the balance right.)
The closer to the event you address the issue, the better. Feedback isn't about surprising someone so the sooner you do it, the more the person will be expecting it.
Think of it this way: It's much easier to feed back about a single one-hour job that hasn't been done properly than it is to feed back about a whole year of failed one-hour jobs.
Feedback is a process that requires constant attention. When something needs to be said, say it. People then know where they stand all the time and there are few surprises. Also, problems don't get out of hand. This is not a once-a-year or a once-every-three-month event. While this may be the timing of formal feedback, informal, simple feedback should be given much more often than this – perhaps every week or even every day, depending on the situation.
With frequent informal feedback like this, nothing said during formal feedback sessions should be unexpected, surprising or particularly difficult.
You don't want to read a script but you do need to be clear about you are going to say. This helps you stay on track and stick to the issues.
Tell the person exactly what they need to improve on. This ensures that you stick to facts and there is less room for ambiguity. If you tell someone they acted unprofessionally, what does that mean exactly? Were they too loud, too friendly, too casual, too flip or too poorly dressed?
Remember to stick to what you know first hand: You'll quickly find yourself on shaky ground if you start giving feedback based on other people's views.
While public recognition is appreciated, public scrutiny is not.
Establish a safe place to talk where you won't be interrupted or overheard.
Give the feedback from your perspective. This way you avoid labeling the person.
Say, "I was angry and hurt when you criticized my report in front of my boss" rather than "You were insensitive yesterday."
A feedback session should discuss no more than two issues. Any more than that and you risk the person feeling attacked and demoralized.
You should also stick to behaviors the person can actually change or influence.
A good rule is start off with something positive. This helps put the person at ease. It also lets them "see" what success looks like and this helps them to take the right steps next time.
As long as it's not forced, it can also help to give positive feedback at the end of a feedback session too. Otherwise, people can finish feeling despondent and worthless.
Make sure you both know what needs to be done to improve the situation. The main message should be that you care and want to help the person grow and develop. Set goals and make plans to monitor and evaluate progress. Use the SMART acronym and define specific steps and milestones, or the GROW model to motivate people to deliver the change you want.
The whole purpose of feedback is to improve performance. You need to measure whether or not that is happening and then make adjustments as you go. Be sure to document your conversations and discuss what is working and what needs to be modified.
Feedback is a two way street. You need to know how to give it effectively and at the same time model how to receive it constructively.
For more on how to give feedback effectively, take our Bite-Sized Training™ session on Giving Feedback.
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