How to give ‘Performance Feedback’ to employees


There is a classic dichotomy for you to reflect upon: In a VUCA business environment, organizations need more from their employees than ever. But the same forces shaking businesses are also overwhelming employees, driving up their fear, and compromising their capacity. It’s no wonder that so many organizations are focused on how to build a  culture of higher performance. A culture is simply the collection of beliefs on which people build their behavior. Learning organizations — Peter Senge’s term — classically focus on intellectually oriented issues such as knowledge and expertise. That’s plainly critical, but a true performance-oriented culture also focuses on deeper issues connected to how people feel, and how they behave as a result.

In such organizations, people build their capacity to see through blind spots; acknowledge insecurities and shortcomings rather than unconsciously acting them out; and spend less energy defending their personal value so they have more energy available to create external value. How people feel — and make other people feel — becomes as important as how much they know.

This is the reason why performance discussions have achieved the current level of importance in organizations.

“The best management practice is to have regular performance check-ins. This builds a healthy relationship between the managers and employees and enables both to focus on driving high performance. And the central tenet of any performance discussion is giving constructive feedback.”

Let’s take a closer look at the art of giving feedback, from a manager’s perspective, guidelines to ensure and pitfalls to avoid to ensure a healthy and continuous dialogue. Giving feedback is a task a manager performs regularly, letting team members know where they are and where to go next in terms of expectations and goals. The primary objective in giving feedback is to provide guidance by supplying information in a useful manner, either to support effective behavior or to guide someone back on track toward successful performance.

Making Feedback Constructive

  • Know ‘what’ feedback to give. Prepare well in advance, and keep your notes handy while having the conversation.
  • Constructive feedback is a tool used to build things and not break things down. Control your emotions, and be as dispassionate as possible.

1- Focus on description rather than judgment

  • Describe the behavior that has occurred
  • Using evaluative language amounts to judging behavior as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; ‘right or ‘wrong

For example: “You demonstrate a high degree of confidence when you answer customer questions about registration procedures” rather than, “Your communication skills are good.”

2- Focus on observation rather than inference

  • Observations refer to what you can see or hear about an individual’s behavior.
  • While inferences refer to the assumptions and interpretations you make from what you see or hear.

For example: “I observed that you were quite sharp in your retort with the Finance Manager” as against what you assume to be the person’s behavior, “I suppose you speak to all internal customers that way!”

3- Focus on behavior rather than the person

  • Refer to what an individual does
  • Rather than on what you imagine she or he is!

For example: “You talked considerably during the review meeting, which prevented me from getting to some of the main points,” rather than “You talk too much !”

4- Provide a balance of positive and negative feedback

  • If you consistently give only positive or negative feedback, people will distrust the feedback and it will become useless.

5- Be aware of feedback overload

  • Select two or three important points you want to make and offer feedback about those points.
  • If you overload an individual with feedback, she or he may become confused about what needs to be improved or changed

For example: “ Your communication skills need to be improved, you need to work at improving your report writing skills, your problem-solving abilities, the way you handle internal customers and also your negotiations”

Constructive Criticism  (Negative Feedback)

While having performance discussions, it is almost impossible to avoid negative feedback. This is important to ensure that the employee knows areas of improvement, and works towards overcoming them.

The following guidelines may be kept in mind while giving constructive criticism :

1- Give feedback face to face

  • It is best to remove physical barriers like a desk and sit next to or facing your team member
  • It sends a message that you want to partner him/her in the development process

2- Use I, not YOU

  • Frequent use of the word “you” sounds like a combination of accusation and reprimand
  • Makes the team member become defensive
  • Try using the word “I” instead of “you” whenever possible

Instead of “You didn’t complete the project on time,” try saying “I’m wondering why the project came in late.

3- Focus on behaviors

  • The idea is for your team members to sense that you’re concerned or upset with some aspect of their behavior but not with them as individuals

Instead of  “You made a mistake by giving this report to everyone,” Consider using “Giving this report to everyone was a mistake.”

The Good Dialogue

Minds are like parachutes, they work only when they’re open! While giving feedback is the cornerstone of any performance discussion, it is equally important to listen to the employee’s point of view, making her feel safe while expressing emotions and charting together an action plan for improvement. There are two different approaches in the dialogue process, appraisive and appreciative, and a good manager always ensures both during the discussion.

1- Appraisive – WHAT WE DO

  • Confront in a positive manner-
  • to ensure that employees and managers agree on changes, improvements, training programs, etc. in the upcoming year.
  • to ensure that the employee is acquainted with the manager’s assessment of the performance level.
  • to ensure that all relevant topics are discussed.
  • to ensure a discussion of possibilities and needs for education and training.

2- Appreciative- HOW WE DO IT

  • To reveal all strong positions.
  • To help to see the need for change, explore new possibilities, and contribute to solutions.
  • To be able to see the best.
  • lift it up, and
  • create an alignment of strengths

To conclude, perhaps the most fundamental lesson for managers is that fueling a culture of high performance requires a delicate balance between challenging and nurturing. Think about a young child beginning to venture into the world. The infant crawls away from its mother to explore the environment, but frequently looks back and returns periodically in order to feel reassured and comforted. We are not so different as adults. Too much challenge too continuously —without sufficient reassurance — eventually overwhelms us and breaks us down. Too little challenge— too much time spent in our comfort zone — precludes our growth and eventually makes us weaker. In the end, it’s always a matter of achieving that perfect Balance!

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