Jennie Marshall | 16 March 2016
Most leadership development programs talk about the importance of evaluating performance.
In many companies, leaders are periodically required to fill out yearly formal performance appraisals in which they rate or rank each of their employees on multiple dimensions. Then, they meet with each employee for a performance discussion, during which the results of this formal process are reviewed.
Whilst a well-developed formal performance feedback system is critical (for instance, it often serves as the legal basis for sound HR decisions), it's insufficient to truly affect employee performance.
Feedback needs to be given much more frequently and consistently.
Employees need to know they are making progress towards their goals throughout the year. Feedback keeps employees engaged and motivated. Remember, when a leader doesn't give feedback, he or she is still sending employees a message - and probably the wrong one!
So how can leaders become more adept at giving feedback? Following the below tips will help:
Describe the performance objectively, specifically and sincerely
Comment on specific behaviours and actions, along with exactly what you liked about it. For example, 'Andrew, you're really an inspirational leader', is less effective than, 'Andrew, several employees told me that when you shared your vision for the organisation, you really excited folks and had them approaching team meetings with a completely different mind-set'.
Deliver feedback as soon as possible after a positive performance
Research clearly demonstrates that feedback given immediately following a behaviour has a much greater impact on the likelihood of that behaviour occurring again in the future. Identify the situation and describe the behaviour and its impact.
Don't wait until the performance is perfect
Decide how often you will ask for feedback from people. Once a person knows you are looking for feedback, you will find that the person will be ready to share their perceptions with you. The more often you receive feedback, the greater the opportunity to put your goals into action.
- Avoid giving mixed messages
Don't say, 'You worked hard on this project, BUT...' Don't mix positive and negative feedback. Ban the but! This little work can quickly reverse a positive message.
So what about when you need to give developmental or negative feedback?
- Discuss the performance privately. Your goal is to ensure that you maintain the individual's self-esteem. Take the time to speak to the employee face to face.
- Check to make sure that you've clearly stated your expectations to the performer. Make sure that you've provided the direction and the tools necessary for the performer to meet your expectations.
- Don't provide developmental or negative feedback when you're angry. The content of the message can get lost. If emotions run high, take time to cool off so that you communicate your message clearly.
- Talk to the performer as soon as possible after the performance occurs. Do not store up or postpone feedback. Delaying feedback loses its effect.
- Be specific and objective when discussing undesired performance.
- Identify the situation: where and when. For example, 'I'd like to talk to you about what happened in our staff meeting this morning.'
- Describe the specific observed behaviour: what characteristics or observable actions - verbal and non-verbal - need to be addressed. Continuing with the same example, 'You criticised Jim's idea quickly before he was able to explain it.'
- Describe the impact on you and others: what are the consequences of the behaviours. 'Jim's idea may have had merit, but you didn't listen to it. I felt your behaviour towards him shut down any discussion from the other folks about new ways to approach the problem.'
- Describe the desired performance specifically and objectively. Ask the individual if there are any obstacles to meet the desired performance. Ask if they assistance to get to this level. 'John, you need to meet your deadlines consistently and with accuracy and attention to detail so that we meet our commitments to our customers. Is there anything I can do to help you achieve that objective?'
- Catch the person doing it right. Look for chances to reinforce positive changed behaviour.
- Own your message by using 'I' statements. Rather than saying, 'You need to improve', focus on saying 'I want you to improve on x and y'.