Employee performance reviews are still part of majority organizations’ life. In the middle and at the end of the calendar or financial year we all have conversations with our managers about the things we did well and the ones that we could do better – a nicely layered feedback sandwich of which most of employees ignore the good part and mainly focus on improvements waiting ahead of them.
Yes, we all mean the very best by offering our feedback. After all it’s the receiver’s responsibility what to do with it, right? But, honestly, how free do we really feel when hearing certain things from the people we report to? Especially when we are interested in progressing our career.
The question whether feedback impacts performance positively or negatively (or maybe neutrally) remains unanswered for more than past 60 years. Researches (e.g.by Kluger & DeNisi back in 1996) show that feedback interventions improve performance by 41% and makes it worse 38% of the cases. It is interesting to understand why something that works in certain cases it also harmful in other cases?
Not everyone is equipped with the right tools/capabilities
Let’s be honest, not every manager invests sufficient time and effort to prepare for a feedback session. Yes, it requires a lot of time, thinking, regular observations and preparation. It is definitely not easy to think a half a year back and in detail remember all relevant events and details.
Feedback might work if it is provided right after or very shortly after the event or situation so that both parties can still remember what exactly it was about and have fresh experience. Also be conscious about the emotional state of both parties – giver and receiver – of the feedback. Being on a slightly positive side will always make things easier
Majority of the employees describe annual review as one of the most stressful events in their work life (some managers as well to be honest). Regardless how well we layer our feedback sandwich with examples of great and not so much performance examples majority of the employees almost skip the positive part and hear only the negative one. It’s not because they do not know how to listen, it is because our brain are functioning this way. Our default setting is that we take the positive piece as a standard, not requiring any attention and focus entirely on the one indicating how imperfect we are. That, in most of the cases, causes stress. How much do you think people feel inspired and able to think about their motivation under stress?
Physiologically stress activates our symphatic nervous system which is responsible for our survival. In such state our brain is looking for ways how to protect ourselves, not how to ignite a change or brainstorm for ideas. And therefore in order to activate the creative thinking we should create a positive and secure environment.
It’s all about the questions
Very standard scenario of the feedback conversation is that a manager asks employees to share their view about good or bad parts of the performance. After that managers would offer their point of view and based on that both parties would agree on development areas. It’s like visiting a dentist – not very pleasant but very relevant process.
So how can we make this work for both parties? How can we trigger the creation of great results? Self-driven Feed-Forward might be an interesting approach to try. It allows employee to drive the process while manager helps to read road signs. For those who say “it’s not always possible, because some employees are reluctant to take responsibility and gather their thoughts and ideas” I’d like to respond that everything is feasible however it requires way more effort.
The process can still consist of the same two parts if we execute them slightly differently:
- Ask employee to share their positive feedback about themselves
The key goal of this activity is to help employee to realize their success and achievements. Therefore the questions should keep employee focused on the positive events of the previous period. Examples can be:
- What are 3/5/you name it things you did that you are happy with?
- What are the things you feel you did well?
- What are the things you are proud of?
- What are the things you were excited about?
In this part of your conversation you can offer your observations about employee’s success only if employee wants to hear it. Offer it to them and wait for the response before you voluntarily bombard them with your positivity.
2. Ask for their own thoughts about development areas
The goal of this part of the conversation is for employee to identify their development areas. If you see that employee struggles help them by asking questions that would guide them towards the discovery. Again, it’s all about your preparation, creativity and listening skills. Examples could be:
- If given a chance what are the things you would like to do differently next time?
- What are your key learnings?
- What additional skills would help you to excel in your performance?
I personally suggest here to stick to questions without proactively offering your feedback on the development areas. If you see employee’s weak spots and want to suggest them to focus on them – prepare the questions directing their thinking to those certain areas. I know it is way more time and effort consuming process however it leads to completely different results. When people come up with ideas themselves they own them. They take responsibility for making them true and then their dedication and motivation to succeed is incomparably higher.
If you are asking yourself how to design a good feedback session I’d recommend first of all to think how you would like to experience it yourself. Would you like someone to give you space and opportunity to come up with your own ideas and insights or would you like someone to offer you a list of imperfections that you could take care of?