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How to give effective performance feedback

Consequences of Not Giving Effective Feedback

Let’s take a look at some typical examples of what goes on in work environments when managers don’t give good feedback.

Example #1: John has been working at his new job for one month. On his first day at work, Wilma, his boss, showed him what to do and got him started on a project. Since then, Wilma has communicated with him mostly through voice mail and e-mail. She walks past his cubicle and says hello a few times each day, but there hasn’t been much other communication. John is assuming he is doing his job properly, but he really isn’t sure.

Analysis: There is no feedback here. John has no idea whether he is doing his job properly.
Solution: Wilma should have given John a detailed job description on the first day. She should have gone over his first project as soon as he finished it, making certain he understood the task and completed it properly. She also should have checked in with him regularly to make certain he was doing his job correctly and to see whether he had any questions.

Example #2: Stella works in an office. Yesterday, she spent several hours filing a huge stack of folders that her boss had given her in the morning. When she got to work today, her boss came over to her desk and yelled, “Stella! You did those files all wrong! Don’t you listen?” He said it so loudly that Stella’s three office mates turned toward her in shock. He went back into his office and slammed the door.

Analysis: This manager’s behavior is abusive. It lowers her self-esteem and frightens her coworkers. An atmosphere of fear also lowers productivity and encourages sabotage and turnover.
Solution: He should have delivered the feedback calmly and in private. He should also have asked her for her understanding of the task; perhaps there was a reason for it being done the way it was. Third, he should have been specific about what she did wrong.

Example #3: Angela asked Steve, her assistant, to call a list of 20 clients and set up phone interviews for next Thursday and Friday (the 20th and 21st). She provided Steve with an updated list of phone numbers and told him the hours she would be available to speak with the clients. When Angela came back from lunch today, Steve had left a list of interviews on her desk. He has set them up for this Thursday and Friday (the 13th and 14th). He also has written, next to four of the clients’ names, “wrong phone number.” As she picks up the phone to reschedule the first client, she says to herself, “See, you just can’t get good help these days.”

Analysis: As far as we can tell, there was no feedback to this employee.
Solution: Employees have a hard time learning if they are not given feedback. This manager should have talked to Steve calmly and in private. She should also have asked Steve what he understood the task to be and why he scheduled the interviews for the wrong dates. Finally, she should have asked Steve to reschedule the calls for the correct dates.

Steps for Giving Feedback

Now that we’ve looked at a few examples of what can happen when performance feedback isn’t given effectively, let’s talk about some principles for doing it well. The five simple steps are:

  1. Describe the situation.
  2. Ask the employee for his or her view of the situation.
  3. Come to an understanding of the situation.
  4. Develop an action plan to resolve the situation.
  5. Agree to follow up later to make certain the situation has been resolved.

Let’s use the third example above to illustrate how this might look.

  1. Describe the situation. “Steve, these appointments are all scheduled for the 13th and 14th. I asked you to schedule them for the 20th and 21st.”
  2. Ask the employee for his or her view of the situation. “Tell me, what was your understanding of what I asked you to do?”
  3. Come to an understanding of the situation. “So you just misunderstood what I wanted. I had written the dates in my note to you, but you didn’t read it thoroughly before you started making the calls.”
  4. Develop an action plan to resolve the situation. “I would like you to re-schedule all of these appointments before 5:00 today. What will it take for you to do that?”
  5. Agree to follow up later to make certain the situation has been resolved. “I’ll check in with you at 4:30 to see how you are doing with this.” At 4:30, stop by Steve’s desk and ask, “How are you doing on your calls?”

Principles for Giving Feedback

Let’s take a look at some other issues to consider when giving feedback to someone who works on your team.

  1. Put it in writing. Feedback is most effective when it is written down. Having it in writing increases the chances that it will be understood. For example, Angela could simply note the dates and times she is available and hand it to Steve. She could also write “by 5 P.M. today” at the top.
  2. Be sensitive to people’s feelings. Some managers think they don’t need to worry about the employee becoming upset. They think that as the boss, they have the right to tell people what to do and not worry about their feelings. This is a big mistake. Being concerned about other people’s feelings is important in any situation. Effective managers demonstrate concern for the self-esteem of their team members. This doesn’t mean withholding criticism or ignoring problems.
  3. Focus on your entire team, not just the new members. New employees are not the only ones who need performance feedback. All employees need ongoing feedback.
  4. Feedback should be as specific as possible. People have a difficult time responding to instructions that are vague and unclear. It is important to check for understanding; avoid assuming that you are on the same wavelength.
  5. Think it through. Always take the time to plan what you want to say before giving feedback. Taking the time to gather your thoughts and clarify what you want your feedback to accomplish increases the chances that you will communicate clearly.
  6. Ask first. Get the employee’s point of view before you state what you think should be done. People are more receptive when they have a chance to explain themselves first. You might also learn something unexpected that will explain the situation or change your point of view.
  7. Don’t withhold. It is not a good idea to hold back your negative observations when employees are new. You don’t want to criticize too much and cause them to feel discouraged, but remember that people need to know how they are doing.
  8. Follow up. If you see that the employee corrected a problem situation, you still need to follow up. When you follow up, you are telling employees that you are being thorough and that the work is important.

FirstCALL Your Employee Assistance Program can help you to develop a plan to improve your communications skills. Call 1-800-382-2377 for a free, confidential appointment, in person or by telephone, with one of our counselors.

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