What’s a performance review? For many employees it’s an annual fear-inducing ritual that provokes great dread. They go into a room with their supervisor and hear a year’s worth of documented “constructive criticism.” It is unnerving and demotivating.
When done in the right way, with the right intentions, feedback can be amazingly helpful and lead to great results. Employees need feedback on what they are doing well and not so well. To be helpful, however, that feedback has to be delivered carefully and frequently. It’s a skill. It takes practice to get it right.
Here are some helpful thoughts from skilled supervisors who have both experienced and given feedback:
Before giving feedback, remind yourself why you are doing it. If you are trying to improve things and actually help the person, you won’t accomplish it by being harsh or negative. Focus on positivity that leads to improvement. Feedback doesn’t always have to be good, but it should be fair and balanced.
Don’t put it off. The closer to the event you address the issue, the better. It's much easier and more effective to provide feedback about a single, one-hour job than it is to do so about a whole year of failed, one-hour jobs. When something needs to be said, say it. People then know where they stand all the time, problems don't get out of hand. With frequent, informal feedback like this, nothing said during formal feedback sessions should be unexpected, surprising, or particularly difficult.
Prepare for the conversation. You don't want to read a script, but plan ahead to be clear, stay on track, and stick to what’s helpful.
Specifically address what needs improvement. Telling the person exactly what he needs to improve ensures that you stick to facts and aren’t ambiguous. If you tell someone that he was not professional, what does that mean exactly? Was he too loud, too friendly, too casual?
Remember to stick to what you know yourself. Don’t give feedback based on what you’ve heard and other people’s opinions.
Don’t exaggerate to make a point. Words like "never,” “all," and "always" make people defensive. Discuss the direct impact of the behavior, and don't get personal or seek to blame.
Criticize in private, celebrate in public. Recognize most everything publicly that is positive, but handle problems in a private setting.
Avoid certain phrases that might imply blame. Phrases like “You should have ...,” “If I were you…,” “You always…,” “This has been an issue for a while…”
Give feedback from your perspective. Use “I” statements. For instance, say “I was confused and hurt when you criticized my report to the boss,” rather than saying “You are critical.”
Limit a feedback session to no more than two issues. Stick to behaviors he can actually change or influence.
Start with something positive, and end on a high note too. This helps put the employee at ease and gives them encouragement that they are valued and worthwhile to the team. 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.
Listen actively and get the employee’s perspective. Get the employee’s thoughts on your feedback and suggestions for improvement. Allow him or her to help create the solution.
Follow-up is essential. The reason for feedback is to improve performance. You need to measure whether or not that is happening and then make adjustments as you go. Document your conversations and discuss what is working and where adjustments should be made.
Constructive feedback or criticism should always come from a place of caring. The intent is always to help and not humiliate, to leave the conversation feeling hopeful and knowing what can be done to move in a positive direction.
Feedback is a two-way street. You need to know how to give it effectively and how to receive it constructively.
When you make a conscious choice to give and receive feedback on a regular basis, you demonstrate that it is a powerful means of personal development and positive change.
Done properly, feedback need not be agonizing, demoralizing, or feared, and the more practice you get the better you will become at it. It has the potential to make your workplace a much more productive and harmonious place to be. Performance reviews can change from anxiety-producing events to an anticipated part of professional and personal growth.