Of all the interactions between managers and employees, giving and receiving feedback is the one that has the most impact on the individuals concerned – whether positive or negative.
In many cases, formal feedback occurs only during the once-a-year performance review. Many of us have experienced a review meeting where you are faced with feedback that you hear for the first time, often without any context, and delivered in a less than productive way. And the consequences of such an interaction? Everyone walks away from the meeting demotivated, demoralised and disengaged.
And now the rise in remote working has created even more challenges for giving and receiving feedback and performance management.
Here are five ways you can turn these “moments of truth” into productive and positive two-way conversations.
Choose the Right Moment
The worst time to give and receive feedback is when you are agitated, tired, or upset – in other words, when you are unable to focus. For any communication to be positive, you need to ensure that you are calm and have thought about what you are trying to achieve.
It is also important to remember that criticism should always be given in private, whereas praise is often most effective when done in public.
Feedback also needs to be timely. Whether positive or negative, delays in giving feedback can mean that whatever is said is not only meaningless but can be detrimental. Late praise can seem insincere, and late criticism can seem merely mean-spirited.
Provide Feedback As And When Appropriate
There are many disadvantages when feedback is a once-a-year event. The most obvious is that the feedback is so far away from actual events that it is difficult for both parties to recall events and talk through any issues in a meaningful way.
The tension created by waiting for feedback and not knowing the focus of discussion for the meeting adds pressure for both parties that can colour the effectiveness of the conversation.
And for some people, the lack of feedback during the year will have created complacency around the whole process.
Whichever of the above may apply, the bottom line is that the feedback is unproductive and demotivating.
A far more effective way for you to provide feedback is to treat it as a regular activity and to look for opportunities to reinforce positive behaviours or to stop anything detrimental before it gets out of hand. When feedback becomes an informal part of everyday work, it ensures that everyone knows where they stand and that there will be no surprises at any subsequent formal review meeting.
Giving prompt feedback is also something that gets easier with practice so that even potentially difficult conversations become more comfortable and are better accepted.
Feedback should always be thoughtful. To be able to communicate clearly and stay focused on the issues at hand, some level of preparation is needed.
Preparation doesn’t mean time spent rehearsing the conversation, but you should be sure of what you want to say and what outcome you are looking to achieve. It is also useful to try and anticipate how the other person might react so that you can be prepared to respond appropriately.
You should always be able to give context for any issues you raise and provide clear and concise factual examples. Essential to anyone being able to internalise feedback is the need for them to be able to relate it to an event that has occurred. Concrete cases to illustrate the issue help to ensure that the conversation is seen as fair, and opens the opportunity for discussion around what has happened.
Make sure that you have first-hand knowledge of any examples you use and do not depend on hearsay or rumours. Feedback must be authentic to influence performance positively.
Focus on Communication
The aim of providing feedback is to be constructive and helpful, with a clear message as to what behaviours or activities to continue or what needs to change. A feedback session should not cover more than one or two issues and focus on only actions or activities that the recipient can change. Too many issues presented all at once can feel like an attack and can overwhelm the recipient – another reason why the “once-a-year” feedback approach doesn’t work.
Avoid using words or body language that suggest blame or become too personal, and try not to use words that exaggerate the issue, such as “always” or “never”, as this takes the focus off the particular event being discussed and suggests that the situation is unsolvable.
Use a communication style that focuses on the impact of the behaviour so that the recipient can see the situation from someone else’s perspective. It is unlikely that every point will be agreed upon by both parties, and it is essential to listen to each other and encourage a two-way discussion.
An open and respectful conversation where both parties share ideas on ways to improve performance is much more likely to get buy-in and lead to follow-through on agreed action points.
Always record the conversation and the agreed action steps for future reference and as a base for monitoring future performance improvement.
Use Technology for Support
Organisations can make the evaluation process more objective, transparent, and credible, while managing feedback more constructively, by using technology to simplify the process.
Having goals and performance targets online creates transparency and enables employees to be active participants in ensuring that they meet their objectives as well as in discussions on their performance.
Other benefits include:
- cascading and alignment of goals in the organisation
- searchable records
- standardisation of processes
- facilitated communication between employees and managers
- holistic reporting on performance and trends across the organisation
If you implement these five tips you can turn unproductive one-way annual feedback into productive and positive two-way conversations that benefit the employee, the manager, and the organisation as a whole.