As kids, it seemed that no matter what we did, we were always getting “report cards.” Of course, there were report cards from school, but we also received feedback in many other forms that told us how well we were performing in various areas of our lives. For example, in games and sports, our report card was the score. And there was a subtle “grading system” involved with dates and parties.
But looking back, the most significant “report card” I got came from my dad each night when he arrived home from work. That was when he assessed how well I’d done that day in terms of homework, chores, behavior, and attitude. (Yes, I had to pay careful attention to how
I said and did things.) My father’s frequent and consistent appraisal of my performance kept me on the right track. He knew if I was having trouble in math or slacking off in citizenship. As a result, my school report cards were anticlimactic.
Some of my friends, however, had parents who weren’t as on top of things as my dad was. Consequently, they absolutely dreaded getting their school report cards, as there were sure to be a few surprises for both the kids and the parents.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Performance Appraisal (an employee’s report card) is viewed with trepidation and anxiety by most people…they don’t like surprises when it comes to their performance review. Most performance assessment methods – self-appraisal, 360-degree feedback, elaborate forms, simple forms – focus on one or two summary events each year. At the same time, any performance appraisal system worth its salt emphasizes the importance of ongoing, regular feedback (a.k.a., my father’s dinner-table assessments). In other words, there shouldn’t be any surprises at review time!
And yet, there almost always are.
Why do otherwise smart leaders ignore the logical recommendation of giving employees regular feedback? First, it’s human nature to want to avoid an activity that we anticipate will be uncomfortable. The irony is that performance assessment truly isn’t unpleasant…if we do it right!
The majority of performance feedback encounters should be positive since most employees’ overall performance is generally positive. That means we’re missing out on the fun and enjoyment of making people feel good about themselves and their work performance.
As for the few negative situations that will inevitably occur, if we will deal with them when they first appear, there usually is very little discomfort involved. It’s when we let problems fester and grow that we invite stress and major confrontation.
Some leaders believe that employees don’t want feedback, especially if it’s negative or critical. This simply isn’t the case. Most people truly want to know where they stand. What they don’t
want is to be attacked, brutalized and belittled.
That leads us to another reason why too many leaders don’t provide regular feedback: a lack of understanding of how
to provide constructive feedback. Yes, I realize that these skills are described in performance appraisal instructions and taught with passion during performance appraisal training. But my experience tells me that, like the assembly instructions that come with a child’s toy, feedback instructions are often ignored. For some reason, leaders believe they can give effective feedback “without those silly instructions.” These are the same leaders who don’t understand why once-a-year reviews aren’t having an impact on employee performance!
I meet many leaders who are simply frustrated by their organization’s performance appraisal systems. Yes, that’s right – systems, plural. Most organizations understand the inherent importance of performance appraisal. As a result, they are engaged in a never-ending search for the Holy Grail of performance assessment. Many managers tell me that they no sooner get familiar with their organization’s assessment method, when the organization switches to a new, “better” method. As a result, leaders spend their valuable time learning the mechanics of the systems instead of investing time providing valuable feedback to employees.
So, how ya doin’
when it comes to letting your people know how they’re doin’?
- Do you spend more time preparing employees’ annual reviews than you do talking with them about their performance throughout the year?
- Do you remember that effective feedback allows for and encourages comments from the employee?
- Do you rush through performance appraisal discussions, thereby missing even the once-a-year opportunity to provide effective performance feedback?
To stay on track and be productive team members, employees need recurrent feedback as well as an annual report card. Here are some Streetwise Strategies
for providing effective performance feedback every day of the year:
- Make frequent performance feedback for employees a priority. As a leader, you’re incredibly busy and likely stuck with your organization’s performance appraisal process and forms. So, keep things quick and simple! Keep assessment forms for team members nearby at all times and make notes about their performance. This simple act will not only remind you and encourage you to provide regular feedback, but also shorten the time it takes to prepare forms for the annual review.
- For each member of your team, create a short (three to five items) prioritized list of the areas for which you will give feedback. Because job responsibilities differ from employee to employee, feedback items will also differ. You can’t provide effective feedback for every employee in all areas all the time, so focus on those areas that offer the most “bang for the buck” for each employee. Consider performance areas that contribute to the culture, bottom line or customer satisfaction. In addition, find out how each employee prefers to receive performance feedback – in writing, through casual conversation, perhaps even a more formal intervention, etc. The more comfortable employees are, the more engaged they will be in the feedback process.
- Catch gaps in performance early, before they become a big deal. Employees will appreciate the heads-up (just as you would). And in the long run, dealing with problems early actually saves you time and trouble. Once problems become monster size, they take more time to resolve, the solutions are more complex and emotions run a lot higher.
- Be clear in your daily instructions and requests. Clearly setting the benchmark or standard is the first step in appraising performance. The more clarity employees have, the more self-awareness they will develop and the better they will become at self-appraisal. On the other hand, help your
leader do a better job of assessing your performance by clearly communicating your understanding of needed accomplishments and providing results data.
As a child and an adolescent, I was fortunate in that I felt good about myself because my parents reinforced my positive accomplishments. It’s clear to me now why I looked forward to my father coming through the door from work (at least most nights).
Since most employees generally meet or exceed performance standards, performance assessment should primarily be an opportunity to provide positive reinforcement. Recognize and acknowledge positive performance every day, and your employees will be more satisfied and engaged. And who knows…they might even begin to look forward to you “coming through the door”!