The Dreaded Duty: Performance Feedback

One of a supervisor’s biggest challenges is talking to employees about their work deficiencies.  It’s no fun for the employee either.  Whether it’s performance appraisal  time or in between, a host of deep and negative emotions can arise on both sides, including fear, hurt and anger. 

How to reduce the negativity?  It’s mostly in the supervisor’s court so here are a few ideas.  I know there’s a lot out there on how to give feedback and while I’m sure it’s good, I haven’t read it.  These tips are based on my in the trenches  experience as an investigator and workplace coach: 

Talk about it before it happens 

  • Explain to employees upfront, at a time when feedback is not being given, that part of your job is setting expectations, evaluating their work, pointing out problems, and helping them improve.
  • At the same time, ask the employees how they like to hear feedback.  Do they like a direct approach? Something softer? 
  • Tell employees during this same discussion that it’s natural for them to perhaps become defensive upon hearing feedback and ask what you can do to help reduce that. 

Change your attitude 

  • Look inward.  What do you feel toward a particular employee to whom you must give feedback?  Irritation, frustration, anger?  These emotions will come through in your communications with the employee. 
  • Examine the beliefs underlying these emotions.  Among the possible beliefs: the employee is just not trying –  has no work ethic – feels entitled.  Give this some thought.
  • Substitute a different belief:  The employee is trying but needs guidance – learns in a different way – wants to do well, but isn’t quite sure how to do so. Whatever positive belief that works for you.
  • Look inward again.  What do you feel about your duty to give feedback to subordinates?  If you hate and dread this part of your job, that doesn’t help.  Figure out why you feel this way and how you can accept this duty.  Get some coaching if need be.
  • DETACH.  It’s easy to get hooked on the interpersonal dynamics of supervision.  Try not to.  Try to step away internally and recognize that this is not about you – it’s about how to perform a crucial part of your job, get the most out of your people, and help all of you feel reasonably happy and productive on the job. It’s also about keeping your own supervisor happy.

Do it right

  • Keep up with it.  Don’t wait for the annual review to talk about a host of problems, some of which began 11 months earlier.
  • Approach the issues from a coaching perspective: “We’re going to work together to help you figure out what you need in order to do this task better and what you can do differently.  I’m here to help, but ultimately, it’s your job to fix this.”
  • Be kind but honest in stating the problem(s) and your expectations.  If it’s a longstanding or serious problem, state the possible consequences of failure.
  • Give honest praise. 
  • Leave the meeting with a plan, timeline, and scheduled check-in.
  • Document what was said in a writing that you send to the employee.  It need not be formal, just a quick summary of what was discussed and the plan. 

I know this sounds like a lot of work.  It isn’t really, particularly if it’s integrated into your routine “to do” list.  And it’s definitely less work than the mess that can develop if feedback is not given appropriately and well.  Do you have any tips for others?  ~AS


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