The Other F-Word: Feedback

Jan 2, 2021 | Training & Development

You see them looming on your January calendar.  Your stomach churns, and you’re tempted to shout a few expletives at the mere thought of them.

Annual performance reviews.

Perhaps, you’re in the process of preparing them right now.  Or maybe you know you’ll be on the receiving end soon. Regardless of which side of the desk you’ll be sitting, here are a few thoughts on using the f-word (feedback) correctly.


Why Reviews are Uncomfortable

Managers spend 364 days inspiring and building rapport with direct reports.  So, they strongly dislike putting on the coaching cap and demanding accountability during annual reviews.  Managers hate the thought of hurt feelings among their department and the awkwardness of that first encounter after the review has been presented.

Employees tend to receive reviews as a slap across the face rather than as a gift. “Wow, my manager is documenting what I’ve done and haven’t done.  Maybe they don’t want me here.”  Employee reviews produce intense feelings of being judged, with suspicions that the company is building grounds to justify holding back on advancement and compensation.


The Problem with Feedback

When asked, “do you give your employees feedback?” almost every manager says they do.

Generally, what they mean is:  They’ve given their direct reports mostly compliments throughout the year.  And then, one day a year, they institutionalize the process by presenting a compilation of documented gotchas that negate the positives in the minds of their employees.

Talk about demotivating!


Reviews Done Well

If you, as a manager, want your direct reports to leave your office primed and ready to conquer the world after their performance reviews, you must prepare their experience differently this year.

Feedback Sandwiches are off the menu.  The formulaic presentation of praise/criticism/praise during a performance review no longer tests well.  To become a true gift, feedback must be pointed and delivered with positive intent.

Persuasion and motivation tap into the individual’s desires, whereas loaded, unilateral feedback only serves to fulfill your wants (or the company’s).  Take time to ask about and acknowledge personal and professional growth goals your employee has.  Ask how they want to be coached so that they can achieve those goals.  The approach is not to get “more” out an individual, but rather, the “best” out of them so that they can reach their own goals and aspirations.  Hopefully, when their goals intersect with the company’s, their work takes on a higher purpose and they deliver disproportionately.

Have a free-flowing conversation about blending your employee’s wants with company goals.  Be transparent in your dialogue.  Speak in the first person.  (“I’ve done my research.” “Here are my thoughts.”)  Come to the table prepared with examples from your past to further illustrate successful performance in the workplace.


Another F-word: Frequency

Annual reviews do not work when problems linger unresolved for months.  Some employees need coaching more frequently.  The key is to strike a balance that gives your direct reports feedback as often as they need until coaching becomes accepted as a continual improvement process.

“How much is too much?” you ask.  “Mid-year? Quarterly?”

It depends on the individual’s generational preferences and professional promise.  Millennials, generally,  want feedback more frequently than GenXers.  The Pareto principle also suggests 20% of your staff are responsible for 80% of organizational output; therefore, these extra coaching sessions with your top talent will be a high-yielding time investment for you and your organization.

How frequently was Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson willing to push Michael Jordan, knowing an NBA 3-peat for the entire team was at stake?

If you can transform the behavior of your top achieving employees by giving consistent, friendly coaching, the spill-over effect to the other 80% of the team holds great promise for the total output of the department or division.

That total output makes you a championship coach.  It’s time to incline.