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June 11, 2014 - In Featured, Managing Performance - No comments yet

It is difficult to think of anything more important to an employee than obtaining helpful feedback from their manager about their work and how they are doing their job.  There are things of equal importance: being paid a reasonable salary for the job, having a pleasant working environment and having appropriate resources/tools to fulfil the required tasks.  Interestingly, the highly motivated, achievement focused worker may prioritise getting constructive performance feedback over other expectations because they have a thirst for success and they want to improve.

So why is performance feedback so problematic?  Obviously this is not a new topic as anyone with an interest in management will know.  Some years ago, when delivering a new performance management process to a high-tech company, I asked two groups of managers attending separate training workshops what they thought about managing performance and providing feedback.  One group was asked what they thought of the various approaches they had been expected to use as managers and it is worth noting that their experiences had been mainly with companies that were household names.  Their responses were all to do with what chores setting objectives and conducting appraisal discussions were.  Added to this were the usual complaints about HR, forms and how time consuming it all was.

The other group was asked a similar question, but this time with an emphasis on what they thought about performance feedback they had experienced from managers to whom they had reported.  Their responses could not have been more different than their colleagues in the first group.  ‘The most important meeting that you have with your manager is when you have an appraisal and agree new objectives and many do not even prepare for it!’  ‘It’s when your manager represents your company to you and when it’s poorly executed it makes you feel negative about the place you work’, ‘I was hoping for a discussion in which I would learn something and perhaps even get recognised for some of the successes I had achieved’ and so on.  Knowing the organisation I have no doubt that if the groups had been reversed and they had received each others’ question the responses would have been similar.

The issue which these contrary responses illustrate is the very different perspective people have depending on whether it’s them that is receiving feedback.  As Peter Drucker said ’the role of the manager is to get results through the efforts of others’.  So why is providing performance feedback so difficult?

The research suggests that it’s all about managers not having the confidence to give direct feedback; looking people in the eyes and letting them know that they have done a good job or involving them in a conversation about alternative options for how they may do a task better.  Research also suggests that many managers do not have the appropriate training and practice to give performance feedback effectively.

These essentials about managers providing feedback can be overlooked and the real issue obscured by yet another new performance management ‘system’ (online or on paper) being introduced to an organisation.

An alternative strategy is to return to Drucker’s view of the manager’s role and reflect on the purpose of managers providing performance feedback.  Managers want to get good results from their people because that’s what they get paid to do.  If a manager can increase the results achieved by his/her people then an additional reward may be forthcoming and in the longer term, a promotion.  This suggests that incentives are available for managers who can improve results.

Importantly, successful interactions between managers and employees about work performance and how the individual can develop their abilities is one of the most powerful stimulants of employee engagement.  This means that managerial effectiveness in giving performance feedback not only assists achieve short-term results but also builds longer term employee commitment with additional benefits for the organisation.

Performance feedback needs to be in relation to a clear understanding, between manager and worker, of what is expected in terms of results.  Feedback can then be given in relation to such expectations.  The purpose of feedback is to reinforce effective behaviour or to give the person the opportunity to change behaviour which is having an adverse effect.  As giving feedback is about helping a person to learn, it must be given in a way that the person:

Key skills in giving feedback are:

There are many practical guidelines that can assist managers give feedback to help an employee improve performance and develop their abilities.

The main issue is that the skills and guidelines that provide managers with the confidence to give effective performance feedback need to be learnt by doing.  Practicing with real case examples is powerful and engaging for managers as they learn necessary skills, develop confidence and are better prepared to address performance matters.

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