Providing Performance feedback

For many mangers, few activities are more unpleasant than providing performance feedback to employees. In fact, unless pressured by organizational policies and controls, managers are likely to ignore this responsibility.

Why the reluctance to give performance feedback? There seem to be at least three reasons. First, managers are often uncomfortable discussing performance weakness directly with employers. Even though almost every employee could stand to improve in some areas, managers fear a confrontation when presenting negative feedback. This apprehension apparently applies even when people give negative feedback to a computer. Bill Gates reports that Microsoft conducted a project requiring users to rate their experience with a computer. When we had the computer the users had worked with ask for an evaluation of its performance, the responses tended to be positive. But when we had second computer ask the same people to evaluate their encounters with the first machine, the people were significantly more critical. Their reluctance to criticize the first computer to its face, suggested that they didn’t want to hurt its feeling even though they knew it was only a machine.

Second, many employees tend to become defensive when their weaknesses are pointed out. Instead of accepting the feedback as constructive and a basis for improving performance some employees challenge the evaluation by criticizing the manager or redirecting blame to someone else. A survey of 151 area managers in Philadelphia, for instance, found that 98 percent encountered some type of aggression after giving employees negative appraisals.

Finally, employees tend to have an inflated assessment of their own performance. Statistically speaking half of all employees must be below average performers. But the evidence indicates that the average employee’s estimate of his or her own performance level generally falls around the 75th percentile. So even managers are providing good news, employees are likely to perceive it as not good enough.

The solution to the performance feedback problem is not to ignore it, but to train managers to conduct constructive feedback sessions. An effective review – one in which the employee perceives the appraisal as fair, the manager as sincere, and the climate as constructive can result in the employee’s leaving the interview in an upbeat mood, informed about the performance areas needing improvement and determined to correct the deficiencies. In addition, the performance review should be designed more as a counseling activity than a judgment process. This can best be accomplished by allowing the review to evolve out of the employee’s own self evaluation.

Have you ever had to give colleagues or classmates feedback on their performance? Did you try to stay positive or did you find you took a negative approach? Maybe you would handle the situations differently next time. If you are curious about how good you are at giving performance feedback, see the Self assessment feature.

A superior or a manager can be more effective at providing feedback if he uses the following suggestions:

Focus on specific behaviors:

Feedback should be specific rather than general. Avoid such statements as “You have a bad attitude” or “I’m really impressed with the good job you did”. They’re vague and although they provide information, they don’t tell the recipient enough to correct the “bad attitude” or on what basis his boss concluded that a “good job” had been done so the person knows what behaviors to repeat or to avoid.

Keep feedback impersonal:

Feedback, particularly the negative kind, should be descriptive rather than judgmental or evaluation. No matter how upset the superior is, he should keep the feedback focused on job-related behaviors, and never criticize someone personally because of an inappropriate action.

Keep feedback goal-oriented:

Feedback should not be given primarily to “blow off steam” or “unload’ on another person. If the manager has to say something negative he must make sure it’s directed toward the recipient’s goals. The feedback is supposed to help the person receiving the feedback. If the feedback is helping the superior then undermines your credibility and lessens the meaning and influences of future feedback.

Make feedback well timed:

Feedback is most meaningful to a recipient when there’s a very short interval between his or her behavior and the receipt of feedback about that behavior. Moreover, if the boss is particularly concerned with changing behavior, delays in providing feedback on the undesirable actions lessen the likelihood that the feedback will be effective in bringing about the desired change. Of course, making feedback prompt merely for the sake of promptness can backfire if the manager or superior has insufficient information. If the superior is angry or otherwise emotionally upset the feedback given in such instances, “well timed” could mean “somewhat delayed.”

Ensure understanding:

Make sure your feedback is concise and complete so that the recipient understands it clearly for making improvements in his work area.