As November slowly comes to an end, many organizations and their leaders are naturally looking back at the past year, evaluating what went right and where things missed the mark to help plan what measures they’ll need to take in response to this year’s successes and failures. To that end, many leaders are now rolling up their sleeves as they prepare for the yearly organizational ritual of the annual performance review.
Of course, for many employees, the arrival of the annual performance review is not something to look forward to, in large part because most leaders fail to communicate their expectations throughout the year. As a result, these feedback sessions end up coming off as more of a laundry list of things employees did wrong than an evaluation of how much progress they’ve made in their role.
Another problem which gives rise to this apprehension and indifference to receiving feedback is that leaders approach the conversation from the wrong vantage point. Specifically, that just as is the case with giving recognition, the act of giving feedback should not be about you. Rather, it’s about helping your employees to succeed in their objectives, by providing them with a sense of direction and an understanding of what matters.
So how can we make this shift in how we give feedback? From simply telling employees what they did wrong, to empowering them to take charge of their efforts in a manner that helps the organization to achieve its shared purpose? Here are five steps to help get that process started:
1. Feedback should be encouraging and supportive
One of the reasons why feedback seems to be so ineffective is because we tend to focus on using it only to draw awareness to those things our employees are doing well and where we see there needs to be some improvement.
However, the most effective form of feedback doesn’t simply inform employees of what to keep building on and what they need to adjust or correct. Effective feedback also provides a source of encouragement to employees that they have the ability to achieve these goals being mapped out, along with the support they’ll need to be successful in their efforts.
2. Remind your employees that they have ‘the right stuff’ for their role
As leaders, it’s important that we remind our employees that they were given that position, assigned to that project or task because they demonstrated an aptitude, skill set and/or drive to successfully reach that goal.
In this light, any criticisms of failing to meet certain objectives are not presented as being gaps in their abilities, but instead will reflect blind spots which are impeding their ability to succeed. This also allows you to provide them with this input through the lens of trying to help them address the obstacles blocking their way, instead of simply focusing on their failure to overcome them.
3. Feedback should clarify roles and purpose within the organization
A few years back, I had a boss who used my annual performance review to criticize the completed efforts of a team project I was assigned to, months after it had wrapped up.
Given how my boss was more interested in complaining about the team’s overall effort – instead of focusing on my role and how I approached the task – I walked out of that meeting without any clear sense of direction about where to focus my efforts to ensure a better result over the next year, if not also a lack of clarity about which direction he wanted the team to head towards.
Remember that giving your employees feedback is about helping to steer them in the right direction; of informing them of what you need them to accomplish in the next couple of months and also of how those efforts tie into the organization’s vision and purpose. Doing so will allow your employees to self-direct themselves as they now understand where they’re expected to go and why that matters to the organization.
4. Craft your feedback to meet their needs
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the key to giving effective feedback to your employees is to not simply to inform them of your perceptions; of advising them of what you see they’re doing right or wrong. Rather, what you should be communicating to them are your insights into how their efforts are helping or hindering their ability to achieve their goals.
When approached from this vantage point, your employees will be more receptive to hearing what you have to say as they will understand that your focus is on helping them to do what’s necessary to be successful in their efforts, and contribute in a meaningful fashion to the organization’s shared purpose.
5. Your feedback should make your employees hungry to achieve more
While feedback is naturally based on past performance, it’s important for leaders to also communicate to their employees a sense of trust and belief that their employees can not only repeat their past successes, but can even exceed them.
Perhaps this is why the word feedback starts with the word “feed” so as to remind us that the ultimate purpose of these communications is not simply to review past performance, but to provide our employees with insights and guidance that will help them to grow and evolve into stronger contributors to our organization’s shared purpose.
British sociologist and philosopher Herbert Spencer wrote:
The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”
Similarly, when leaders approach the act of giving feedback to their employees, it’s important to recognize that the goal should not be to simply inform them of what failings you see in their performance.
Rather, your goal should be to provide them with the kinds of insights and guidance they need to increase the value of their contributions and the sense of personal meaning they derive from being a member of your organization.
Only then can feedback serve to empower your team to succeed, instead of weighing them down with negativity and disengaging them from your shared purpose.