How to give feedback on people’s work performance? One of the skills managers seem to be receiving many training on. And yet, I find, possibly one of the least mastered skill.
Why is it so difficult for those of us in people management positions to 1. have the courage to provide useful constructive feedback on individual’s performance and 2. provide performance assessment which can be received as constructive and non-judgmental ?
I did discuss the art (I indeed see it as a delicate art !) of giving feedback in one of my earlier post.
I am quoting Frederic Laloux, author of “Reinventing Organizations” as I think he summarizes very well what we see all too often in our corporate environments.
Most of us naturally want to receive feedback on our contribution at work. We want to know: Was our work helpful? Was it worth the effort we put into it? And yet, most organizations find it exceedingly difficult to create a culture of feedback. Often, people take good work for granted or simply say, “Great job!”, a rather unspecific form of feedback. And for negative feedback, we tend to dance around the issue, often waiting until the next formal appraisal discussion to bring up the topic. No wonder annual appraisals are, in many companies, the most awkward moments of the year. As employees, we go into these meetings in two minds. On the one hand, we hope our contributions will finally be acknowledged; on the other, we fear negative feedback might have built up over time because so much tends to be left unsaid during the year”
The company I am currently working for has developed a new framework in which more regular and fruitful « Sync Up » conversations are encouraged between managers and their teams. Frederic Laloux in « Reinventing Organizations » highlights how those moments should be cherished: appraisal discussions, if approached from a different mindset, can be turned into opportunities,
“where our contributions are celebrated and recognized, where, without judgment, we inquire truthfully into what isn’t going so well: places where our knowledge, experience, talent, or attitude fall short of what our roles require. And we can inquire into even deeper questions: What do we truly long to do? What is our offer to the world? What are our unique gifts? What holds us back? What could help us step more boldly into the life that wants to be lived through us? »
In other words, how do we ensure that performance management becomes a time of inquiry and celebration, rather than of judgment and control.
Frederic Laloux’s book (which again, I would highly invite you to read!) offers three additional practices to turn those moments into time of « inquiry and celebration”.
The first is simply to approach feedback with the ancient insight shared by all wisdom traditions. We can approach the world from one of two sides: from a place of fear, judgment, and separation; or from one of love, acceptance, and connection. When we have difficult feedback to give, we enter the discussion uneasily, and this pushes us to the side of fear and judgment, where we believe we know what is wrong with the other person and how we can fix him. If we are mindful, we can come to such discussions from a place of care. When we do, we can enter into beautiful moments of inquiry, where we have no easy answers but can help the colleague assess himself more truthfully.
The second practice flows out of the first. We must learn the language of the heart. We’ve been told that we should assess other people as objectively as possible. That’s a tragic mistake. Assessments are never objective (at best we can say they are culturally grounded, if many people share the same assessment), but nevertheless we often believe that they are. We turn our subjective impressions into “truths” about a person; no wonder they resist our feedback. Rather than cloaking ourselves in objective detachment, we must get involved. We must learn to speak in “I” language, to share how we have been inspired, touched, puzzled, hurt, frustrated, or angered as a result of what the other person has said or done. Feedback given that way is not an objective evaluation, but a joint inquiry. We offer a peek into our own inner world so as to help the other person better understand the impact of their behavior. The more we open up, the more we invite our feedback partner to do the same.
The third practice requires that we change the nature of the discussion in performance evaluations. Most appraisal discussions attempt to take a seemingly objective snapshot of a person’s abilities—resulting in a series of scores on predefined performance criteria, a sort of balance sheet of strengths and weaknesses. What a disheartening way to sum up a person! What if we changed the discussion? Instead of a snapshot, we can choose a wide-angle perspective. Let’s look at a person’s current roles at work in the broader light of her life’s journey, her potential, hopes, and calling. <…> This will also naturally help us to go from stating (“I see you as a three on the criterion of ‘following through’”) to inquiring (“Where do you see yourself going?”).
Frederic Laloux then offers another example of a practice at one of the researched companies in which a few questions are framed that turned the appraisal into a moment of joint exploration:
1. Lauds: What has gone really well this year that we might celebrate?
2. Learning: What has been learned in the process? What didn’t go as well or might have been done differently? How do we “take stock” of where things are now compared to where we thought they might be?
3. Looking forward: What are you most excited about in this next year? What concerns you most? What changes, if any, would you suggest in your functions? What ongoing professional development will help you to grow in your current job and for your future? How can I be of most help to you and your work?
4. Setting goals: When you think about your work in the year ahead, what specific goals will guide you?
In a similar vein, Bob Koski, the founder of Sun Hydraulics, suggested four simple statements for the yearly appraisal discussions:
– State an admirable feature about the employee.
– Ask what contributions they have made to Sun.
– Ask what contributions they would like to make at Sun.
– Ask how Sun can help them.
You might have noticed that in this four-question framework there is no place allotted for negative feedback, for telling a person what they could do better.
And you, how do you turn performance management into opportunities ?