Most of the people I know agree: a well-structured and constructive feedback process is rare. I often hear about the lack of performance review or the fact that it was delivered poorly and wasn’t meaningful, which is often the case when the review is enforced by a company policy. Employees also complain that the message wasn’t clear or the opinion was unjust.
This isn’t surprising, because the performance review process is quite complex and requires a lot of preparation. There are a lot of variables that contribute to its success, or lack thereof. In this article, we’ll describe some of them, but before we delve into the issues, let’s discuss the role a feedback process plays in every company.
A strong performance review benefits employees and their employers alike. Although many employees consider it an unpleasant or stressful experience (a performance review may be emotionally painful and we are programmed to avoid pain by nature), most also agree that receiving actionable feedback is very important for them.
Naturally, every employee expects to have their work objectives clearly articulated and their performance measured in a transparent process. They also want to understand the consequences of success (promotion and/or pay rise?) or failure. A performance review meeting is always an opportunity to clarify all of those aspects of work.
What’s in it for the employers? During a performance review meeting, the supervisor gives feedback to the employee on their performance and gives new directions. This is an opportunity for the employer to clearly outline expectations and indicate areas for improvement - all of these are vital to business prosperity and efficiency.
Finally, a performance review is an opportunity for both parties to discuss plans for professional growth and potential training needs. This process is often closely intertwined with a decision on a salary increase, so the stakes are high. Thus, every company should be able to effectively assess the performance of its employees and to reward and promote them accordingly.
The main goal of the feedback meeting is to provide the employee with guidelines that will help them improve their performance. It may also involve planning their further development within a company. It seems fairly uncomplicated, doesn’t it? Yet, there are a lot of things that can go wrong throughout the process. Here’s our list:
At the outset, the feedback process must clearly outline the employee’s goals for a given time period and explain what needs to be done to achieve these goals. A detailed and precise list will help the employee deliver. The employee should also meet with the manager periodically (or at least in the middle of the assessment period) to discuss and review the goals, to allow time for potential improvements.
Without a strong process design, there will be no shared understanding of where the employee stands in relation to achieving the goals that contribute to career development, promotions, and performance improvement. In such a case, the manager is likely to give irrelevant or pointless feedback, leaving the employee feeling awkward.
Managers are often obliged to use dedicated forms to describe a number of competencies, but these are rarely suitable for the assessment of every job post within a company. Every position is unique and so are the employees, which is why even the most elaborate forms may miss what matters most.
In addition, complicated forms often distract from what is actually important, i.e. the issues that should be rectified, new goals that should be set for the coming months and making sure that the employee and the employer are on the same page when it comes to setting the work objectives for the next assessment period.
Grading isn’t helping employees improve in any way. If you give someone the top score, they may either become complacent or feel superior to other employees. Anything below the top mark is bound to invoke negative emotions.
The system is usually meaningless, as managers will have a different approach to giving out grades - some may just give out top grades as a way to motivate people, others believe nobody is worthy of them. Employees often feel this kind of assessment is inaccurate or unfair, especially because it’s done by just one person. It undermines the whole feedback effort.
Giving feedback is a management competency that should be learnt and mastered. In the process, even the setting matters. At the end of the day, this is a learning experience for the employee and there’s no room for randomness. Without appropriate training for managers, this process may quickly go down the drain.
The manager should know what to say and how to say it to motivate the employee to change their behavior instead of discouraging them. He should also know when to listen, process what he hears and provide any support necessary for the employee to improve. These are only a few of the many aspects of giving constructive and meaningful feedback.
Remember that a feedback meeting may be stressful and/or emotional for the employee. After all, any comments about our performance - and potential criticism - always evoke strong emotions. The manager must keep that in mind and take care of the employee's comfort - they run the meeting and are responsible for how it goes.
It may be good to connect on the emotional level before the feedback meeting actually begins. An employee may be going through some personal issues that may be affecting their work. A good manager will take these factors into account.
This article is the first part of our 3-part series on performance reviews. Come back soon for articles that detail how we approach the performance review process and what you should remember to lead the performance review meeting well.