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DC and Virginia HR Consulting and Executive Coaching Newsletter - Issue #20

Tis the Season...For Performance Reviews!

The Holiday Season is upon us again. It's a time for sharing joy, glad tidings, and goodwill amongst men and women.  And as the New Year comes closer, it's also a time for reflections on the past year and resolutions for 2011.  And in the working world, for many companies it's a time for PERFORMANCE REVIEWS!!! Woo Hoo!

Performance reviews are a time to finally give that tough new feedback and discuss how to change going forward, right?  Wrong! Here's why.

First, I want to once again thank those of you who forwarded my newsletter to colleagues and friends. My goal for 2010 was to double my readership, and I'm close. If you could take a second to use the button above to give others an opportunity to subscribe, I would really appreciate it!

If you are facing a performance review in January or February where you have to give someone some new feedback, then something has gone wrong. Performance reviews are just that - REVIEWS of the year's previous feedback. It's a time to look back at the year and discuss accomplishments, and places where we fell short. It's a time to recap all of the feedback from the year, and plan for 2011. In my opinion, if there are NEW messages being delivered in a performance review, then appropriate feedback has not been given throughout the year.

If you find yourself in this situation, you might want to consider improving your feedback skills. A great tool that I refer to often with clients is FAST feedback. Fast feedback is a tool to consciously incorporate feedback into your thinking. FAST feedback stands for:

  • Frequent

    Frequent according to Webster means "happening at short intervals". A short interval is relative, and also varies for different people and different tasks. Some people (or situations) may need feedback on a daily basis to feel comfortable that things are proceeding correctly. Others might think that this is micromanaging.

    Most employee surveys that I have seen show that managers are not giving enough feedback. Typically, this is because the manager is giving feedback on their own frequency and not the employee's. If you are in doubt about whether your feedback is frequent enough, it's easy enough to ask.

  • Accurate

    Accurate is defined in the Dictionary as "free from error especially as the result of care". Accuracy is important because it affects the credibility of the feedback giver. Accuracy can be improved by double checking the facts, questioning assumptions, and taking the time to plan what you are going to say.

    I am guilty on occasion of giving inaccurate feedback to my children. Occasionally, I walk into a room where my boys have been fighting or making a mess, and I rush to judgment on who the guilty party might be. Once I talk to them and get the full story, I sometimes find out that I was wrong. Even when I offer an apology, the damage is already done. I am working on calmly getting all of the facts without assumption before moving on to the "punishment phase"!

  • Specific

    Specific feedback describes factually and in detail what has happened, and what needs to happen next. It is clear, concise, and without interpretation.

    Our brains want us to try to connect the dots and make interpretations from behavior patterns, but this is not good feedback practice. For example, "you have been late to our staff meeting for the last 3 weeks by 10, 15, and 20 minutes respectively, and this needs to stop" is clear, and without interpretation. The statement that "you are inconsiderate of other people's time", or "you must not be getting enough sleep" is an interpretation of the behavior. The person receiving feedback may be very considerate and a great sleeper, but have 10 other reasons why they are late. The best way is for you to bring up the facts, and let the receiver of the feedback interpret the root cause for themselves.

    The goal is to stick to things you could see, hear, touch, taste, or physically feel. If you stick to facts, you will make more progress on reinforcing or changing behavior.

  • Timely

    The rule of thumb for feedback is "the sooner, the better". Timely feedback ensures that recollections and context are still fresh.

    A sales manager that I used to work with set the bar on this for me. He would always drive separately with his sales person to customer meetings. After the meeting, he would deliver positive and negative feedback in the car to the employee on the way to lunch or to the office. The feedback was timely, expected, and valued by the employee. Once the car ride was over, feedback time was done.

    I hear a lot of reasons why feedback should not be done right away. The person needs to cool off, or they don't want to distract someone from an important task, or it would be more efficient to put it off until a scheduled review. Most of the time, I find out that this is more about the manager not wanting to deliver feedback than any real reason to delay.

    The same sales manager from above also told me that he viewed it as a personal failure to leave work for the day if he had feedback to give to an employee. I've lived by that goal for most of my working career, and it's served me well.

In my opinion, new feedback given at a performance review is probably not frequent enough, and probably is not timely. There is nothing worse than hearing about a problem in a performance review that might have been addressed 3 months ago had the feedback been given in a timely manner.

A manager delivering new feedback in a performance review may need feedback on how to give feedback. (yes, I used "feedback" three times in one sentence!)

If you need coaching on giving feedback, or help with working for a manager who doesn't give feedback, let me know! As always, I welcome your comments as always on this article.  Feel free to email, Twitter, find me on Facebook or LinkedIn, or post to my blog!

Have a safe and happy Holiday Season!

Jim Bowles
James Bowles and Associate