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The Worst Possible Way to Give Feedback

Most managers can easily identify an employee performance issue, but what is difficult is effectively communicating this information.

We’re delighted to have Jamie Resker (@JamieResker), a recognized thought leader and innovator in the area of employee performance management and the founder of Employee Performance Solutions, provide this guest post on giving performance feedback.

Jamie is also leading an HR.com webinar on August 17th  on Mastering the Art of Performance Feedback, which we invite you to register for.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of feedback that left you feeling deficient and questioning your self-worth? 

I worked with one executive known for his feedback approach which he referred to as “taking someone behind the woodshed”. 

According to the Urban Dictionary this means to beat someone up very badly.  He’d sometimes use this term when he needed to have a performance talk.  And guess what?  I got to deal with this sweetheart of a guy on a regular basis. 

Okay, okay I agree he is an extreme case, but we’ve not done a great job teaching leaders how to give feedback.  In fact we’ve created some monsters. 

To this point, here is a list of the worse ways you can give feedback. I’m talking about feedback that ensures the relationships you build with your team members are weakened. Where your employees walk away from your feedback conversations feeling deficient and hopeless.

So here goes:

1. Tell your employee what he did wrong.
As in, “John, you seem to make a lot of careless errors.”

2. Give examples of his mistakes
You must create a bullet proof case to prove the employee is deficient, so be sure to have plenty of examples highlighting the employee’s shortcomings.  Between 2 and 4 solid examples of the employee failing should suffice. 

3. Talk about the negative impact of his actions 
Let the employee know how much pain and suffering his negative performance is causing for you, his peers, customers and the organization.

4. Let him know he must change
Or else…

5. Breathe a sigh of relief 
Whew, you’ve had the tough conversation. You’ve done your job as a manager…Or have you? 

My point here is that this approach to giving feedback isn’t productive nor does it give you the opportunity to provide guidance or mentorship to the employee. It doesn’t leave any room for dialogue about the issue either.

Criticism is Still Criticism

Most of us are taught to provide “constructive criticism” or to use the SBI approach (describe the observed Situation and Behavior and the resulting Impact). 

The SBI approach is usually awkward and overkill for most situations. Turns out that criticism – constructive or not – is still criticism. We all know the science: 

When we’re criticized our brains detect an attack. 

The typical brain-based auto pilot reaction is of course to react to criticism defensively, go into rationalization mode or deflect responsibility. What manager wants to be on the receiving end of any of these reactions? 

Most managers aren’t simply scared by the prospect of initiating feedback conversations – they’re cowed by the sheer complexity of performance issues. They need a clear, linear process for understanding issues, determining the key issues and crafting hearable and sayable messages. HR and Talent Management professionals have an opportunity to replace the out of date approaches to feedback with a modern day feedback framework. 

There’s a Better Way to Giving Feedback

And if you or anyone in your organization has ‘mastered’ any of the ruinous performance feedback tips I’ve shared here it’s not too late. There’s a better way to have these conversations.

As HR and Talent Management professionals we owe it to the people in our organizations to build the capacity of our leaders to provide feedback that actually feels helpful, that is developmental and that strengthens relationships. 

I invite you to register for our webinar, Mastering the Art of Performance Feedback, on August 17th to learn  pragmatic modern day skills to take on these conversations in a whole new way.

We promise that we won’t make you ignore the performance problems that annoy and frustrate you. Instead we’ll show you a better way forward.

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