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Posts tagged ‘Performance Reviews’

Feedback: When performance is poor

If feedback when performance is positive or somewhat less than 100% is challenging, giving effective feedback when someone has done poorly or failed is even more difficult. I suspect that the reason for this is that the emotional tension goes up dramatically – for the person delivering the feedback and the one receiving it. In my experience, the difficult work must be done before the encounter by the person delivering the feedback.

Let’s look at what doesn’t work so well first. To immediately access the emotional charge on both sides of the conversation, try starting the conversation with, “Well, why did you do that? What happened?”  Neuroscience tells us that both people will create a physical and mental reaction to the emotional charge. One way of thinking about it is fight, flight, or freeze. The delivering person will be in fight mode, which does not allow for clear thinking let alone good processing of incoming information. The receiver of emotionally charged feedback may fight back directly with anger or frustration, fight back indirectly with self-recrimination, freeze in fear and distress, or run from or avoid the encounter.

As with challenging feedback, the question I ask is, “What am I trying to accomplish here?” As I suggested in a recent post, if the answer is learning, growth, and change, then a frustrated, critical response will not provide success. This requires planning for meeting when both people are fresh and less likely to be reactive. Again, it is important to begin by acknowledging that the conversation might be uncomfortable and that you appreciate the person’s willingness to take time out to talk. Be clear that your goal isn’t to dissect what happened, analyze the problem, or put their job in jeopardy. State that your goal is to help them do their best, learn, and build their potential.

Follow with a good opening question that asks them to reflect, “How can we discuss what happened in a solutions-focused way?” Or, “I’m interested in how you think you did in this situation. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate work?” You can follow with some other questions and statements, making certain to keep the conversation at the learning level – not in the details. Remember, avoid the impulse to suggest a solution, give advice, or tell your own story. Your role is to lead the person to their own “aha” moment of insight.

Some example questions and statements were listed in the recent post. Here are a few more that can help guide the conversation:

  • What is the biggest insight you’ve had about yourself from what’s happened? About your team?
  • What have you learned overall from the situation?
  • How committed are you to working to create a new approach?
  • Are you clear about what needs to happen next?
  • What resources or training will assist you in creating the new approach?

The bigger the emotional charge for both people, the more important it is for the person delivering the feedback to allow the other person to discover their own solutions and answers. Not only does learning take place, but the potential for ongoing growth and transformation increases. It’s time to consider eliminating “constructive feedback” and begin intentionally creating a climate of open communication and learning by asking people what they are thinking and discovering. This shift has the potential to deliver value to the organization and to the persons involved in the difficult feedback scenario.

Feedback: When things are less than 100%

Giving positive feedback when things go well seems logical and reasonable. When things are less than 100%, providing effective feedback is more challenging. The first thing many of us do is to say the first things that come to our minds, which often reflect frustration or anger. As always, the first person that needs to be considered in any situation is ourselves and our own behavior.

The question I ask is, “What am I trying to accomplish here?” If the answer is learning, growth, and change, then a frustrated, critical response will not provide success. What considerations go into my thinking on this issue?

First, the fact is that most of us are our own worst critics. We usually don’t need help to identify our failings. Secondly, neuroscience shows that it is just about impossible to change  our mental and behavioral wiring when we focus on what we don’t want to do. If we think about what we did wrong, we’re only reinforcing the circuits that create that behavior. It’s much more effective to create new circuits. Thirdly, negative interactions can send someone, and the entire work group or team, into distress and anxiety; which leads to bad morale and long-term performance issues.

I propose a different approach, one that will bring insight and learning.  Begin by taking time to plan for the conversation. Do what you need to do to calm your emotional response by taking a walk or whatever you do to release negative energy. Remind yourself that your goal is to focus on the work behavior in the project or incident, not on the individual. Then schedule a time to talk one-on-one when you both have energy and privacy for the conversation.

Begin by acknowledging that the conversation might be uncomfortable and that you appreciate the person’s willingness to take time out to talk. Be clear that your goal isn’t to dissect what happened, analyze the problem, or put their job in jeopardy. State that your goal is to help them do their best, learn, and build their potential. Follow with a good opening question that asks them to reflect, “I’m interested in how you think you did in this situation. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate work?” You can follow with some other questions and statements, making certain to keep the conversation at the learning level – not in the details. Remember, avoid the impulse to suggest a solution, give advice, or tell your own story. Your role is to lead the person to their own “aha” moment of insight.

Here are some example questions that can help guide the conversation:

  • What did you learn?
  • What did you observe about how you worked? About how you worked with the team?
  • Tell me more about that . . .
  • What insights are coming into your mind?
  • What resources, knowledge, or skills would have been helpful in this situation?

Conclude by asking how you can support them in developing the new behaviors or skills they’ve identified. Plan to meet regularly to discuss how they are going about carrying out their intentions to create new behaviors or learn new skills.

By allowing the person to reflect, gain insight, and learn, this process has the potential to develop increased trust, better communication, and foster change. It still may not be comfortable for everyone, but the outcomes will be significantly different from the old “calling on the carpet for discipline” process.

I encourage my readers to try this feedback process with your team members or family members or whatever organization you find yourself in. Reflect on how it makes a difference for you and the people around you.

Read about giving feedback when things are going well.

Feedback: When things are going well

Giving feedback when things are going well is just as important as when they’re not so well. According to neuroscientists, brain circuits that wire together, fire together. So, if leaders want to reinforce behavior, it is logical to give positive feedback when things are going well.

I’ve found that it can be just as uncomfortable to give positive feedback as negative feedback. People will say, “Oh, thanks, but it’s just my job.” Or, “It was nothing … really.” The first key to positive feedback is to reflect on some questions for yourself, before you begin talking:

  • What do I want to communicate or what behavior do I want to reinforce?
  • What specifically was well done?
  • What challenges had to be overcome?
  • What was the impact on the organization? On the team?
  • What made a difference?
  • What words will best communicate this to the person?

In order to reduce the tendency of people to dismiss feedback, begin by setting the stage with a short statement, “I know you often brush off appreciation, but I’d like to share some feedback.” Or, if it’s a bit longer, “I have some feedback for you regarding the project. It’s all good. Is this a convenient time to talk for a few minutes?” Then give the feedback that you’ve planned. After you’ve shared your positive feedback, consider asking for reflection that reinforces critical thinking, learning, and builds self-awareness:

  • Tell me 2 or 3 things that you observed which worked well.
  • Tell me something you learned about yourself when you worked on this project.
  • What did you experience as the biggest obstacles or challenges to making this project as success?
  • What internal and/or external resources were used in this project?
  • What new skills or knowledge did you need to complete this project?

Finally, ask how you can support further development in this way of working or behavior.

All of this put together will not only reinforce what was learned, but can promote reflection, insight, and growth.

I encourage my readers to try planning, delivering, and engaging in learning as you deliver positive feedback with your team members or family members or whatever organization you find yourself in. Reflect on how it makes a difference for you and for the people around you.

Are performance reviews dead?

In the past two weeks, I’ve noticed that the performance review is back in the news. Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times, Samuel Culbert in the Wall Street Journal, and Bob Sutton of Stanford have all asked whether it’s time for organizations to eliminate performance reviews. Each has interesting opinions on the topic; and, I will add my own reflections here.

I have been on both the receiving and delivering end of performance reviews. Neither is easy. As an employee, I worked hard to meet organization goals and was worried that I might not be aware of all of the unspoken expectations of my superiors. As a team leader, I tried to be fair as well as given meaningful feedback and encouragement. Feedback conversations are difficult. I will use the next posts to discuss ways to give helpful feedback for performance that is excellent, below expectations, and poor.

Good leaders give feedback that is designed to influence others in the direction of a shared vision and common goals. Good feedback is purposeful and intentional. At its best, it engages people not only creating better performance, but in learning and growth. And, feedback that creates learning and growth doesn’t happen in the dreaded annual performance review, but consistently as events unfold.

<June 7, 2010>
I am updating this with links to my other posts about providing effective performance feedback:

Feedback: When things are going well
Feedback: When things are less than 100%
Feedback: When performance is poor

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