How to Manage Employee Feedback and Performance Management
This is the second part of a two-part series. In How Performance Management Is About Managing Expectations we talked about how to set group goals and make group decisions. Before you can evaluate anything, you need to make sure all your team members have clarity on what they expect of each other and you. Today we dive into that pesky performance appraisal and how to make the most of an awkward situation.
Once I had a poor performance appraisal that showed me that the boss had no idea what I was doing, and then recently I had a glowing performance appraisal in a company where I thought the boss absolutely hated me because, while I was C-level on a team of less than 20, he never spoke to me. In both instances, except in weekly or monthly group meetings, I rarely if ever spoke to my boss, whether she was in another state or he was five feet away, and the routine team meetings seemed to be things they just wanted to get over with. So I took both performance appraisals with a grain of salt because, well, it was clear they had no idea what I was doing, and they didn’t seem to have much interest in my future with the company. Irrespective of their employee feedback, I surpassed my KPIs (key performance indicators) and earned bonuses in both positions, but left both companies soon after.
Whether employee feedback is good or bad, it matters, and it’s one of the most telling insights into your corporate culture, your management style, and who you are managing. It’s also key to knowing how long your team will stay together.
Employee evaluations rarely work. They are easily forgotten. According toEntrepreneur, employee feedback is only applied about 30 percent of the time. If your performance management conversation is awkward and uncomfortable, you probably won’t even get that 30 percent change. We offer you some tricks to make these moments more productive.
- Balance positive and negative feedback. I don’t mean do the “compliment sandwich” of sitcoms. Nor do I mean if you don’t have anything nice to say… Because if you don’t have anything nice to say, it’s just not working out and you need to sever the professional relationship. But if you intend to move forward together, introduce things in a realm of positivity. It all comes from presenting the topics as things to improve on so the team can grow together.
- Don’t let it be anonymous. You want to create a transparent and trusting working environment but if you are making things anonymous, it just builds an atmosphere of paranoia. For example, if something happens between two colleagues, never play the He Said/She Said Game. Don’t speak for other people. If an issue persists, it shouldn’t be brought up during a performance appraisal where it’ll look like a premeditated attack. It’s your job to bring the two parties together to talk specifically about the issue when it occurs.
- Don’t make performance management just an annual thing. Let’s face it. We all find it very disconcerting. Kind of like we are in trouble at school or waiting for the dentist to give us a root canal. And as a manager, you probably don’t look forward to it either. Part of that extreme awkwardness is that you only do it once a year. If you want to be good at something, practice, practice, practice! Give your colleagues feedback in the moment. And then make goals shorter term. If you revisit goals, tasks and performance quarterly, you don’t let things build up and you make sure you’re always focused on the future of the business as a team.
- Be specific. Use the delegation board as a jumping off point. “What did we agree you were going to do?” It’s a constant visual reminder of what each team member has committed to do and their level of commitment or involvement with each task. Spend more time talking about projects where they take the lead, but be sure to gain insight into how the whole team is functioning.
- Did they mess up? Or not do something they said they would? Instead of scolding, ask them about the project and how it went. Open-ended questions always yield better responses. Never ask, “What went wrong.” A lot of times, learning “What went right” is a more valuable conversation.
- Performance management is as much about the past as it is about the future. And don’t forget that performance management isn’t just about talking about the past but how to move forward together. It’s your opportunity to get to know how your employee expects or wants to grow with your business. Encourage them to maybe take a Coursera or other free online course to grow in a certain area, to shadow another colleague, think about mentoring an intern … this is your moment to really connect with your colleagues. Maybe you learn they volunteer at a local soup kitchen and you can encourage them to organize once a month when anyone on your team can join. Even in the most introverted employees, you may find that they can be a leader and have things to offer to help unite your team.
- When all else fails, do it over food! Inviting your employees to sandwiches or pastries—things you can eat with your hands, nothing fussy or potentially embarrassing like spaghetti—and caffeinated beverages are a great way to break the ice and make it feel like a more level conversation, rather than the usual feeling of student in principal’s office. Plus, there’s food–in my book, that’s always a good thing!