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Feedback Series (1 of 5)

Summer is wrapping up and September has begun.  Fall is the season when many of us are turning over a new leaf (pun intended) in anticipation of learning something new, and growing as a result.   It’s in this spirit that this month I’m reprising the topic of giving and receiving feedback. Not just a mid-year or end-of-year evaluation, but an ongoing, genuine conversation that begins at any point during the year, and continues over time. With effective and usable tools, my goal is to move you away from the 'Oh my gosh, here we go again' event (with the aftermath hurriedly swept under the rug), to an ongoing, open forum of feedback based on mutual respect. With these five September tips, you and I will be examining the different stages of feedback, and how to transform it into a win-win situation for all concerned.

Let’s begin!

Ready, Set... Feedback!
Some time ago, I had to have a feedback conversation with a collaborator who was missing deadlines, something that was never an issue before.  I also noticed the quality of her work declining and requiring frequent revisions, which diverted my time away from what I was supposed to be accomplishing. I admit, I was frustrated by this turn. I was also hurt and puzzled that a person I’d come to rely on for excellent, creative work had checked out… or so it seemed. A feedback conversation was in order, and quickly.

BUT before bolting out of the starting gate with a flurry of complaints, I like to keep a few things in mind, things that keep me anchored. The first and most important one is the difference between ‘Feedback’ and ‘Performance Review’.
In my many conversations with managers, the two terms are often used interchangeably. There is some overlap, but there are key differences and it’s important for both manager and employee to understand this.  In fact, being clear with your employee about which type of conversation you are engaging in will go a long way toward keeping the channels of communication open during and after.

In general, a performance assessment:
  • Happens once a year.
  • Includes rating scales for achieving work objectives and core competencies.
  • Involves an informal mid-year review.
Eureka it’s done! We exclaim as we wipe our brow.  Let’s move on to something else.  Ask yourself: Was anything actually resolved?  Will this lead to a change for the better as far as my employee’s performance and/or attitude?
And that’s where feedback comes in. The goal of feedback is for both you and your employee to engage in a respectful, yet genuine, conversation addressing what is actually going on, with the goal of finding a real solution. 

A feedback conversation:
  • Takes place over time.
  • Is accomplished in small doses (several small installments).
  • Keeps the line of communication open.
  • Deals with one issue over one or more conversations.
I like to think of Feedback as Feeding-back: giving both manager and employee an opportunity to clear the air, be honest with and respectful of each other, and grow from the exchange. I also want to keep the feedback conversation focused by just approaching one topic, even if there are five… I find that a lot easier for both me and my employee to agree on, and keep track of next steps.
In sum, ‘Feedback’ and ‘Performance Assessment’ are not meant to be interchangeable. Better yet, they are complimentary.  An underperforming employee needs to be made aware of the impact of their behavior, and there needs to be clear consequences for lack of action as well. The goal, however, is to involve the employee in the conversation about performance over time. And remember every conversation is a two-way street:  I’ve had employees educate me about my managerial style over the years. Not always what I expected to hear, but it has definitely helped me become a better manager.
Giving feedback is such a crucial part of creating a productive and satisfying work environment. I’m dedicating September's tips to this timely topic.  Establishing a two-way conversation, over time, that supports an employee in shifting behaviors, or admitting that they’re unhappy with their current job, will go a long way toward determining a course of action that works best for both of you.

So stay tuned!

~ Dominique
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