Get Comfortable Giving Constructive Performance Feedback

By Linda Dulye, President and Founder, Dulye & Co. / The Dulye Leadership Experience

The much anticipated performance review. It’s a workplace ritual–and a resonating memory from my days as a communications leader at General Electric. Decades ago, GE’s employee evaluation program was widely regarded as an industry gold standard for its depth, discipline, data and direct dialogues. 

I found it to be informative, instructive and inspiring thanks to hours of thoughtful preparation by my managers. I also remember, however, that the infrequency of these episodic annual events tested my patience. I wanted more constructive feedback more often. 

And that’s the sentiment of today’s workforce. Employees want a steady state of information about how they are doing, how their work supports the overall goals, and how they can grow their careers. Many organizations are stepping up to monthly or more frequent chats. 

Real-time performance conversations require well-honed communication skills for confidently and comfortably preparing, giving and receiving meaningful feedback, directly. Conversations, whether live, by phone or Zoom, are the right and best platforms. Make that the ground rule. Email and text are not acceptable. 

These four tips can improve your readiness and proficiency:

  1. Take notice and notes. Spend time daily observing and recording notes of how team members work together. Do they initiate interactions? Do they offer support? Are they respectful in their communications? Are they reliable in following up on tasks? Observe how they:
  • get organized and stay organized
  • react to changes and challenges
  • build relationships with others
  • take initiative

Capture specific examples that you can provide during your performance conversation. Relying on memory will leave you without the concrete evidence that employees want and need to know for their professional development. 

  1. Prepare and package. Use a simple template to compile and prioritize the information from your notetaking. For years, I’ve worked with clients to introduce frequent performance check-ins. Steering clear of complexity, we created a 4-Block Communication tool to address these important questions:
  • What’s going well?
  • What’s not?
  • What needs to improve?
  • What help/support do you need to improve?
  1. Practice and practice. Just as you need to give thoughtful preparation to compiling performance feedback, serious attention is warranted for delivering the message. That’s even more paramount when the message is difficult. If you sweat and stumble through the conversation, expect your direct report to fixate on your body language and miss any dire warning or corrective plan. Conduct practice sessions in advance. Ask a trusted colleague to sit in and comment on what worked and didn’t in your message and mannerisms.
  2. Invite engagement. The purpose of any review is to help others take stock of where they are today–in meeting goals and supporting the team, as well as inspiring them to stretch even higher tomorrow. Rather than hand over a prescription for improvement, create it together. Start the discussion with a few concrete recommendations of your own, then invite your employee’s contributions on needed changes and support. Mutual development of a personal improvement plan builds ownership and accountability. 

Make performance discussions fluid. Treat them as a two-way street for learning from and about your team members. What could be more beneficial to your own development as a manager?