[Performance Reviews] How to Give – and Get – Great Feedback

It’s performance review season for many people and the curse of most performance reviews – getting or giving accurate feedback – will be the bane of many a supervisor and employee. It does not need to be that hard. Habits, and the usual ways of giving / getting feedback, though, will do in many an attempt to give and get good, helpful feedback. And whether you’re someone giving feedback, or a someone receiving feedback, you ultimately get paid to perform (or get someone to perform) at a higher level.

Here are three thing you can do to give or get good, helpful feedback AND improve performance:

1. Describe the specific behavior / action / activity that you want to highlight. If the topic is “closing the sale,” describe in specifics what the person did to close the sale. For example, saying the person did a “good job – or bad job – of closing the sale” tells the person receiving the feedback next to nothing. (I’ve used a sales example but it could be any role or any job: conference presentations, financial analysis, running a business, etc.)

A better way (using closing the sale as an example) would be to say  “You spent the first part of your initial conversation with the customer letting them talk and asking them questions about what they valued and what their concerns might be. In doing so, you identified the main objections the customer had and follow-up and verbally responded to each one in detail to the customer. You also verbally noted some other objections that sometimes come up, and gave answers in advance to those potential objections as well. You reiterated the advantages to making the purchase now, weaving them into your responses regarding objections. You followed up with the customer by e-mail, reducing the advantages and objections to short bullet points in text. You indicated you would be following up with a call to ask for their business. You followed up with a call, and asked them specifically – “We’d like to do business with you – can we make the sale today” – for their business.

2. Describe the impact of the behavior / action / activity. What was the result of the action or behavior the person evidenced / displayed? Using the same sales example, the supervisor might note something as straight forward as “The customer made the purchase, and indicated that they had accelerated their plans to buy based on the information you communicated.”

3. Provide a qualitative assessment. This is the “good, bad, and ugly portion” of a review. What’s the value that you place on the behavior / activity / action plus its impact? In this case, the supervisor might say something like “you did a good job in selling to that customer.

What if the impact of the behavior is not-so-hot? After describing the impact, let them know that your assessment based on their impact is that it wasn’t a good job – maybe even a “bad” job. Then talk about other options / tactics / strategies that the person could have utilized that might have changed their impact / result rather than the one(s) they used.

As the growing body of research in the area of performance and performance improvement shows, the key to increasing performance is to get people to continually try to do better, and the best way to have them try to do better is to be mindful of the strategies and tactics they’re using, and the effectiveness and impact of those attempts.

In the end you don’t want people just focusing on results: you want them focusing on impact / results AND the different ways they might get those results. The problem with most poor performance isn’t the person or their smarts – it’s the fact that they’re using ineffective tools and strategies and not trying different ways as situations change.

Without those first two steps: tactics and strategies (which are really behaviors / actions / activities) and impact (success or effectiveness) a performance review is little more – and about as effective – as a check-the-box sheet. And since most people are going to spend more time and effort than what’s involved in check-the-box, you might as well make the review both meaningful and effective.