Let’s talk about the “F-Word”

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Feedback: Curse, threat, or opportunity?

It’s that time of year again, feedback & performance time! While some innovative organizations are switching away from gathering and giving feedback once a year, many still hold this time for year-end performance reviews.

During my years working in talent management, I met only a handful of people who enjoyed the performance process. Managers hate the administrative burden, fighting management to get benefits and bonuses for their team, and the difficult conversations that ensue. Administrators are the arm-twisters and enforcers of processes that they oftentimes feel don’t match their innovative views on performance. Employees dread the process, don’t feel heard (no one believes their mandatory self-assessment makes a difference) and wind up disenchanted.

While I would be more than happy to write one or many articles espousing the reasons we should move towards more holistic, ongoing, and well-rounded feedback, I fear I would be preaching to the choir. Instead, let’s take a few minutes to identify how managers, administrators, and employees can make the most of the existing feedback structures. And, if you are one of the lucky ones in that progressive performance process (I can’t help it I love alliteration) then I encourage you to do some writing yourself. Share your experience, your wins, and challenges with this long overdue performance model.

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” – Harvey S. Firestone

  • Managers often have the hardest time with this process. Not only do they need to advocate for themselves but they need to make sure they are making the case for their team. They also, occasionally, have the unfriendly burden of communicating some less than pleasant feedback. At this time of year, I always advise the managers that I work with to plan and structure their time so that they can give the performance and feedback process the attention it deserves. If your organization offers a self-assessment to its employees, read them! Not only should you read them, but you should incorporate the assessment into your overall review. This is the “if a tree falls in the forest” scenario. It isn’t enough to have read your team’s assessments, they need to KNOW you read them. Finally, instead of walking into a performance review with an information giving mindset, think about shifting to informationgathering. Start the session by asking questions and you will find that you learn more about the mindset and goals of your team than you ever know before.
  • Administrators are the group that often is caught in the middle. Whether this is your HR, Talent, or Professional Development team recognizing that they are trying to keep the trains running in a process that everyone dreads is step number one. If you are administering one of these processes my number one piece of advice is to put your oxygen mask on first! Take care of your performance review early so you aren’t adding stress to the process when it comes time to twist those arms. The next piece for you is communication focused. Do not assume any level of knowledge about the process or the program when speaking to your different constituencies. Always break things down, be overly thorough and aim to explain the WHY over the HOW of the performance process. As administrators, we can get so buried in process and protocol that we forget the why of our work and the why is what keeps people engaged.
  • Employees are frequently telling me that no one in their organization actually cares about the performance process so they don’t give it much attention either. This is an understandable but misguided approach. I challenge all those receiving a performance review to take real ownership of the process starting with the self-assessment. The “brag memo” as a former colleague liked to call it should be just that, an entire memo of you bragging about yourself. If you can’t remember the wins you had over the past year, how do you expect your manager or supervisor to? If you have to write one of these assessments (and even if you don’t) you should have a brag folder. What is a brag folder? It is simply a file where you keep every piece of positive feedback you received over the year. Everything from “Thank you so much for getting this to me so quickly” to “This is fantastic work product and the client was thrilled.” It can be anywhere that works for you; desktop, email server, or good old-fashioned paper file. Keep this and refer back to it when it is time to brag. Remember that in some organizations the only way to memorialize your progress is through the performance review system so you need to own that. If your manager was gone tomorrow, how would the company know your worth?

Feedback can be a difficult thing to give and to get but when all sides approach the process with a thoughtful and productive approach it can truly be a gift. Whether you are giving, getting or facilitating feedback this fall/winter I encourage you to try the tips above and let me know how it goes!

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