Performance Feedback – or a Root Canal?

What’s the difference between performance feedback and a root canal?

Answer: Anesthesia!

Why would so many leaders rather have a root canal than provide performance feedback?

Why do feedback recipients often experience the feedback process as a meaningless exercise, and report that that they rarely if ever get any helpful feedback that contributes to their career and personal development? . . . or worse yet, that it’s a ’gotcha’ moment?

Why do so many on both sides of the table experience anxiety about giving or receiving performance feedback, personalize all communications, and even feel diminished by it?

Why do so many leaders take the easy way out – by not providing timely and meaningful feedback, or by waiting until the annual review to provide routine ‘meets expectations’ or even ‘exceeds expectations’ ratings, rather than providing authentic feedback?

Why IS giving and accepting feedback such a challenge?

A few feedback ‘worst practices’:

Not providing it at all:

“I meant to talk to her about the accountability issue, but it seemed to be improving and we had the big retreat; then the moment passed………”

Delivering feedback via email attachment:

Hard to believe, but I’ve heard from more than one executive that they received their performance review form attached to an email, with no previous discussion and no follow-up.

Offering feedback with the right hand and taking it back with the left:

“Well, there was a mention about your communication style, but some people are too sensitive. Besides, I know how much is on your plate, and if the rest of the team had half your drive …”

Directing it at the person instead of the behavior:

“You have a history of bad management decisions and this is just the latest example.”

When it’s delivered as criticism or worse – a veiled threat:

“Your failure to meet goals is becoming obvious to senior leadership.”

When it’s not objective, not supported by facts, or delivered in the heat of battle, without much thought about the hidden message or the possible consequences:

“Your performance has been disappointing and I’m beginning to think your qualifications weren’t exactly what you represented when we hired you.”

In addition, feedback is often not heard or is discounted when:

The receiver doesn’t trust the person delivering the feedback, believes they have a hidden agenda or biased point of view.

Expectations, rewards and consequences have been discussed or promised in the past, but have not been implemented [leadership hasn’t ‘walked the talk’]

The receiver has a low level of self-confidence and self-awareness and is unable to accept even the best-intentioned, valid feedback and use it to improve their performance and career opportunities.

Ideas to improve performance feedback – and results – next time. Meanwhile, even when you recognize the need and genuinely care about retaining and developing talent on your team … how do you stay on top of who is at what stage of development, how much involvement and what kind of encouragement they need, and how their individual development plans are progressing? How do you keep individual feedback and encouragement from falling off the bottom of an endless to-do list— especially amid changing roles and objectives, with no time, expanded responsibilities and diminished resources? And importantly, how do you move beyond the fear of emotional reactions and deliver empathetic feedback that engages and motivates?

Share your success stories – and horror stories – about giving and receiving feedback.


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