Hundreds of managers have asked how to make their performance improvement processes more effective. My answer is always the same. Abandon annual reviews and focus on systems that offer frequent, honest balanced feedback.
Annual performance reviews really do very little to improve performance. I once heard someone say that depending on annual reviews to create improvement is like “dieting on your birthday and hoping to lose weight.” To be really effective we need consistent on-going feedback.
But the value of feedback doesn’t begin and end at the workplace doors. Feedback can help us improve in every aspect of our lives. Well placed feedback offers avenues for improvement, increases self confidence, and enhances relationships.
Of course feedback is of little value unless we can trust the source. There is an inherent link between trust and truth. Trust rarely exists in the absence of truth and truth is rarely given in the absence of trust. Yet folks frequently don't want to tell the truth and, all too often, people don't want to hear the truth.
Feedback rides on the same two-way street. To be successful we need to be skilled in both giving and receiving. Gloria Auth with Protocol Plus says that "Giving feedback is not for bullies and receiving feedback is not for sissies."
To receive good feedback we must first learn how to give permission. That sounds easy. Just ask for feedback! Right? Well we need to do a bit more than that. We need to reassure people that we value their opinion and are really ready to listen to what they have to say. We need to demonstrate open mindedness rather than search for approval.
We must always be aware that the giver will be watching our reaction. When we get defensive or angry we are really telling others we don't want their feedback. It is important not to take it personally and not to over react. Remember, they are simply providing input that we can digest, consider and use or not use.
The most important thing for the giver is to first obtain permission to give feedback. Six simple words can work wonders. Can I offer you some feedback? When we get permission we should use it wisely being sincere, honest and assertive. The truth does not require a sugar coating. Nor does it need to be delivered in a ring of fire. We need to focus on the issue not the person. No one really cares much about our opinion. People are much more receptive to suggestions than to judgments.
Finally, feedback must be balanced. Even the most constructive of criticism carries a sting. No one wants to live in a hive. We need the balance of positive feedback as well. Positive feedback builds self confidence and enhances trust. Without acknowledgment that we are on the right track, we may start looking for another path.
I am not one who favors softening the blow by opening with a positive statement. I think that approach sends mixed messages. It is far better to simply view others with a balanced eye. That means seeking as many opportunities to praise as we do to criticize.
Good feedback is like a lighthouse. It reassures us when we are on a safe course and advises us when a course correction is needed. And it does all this without ever casting a judgment upon us.