“Hey, let’s meet tomorrow for a one-on-one performance review, okay? [giving a thumbs up 👍]”
It may seem like an innocuous question, but for many, this is one of the most fretted discussions they’ll have with their supervisor all month. Probably not because they’ve done anything wrong, but the term “performance review” sparks a potentially unfounded thought of being degraded or told how terrible someone is at their job. As Andrea Mignolo notes in her article, The Art of Receiving Feedback, the mere mention of feedback invokes a “fight, flight, or freeze” thought process.
If you’re on the receiving end of feedback, I highly recommend you read Ms. Mignolo’s article linked above. If you’re a manager looking to raise the bar in your feedback sessions, the same article would be a good read for you (specifically the section on “distinguishing between facts and opinion”). When you’re done with that, continue reading below.
Over the years, I’ve been on both sides of the desk, giving or receiving feedback. Here are some tips to try out next time you give someone feedback.
Location, Location, Location.
Next time you find yourself getting ready to ask one of your employees to come to your office for a performance review, take a moment to think about the last time you just went for a coffee with them to talk about work. Take a walk around the office (outside) and chat. If this isn’t a negative session, keep it light and go somewhere neutral. Even a shared conference room will do.
On the flip side, if you’re about to deliver a poor review or worse, the pleasantries of a walk might be worth skipping. In my experience, no two people are the same when hearing negative news, so be prepared for anything. It’s a lot easier to keep the situation within an office.
What should you talk about?
Many companies have a standard set of recommended feedback formats and questions. However, being on the receiving and listening end of “standard” performance discussions, using the same format every time gets dull. The key is to ensure you’re not making your subordinate feel like a number (👕 <- Been There, Done That). Throw in a new question or topic during your next talk; here are some examples.
- Which area (or areas) would you like to improve? This will generally elicit a look of thought and maybe a smile. For the manager, this can reveal whether your employee(s) can identify their weaknesses, which you could leverage for retention and skillset building.
- Do you have any concerns about the future? The key here is “forward.” If there were current concerns by either party, I would suspect they would have been brought to someone’s attention already. From the perspective of the junior person in this situation, looking forward gives them a chance to ask questions like, “I was thinking of getting a welding certification. Is that something I can use here?” While the welding certification might not be of value to you if you’re running a tech shop, it’s good to know that your team is eager to learn. Make use of that energy.
- Do you have the necessary tools and resources to do your job? This is a big one. Let’s say, for example, you’re one of only two or three specialists in an office of specialists but not in your specialty. While you might feel special, the other specialists don’t know your specialty, nor that you need special things to do your specialty- because the rest of the office is special too, doing their specialty. Sometimes, you won’t know what your team needs to get their job done (efficiently) unless you ask them.
- What are your goals for the next six months or years? This is a great conversation piece. Sometimes, we think we can get X, Y, and Z done in the next few weeks or months. However, it’s not until you talk about your learning (or travel, driving, skydiving) ambitions that you realize how much work they will take. [Specific to the manager, if you ask this question, follow up with the team member every few weeks to see how they’re doing- this will help keep them on track to achieve their goal and remind them that you have a vested interest in their success. They may have underestimated what they could do at that time (I’ve been that person).]
- What do you want your next position in the company to be? This type of question need not be reserved for those who’ve been with the company for only a few months. Asking this will allow you to gauge someone’s plans (or perhaps expectations) for advancement. It can also directly tie in with some of these other questions to help you help them reach their goals to that next level.
- What have I done to help you with your job? What have I done that’s hampered your performance? Nobody likes to hear if they’ve done something wrong, and it can also be embarrassing to ask someone outright if you’ve done something good to help someone else. However, you need to remember two things here: unless you’re sitting next to this person every second of the workday, you won’t know if you’ve made their work life (one) a hellish nightmare because you once told them they couldn’t use a number-two pencil; or (two) what you’ve done to make it a better place to work at. In the end, you need to know what to change, and you can’t say that unless you ask. Be careful what you ask for; however, some people are less reserved than others. You’ve been warned.
I used to have a habit of trying to remember everything. Then I forgot something important (I don’t recall what it was). So now I document everything. Regarding performance reviews/feedback sessions, documentation is the number one thing that should be on your mind. I’d go so far as to tell the person you’re talking to that you’re writing notes, so pardon the tapping/scribbling (even if you’re on a walk or out to coffee with them).
The point of all of this is to change things up occasionally.