Four steps to provide effective performance feedback

Utilize performance appraisals as a tool for progress

A prevalent issue among managers is how they utilize performance appraisals as a tool to provide feedback, create higher engagement and enhance performance for employees.

Many managers dread doing performance appraisals because the forms requested from the companies are lengthy, tedious or have irrelevant or ineffectual questions. It’s no surprise then that only 8 percent of companies report that their performance management process drives high levels of value, while 58 percent said it is not an effective use of time. 

Simple, but effective

I’ve developed a simple performance feedback process that consistently yields the desired results because the approach

  • is short and concise
  • focuses on qualitative feedback
  • increases the receptiveness for the employees
  • supports positive lasting change in important improvement areas

Case in point is my client Martin, a CEO of a medical device company. Martin was experiencing some dissatisfaction in the performance of one of his sales managers, John.  Martin found that John brought great strengths to both the management team and his sales team, but he also noticed some inconsistencies and development needs in John’s role. 

In a short, focused conversation, I helped Martin prepare a 1-page form to provide feedback on John’s performance and encourage John to take action for creating positive change. The performance appraisal entails the following four steps:

           1.  Start with strengths and accomplishments

Employees welcome and want to hear feedback when it is presented and delivered in a positive way. Studies show that managers who focus on strengths as opposed to weaknesses create more actively engaged employees.  According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 61% of employees who felt their managers focused on the employees’ strengths and positive traits were consistently more engaged, in contrast to 39% of employees who were not engaged or actively disengaged. Based on statistics like these, Martin started pointing out John’s strengths as a compassionate and patient manager with strong product expertise and the ability to deepen relationships with existing customers. By focusing on an employee’s valued accomplishments and strengths, it makes them much more likely to then be receptive to suggestions on areas to change.

           2.  Identify development areas instead of weaknesses

The development section of the appraisal addresses suggested areas of improvement.  Instead of pointing out an employee’s shortfalls, deficiencies or weaknesses, we approach them from a future-oriented perspective.  In John’s case, Martin suggested his manager develop his closing abilities, take initiative in communicating with potential new customers, be strategic in how he develops his territory by paying closer attention to the numbers and revenue, and develop his writing skills through email communications and in-person events.  By outlining very specifically the areas the company expected to see improvement, John received the guidance he needed to translate those expectations into actionable steps and new behaviors. 

          3. Clarity goals, future projects & expected deliverables

Collaborating with an employee to develop precise goals is an effective way to encourage and support them in their improvement.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “The more you can involve your employees in setting goals for themselves and the group, the more committed to those goals they are likely to be.” 

John and Martin agreed that it was reasonable to expect that John make regular appointments and meetings with new potential clients and target at least one new appointment per week.  These objectives would challenge John, but more importantly, they were attainable.  Developing specific measurable goals with the employee guides them in creating manageable objectives and also allows for results that can later be evaluated to determine whether the employee’s efforts were successful.

           4.  Determine action steps and follow-up

An effective performance feedback discussion entails specific action steps the employee can take to reach their objectives and the goals of the company. Once a goal is set, ask your employee to explain how he or she plans to meet it. Have him or her break the goal down into tasks and set milestones, especially if it’s a large or long-term improvement project.

In our example, John’s action steps included developing a plan for his sales territory, making 5 calls to new prospective clients and preparing by-weekly 20-min interactions with each of his eight sales professionals. An additional expectation that Martin and John agreed upon was a monthly 45 minutes coaching session to review progress.  

Follow-up is THE key success factor

Change doesn’t happen in a meeting. Consistent follow-up is key to ensuring lasting improvement in key behaviors and skills. Waiting a year before the next appraisal to provide continued feedback to the employee on their progress is unproductive.  Setting up short (15 minute) and regular (monthly) meetings is much more effective in monitoring whether expectations are being met. It also demonstrates the importance of support for the employees.

When centered around a simple and positive approach, performance feedback and appraisals prove to be highly useful in creating greater employee engagement, fostering a better working relationship and result in improved employee performance.

5 “Executive Presence” Skills to Advance Your Career

Written by Maya Hu-Chan


One of my clients (we’ll call her Nancy) missed out on an important promotion recently. She sought feedback from the interview panel and was told the same thing several times. She had, they said, a “lack of executive presence.”

This is tough feedback to deal with because executive presence is such an abstract and subjective concept. However, as tricky as it is to define, let’s face it we all know when we are in the room with someone who has executive presence…and also when we’re with someone who doesn’t. There’s a certain quality in some leaders those who can (seemingly) effortlessly command a room that is as magnetic as the Pied Piper. Where they go, others will follow.

For aspiring global leaders, executive presence is increasingly the elusive x-factor that can win them a hard-fought promotion or, in the case of Nancy, leave it out of reach. Indeed, a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, a nonprofit research organization based in New York, suggests that in today’s global marketplace, executive presence counts for 26% of what it takes to get ahead.

If you feel that you’re doing a great job but not getting promoted as you expect, it might be that a lack of executive presence is to blame. You might not even be aware of it. It’s often a blind spot because it’s not easy for an individual to understand how others perceive them.

Executive Presence Is About Style

What is executive presence? Can it be defined in a way that will help us acquire it even if it’s not a natural talent?

Put simply, executive presence is a credibility issue. It’s about getting a resounding “Yes” to the question, “Will people follow me?” Those who have executive presence are commonly described as having the ability to project gravitas, confidence, poise under pressure, and decisiveness.

In Nancy’s case, it wasn’t about her ability to do her job as is so often the case. You can be a high achiever and respected for your performance and still find yourself bumping up against a seemingly immovable glass ceiling. No, for Nancy, it was a style thing. Her colleagues and those in senior positions simply didn’t see her in a leadership role.

Given how intangible the concept of executive presence can be, I wanted to dig deeper into the feedback Nancy received to find out exactly what her stakeholders were seeing or, more likely, not seeing. The resulting feedback was that she was too “emotional,” “lacking in confidence,” and “too tactical.”

For example, when she spoke in meetings, she sounded unsure and at the end of her presentation asked, “Is that okay with everyone?” Her peers said her contributions to discussions were always about granular detail rather than the kind of big picture thinking you would expect from a leader. She also giggled too much, which they found childlike and not awe-inspiring in a potential vice president.

If you’re wondering if this is a problem experienced more by women than men, you’d be right. Despite all of the amazing progress made in terms of equality, the modern workplace still often defaults to traditional male qualities and role models when it comes to assessing leaders. This is changing, slowly, and it’s up to the next generation of leaders now emerging to find a model of leadership that draws equally upon male and female character traits.

Men also struggle with this challenge. Another client of mine (we’ll call him Walter) was also criticized for nervous laughter in meetings when the going got tough. Colleagues felt it made him sound out of his depth. Turns out it was his way of dealing with the tension, but it served to undermine people’s perceptions of him. His idiosyncrasy was a tiny, unconscious character trait that had become a career-limiting problem one he wasn’t aware of.

Executive Presence Is About First Impressions

Self-confidence is a common trait in those who display executive presence, along with other qualities like appearance, body language, and speaking patterns.

There’s a reason for the expression, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” That doesn’t mean go out and blow your budget on a designer wardrobe. But first impressions do count. If your preferred dress code is out of step with the company culture, your impact will be affected. Unless you’re working for Google or Facebook, a hoodie simply isn’t going to get you that promotion!

Those with executive presence often speak up, use strong and clear language, and communicate with passion and energy. They use positive body language by standing tall, making eye contact, offering a firm handshake, and using an authoritative tone of voice.

This is all good news because it is behavior that can be learned. So if, like my clients, you had feedback that you’re not viewed as having executive presence, all is not lost. While some people have these attributes naturally, it’s possible that nurture can be as powerful as nature in this instance. Executive presence is a skill that you can adopt on a “fake it ‘til you make it” basis.

5 Tactics for Building Executive Presence

In the most recent of my 100 top tips for global leaders, here is my guide to developing your executive presence:

Get feedback. Understand the behaviors that are putting out the wrong message by seeking honest, formal, or informal feedback. Can you command the room? Do people stop and listen when you speak? It’s quite possible that you simply don’t know so get the people you trust to tell you.

Think about how you appear to others. Speak slowly and articulate clearly. Avoid giving away your leadership power by undermining your authority. This can be as simple as brushing off a compliment about your abilities as a leader, or cracking jokes at the wrong time. If you’re feeling uncertain, stay quiet and think through the situation until you’re ready to respond with authority. If your tendency is to seek approval, then reframe how you end your presentations from a “Do you agree?” approach to “This is what I think we should do” confidence.

Be heard in meetings. Forget etiquette, speak up! Make sure you get one or two good points in so your face and voice is top of mind. Make sure your comments are on strategy points rather than just on tactical execution.

Be their kind of leader. Fit in with the company or country culture. Whether that’s making sure your wardrobe matches those at leadership levels, or watching for clues as to what body language conveys to people. In Eastern cultures, for example, standing with your legs close together or folding your arms tightly across your chest shows respect. In Western cultures these stances suggest you’re uptight, defensive, or unsure.

Fake it ‘til you make it. At the heart of executive presence is confidence, so behave as if you are confident until you find that you actually are!

When you’re looking to hone your executive presence skills,  becoming a people watcher can really benefit you. Observe others. Who around you has leadership presence and what is it about them that makes you feel they are in control?

I am not suggesting for a moment that you copy them. That would be inauthentic and immediately apparent to those around you. It simply means watching what they do and finding your own version of it one that feels natural to you. Developing your executive presence is about style discovering (not changing) the fundamentals of who you are.


About the Author:

Maya Hu-Chan

Maya Hu-Chan was rated the World’s Top 8 Global Solutions Thinkers by Thinkers50, Top 30 Leadership Gurus, and Top 100 Thought Leaders in Management & Leadership by Leadership Excellence.

Maya is an international management consultant, executive coach and author. Harvard Business School has chosen her book “Global Leadership: The Next Generation” to be one of their Working Knowledge recommended books. She is also a contributing author to 10 leadership and management books.

Maya was born and raised in Taiwan and lives in San Diego, California.  She has worked with thousands of leaders in Global Fortune 500 companies around the world.

To contact Maya Hu-Chan, please email her:, or visit her website:

How to master cross cultural communication: know when “yes” means “no”

Written by Maya Hu-Chan

A trick question, right?

I am afraid not. This is a real issue for global business leaders and, every day, there are communication breakdowns occurring across the world as different cultural norms conspire to confuse and confound even the most sensible and experienced global leaders.

Here’s a great example. A client rang me recently, very distressed. He is a senior global executive, based in Singapore and working for a US-based American boss. They have always enjoyed a great professional relationship with mutual respect and appreciation.

I asked him what had happened. “My boss told me I was stupid,” he said.

He went on to describe how humiliated and upset he felt and how he did not know how to react.

In the course of my work with this company I had met my client’s boss several times and always found him to be reasonable, sensible and professional. It didn’t make sense to me. So I asked my client, “‘can you tell me the exact words he used?”.

He replied, “We discussed a project I was working on; I gave him my views – and he said my idea was a ‘no brainer’.”


The great news is that I was quickly able to transform my client’s perception of the phone call. I explained that ‘no-brainer’ in America is a slang expression meaning ‘complete agreement’. However this commonly-used US expression had been taken literally by my client, who is from Asia, and what he understood was that his boss thought he had no brain!

The bad news is that this example is symptomatic of a wider issue that has grown ever more acute in line with the growth in global business.

Although confusion can reign between any two cultures and languages, since English remains the global language of business, for now let’s just focus on the issues that can arise between native English speakers and those for whom it is at best a second language.

When we communicate across cultures, we may think we are all speaking English and we may even speak the same words, but we may not be on the same page.
Oops. Did you see what I did there?

Page? What page! I can almost imagine low-context culture readers of this blog searching for an imaginary text book as I type….because, like ‘no-brainer’ I’ve casually used a phrase that native English speakers will understand to be a commonly-used metaphor – in this case for ‘understanding’ – while those from cultures which take their language more literally will have heard me refer to a document or publication that for some reason they don’t have access to!

This challenge doesn’t only apply to complex phrases either. Even the simplest of words can be misconstrued – and that’s why someone responding with a “yes”, can often mean anything but.

How often have you felt there was agreement about something only to find later on that the agreed upon actions or views were not truly supported?

In America and the UK ‘yes’ means ‘I understand’, ‘I agree’, ‘I will do it’ – but in China, Japan, or The Philippines, it simply means ‘I hear you’. Nothing is taken as agreed at all.

To confound things further, while a nod of the head in most cultures signals agreement, in Balkan states such as Bulgaria and Albania a single nod of the head up (not down) actually indicates a ‘no’. Furthermore, in Bulgaria shaking your head sideways actually means ‘I agree’. This is also true in India where the head bobble can mean anything from “yes”, “good” to “I understand”.

So, how should global leaders avoid accidentally appearing to call their valued team members brainless? The key lies in adapting your communications style to fit the audience.

Here are my top tips for global leaders on clear cross cultural communication:

1.Communication is always the responsibility of the communicator. If you are dealing with many different languages and cultures it is your responsibility to check understanding when you are communicating, rather than your audience’s responsibility to work out your meaning.
2.Keep it simple. Use short sentences and clear, consistent, simple words of less than three syllables. For example instead of saying ‘they underestimated our capability’ try ‘they don’t think we can do this’.
3.Slow down. Slow down key words, not the entire statement and make it clear when you are changing topics.
4.Avoid slangs and idiom. Each culture has its share of slangs and idiom: ‘that’s a piece of cake’, ‘let’s get the ball rolling’, ‘catch-22’ etc. They are culture-specific and can make a piece of communication confusing for a non-native speaker.
5.Ask open-ended questions. Try to avoid yes/no questions such as ‘Do you understand?’ or ‘can you do it? And instead, use open-ended questions starting with ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’. This may take more time at first but will reduce misunderstanding in the long run. It is well worth it!

In my next post I will explore further what it means to be an adaptable global communicator.

About the author:

Maya Hu-Chan

Maya Hu-Chan was rated one of the World’s Top 8 Global Solutions Thinkers by Thinkers50, and one of the World’s Top 30 Leadership Gurus in 2013.

Maya is an international management consultant, executive coach and author. Harvard Business School has chosen her book “Global Leadership: The Next Generation” to be one of their Working Knowledge recommended books. She is also a contributing author to 10 leadership and management books.

Maya was born and raised in Taiwan and lives in San Diego, California. She has worked with thousands of leaders in Global Fortune 500 companies around the world. To contact Maya Hu-Chan, please email her:, or visit her website:

Overcoming the Challenge of Leading Virtual Teams

Written by Maya Hu-Chan

The secret to building an effective virtual team?

With more and more companies working seamlessly across cultures and time zones I am often asked by clients what the secret is to building an effective virtual team.

The answer is simple: fresh bagels.

OK, it’s really building trust, but we’ll get to the bagels in a minute.

The challenge of course is that it is much tougher to build trust when your team is split across time zones and continents than it is when you’re able to have a friendly chat across the water cooler every day.

Get together

So perhaps a second step needs to be added to help trust develop: getting together.

I appreciate that there may be logistical and financial challenges for some organisations in getting together, but it is almost certainly a cost less painful than the missing financial targets due to a poorly functioning global team.

Here’s a perfect example. A client of mine, a team leader in a global IT company, asked me to help improve the performance of his project team. He told me: “My team members are all respected experts in their fields and perform to an outstanding level individually; but I don’t understand why they miss their targets as a team by some 75%?”

My client was British and based in Singapore; his team members were based in China, South Korea, South Africa, Japan and Holland. We talked about team-building and he added: “But that’s a lot of culture and time zones to navigate just to build a team!”

We went back to basics. I interviewed every member of his team. It quickly became apparent that they didn’t trust each other and, as a result, were holding back from sharing information and collaborating with each other.

What I found was that, right from the beginning, a few cultural miscues and misunderstandings had spiralled out of control and resulted in a very fractured and dysfunctional team.

At the first few team conference calls, the Dutch and South African members had led most of the discussions. Hearing no questions or objections from the rest of the group, it was assumed that everyone was in agreement with their proposed plan.

As time went on, it became painfully apparent that not everyone was on the same page. Deadlines were missed, tasks weren’t completed and, seemingly, much of the inaction came from the team members from Asia who hadn’t spoken up at the group meetings.

The South African and Dutch team members were frustrated and told me: “I thought we all agreed on the plan! But some team members didn’t keep their commitments. They seemed incompetent. I am not sure I can trust them again.”

On the other hand, Asian team members were equally frustrated: “We never agreed with the decision. They dominated the meeting and didn’t ask us for our input. We need more time to process the information and reach our own conclusions. We felt excluded!”

Avoiding divides

Over the next year, as the project continued, they communicated less and less with each other and worked in silos. What communication they did by emails and conference calls often led to finger pointing on both sides as the divide between the various groups grew wider and wider.

Hardly any effort was made to establish positive relationships among the team members, to better understand the various cultures at play within the group, or to resolve the conflicts in a constructive way. For example, if the South African and Dutch team members had spent some time understanding Asian culture, they would have recognized that the fact that their Asian colleagues were quiet during the meeting was not necessarily acquiescence or their tacit approval. It was much more likely that the Asian team members were taking the time to process the information due to language barriers or they simply disagreed with the decision but were too polite to challenge.

On the other hand, if the Asian members had realized that many from western cultures are more direct and require more active involvement, they could have asked more questions and made more of an effort to make their feelings known.

In the absence of any genuine bonding, along with misunderstandings due to cultural differences and language barriers, the group had each built up assumptions about other members of the team and were jumping to conclusions about each other’s motives. It was like a cancer growing within the team that my client simply couldn’t stem.

Trust is the cornerstone

I worked with my client to bring them together for three days – not only to work on their challenges but also to re-build the trust.

On the first day we talked openly about what each of them needed from the others in order to build better teamwork and the responsibilities each of them had to the others.

What was striking was that their needs were really quite straightforward. They all consistently asked of each other: be respectful; don’t interrupt; listen; say ‘thank you’; and apologize if you’re wrong. In other words, act with consideration and kindness, the basic human building blocks of trust. Somehow these ideals had gotten lost along the way because there was no rapport among the group.

They worked out what their top 5 behavioral rules would be for future team interactions to ensure their new-found team spirit didn’t evaporate again. The team leader turned this into a slide which would always appear at the start of every meeting to remind them of their commitment to each other.

They rounded off the three days with a memorable night out eating Singapore’s famous Black Pepper Crab, drinking ice cold Tiger beer and returned to their countries reinvigorated. One year on the team leader called me with the news that his team had just hit 89% of their targets.

The importance of not forgetting the basics can be seen in other ways too. I heard recently of a global virtual team which takes turns, once a quarter, to send local food from their country to other team members around the globe so that they can all share breakfast or snacks together during their regular conference calls. At a recent team video conference, the U.S. colleagues sent a box of fresh bagels and coffee grounds to introduce team members in the Philippines to an all-American breakfast.

This simple idea has transformed their calls into something that is the highlight of their meeting and the call is now a vibrant and effective communications forum.

Another US-based client was struggling to connect with a member of his new team, based in Mexico City, who seemed very slow to respond to email requests.

Hiding his growing irritation he asked other colleagues, “What’s she like?”

It transpired that the lady had recently had a baby and was balancing work and new motherhood, which explained the sporadic responses. He immediately emailed her, congratulating her on her new arrival and sharing the news that he had become a grandparent around the same time. He even attached a photo of his grandson. Within minutes she responded with a picture of her daughter, starting a dialogue that helped them to quickly build an effective working relationship.

Five top tips

In the latest in my series of 100 success factors for global leaders, here are my five top tips for building a virtual team that trusts each other and works as well together thousands of miles apart as if they say in the same room:

1. Keep your commitments. Do what you say you are going to do. Keep your promises. This may sound obvious, but keeping your word is absolutely essential to earn trust with other team members.
2. Share information equally, transparently, and timely. Make sure everyone, particularly team members in remote locations, are not left out in the communication loop.
3. Give feedback in a culturally appropriate way. Give positive feedback in public and negative feedback in private. Be culturally sensitive when delivering feedback so you don’t damage relationships and trust.
4. Don’t jump to conclusions. Check your assumptions first. Make sure your understanding is in tune with other team member’s cultural tendencies. Listen to everyone’s opinion. Check back to confirm that you understand their point of view. Ask open-ended questions to make sure you are all on the same page. Always take a step back to understand the other person’s perspective and pressures and give them benefit of the doubt.
5. Help other team members without being asked. Maybe you’ve heard of the Pay it Forward principle? Doing something kind and helpful, without being asked, is both a simple act of kindness and powerful way to build trust and rapport. It will also probably make their day!

In my next blog I will talk about how to take advantage of best practice and technology to ensure your virtual team is properly equipped to deliver outstanding results.

About the author:

Maya Hu-Chan

Maya Hu-Chan was rated one of the World’s Top 8 Global Solutions Thinkers by Thinkers50, and one of the World’s Top 30 Leadership Gurus in 2013.

Maya is an international management consultant, executive coach and author. Harvard Business School has chosen her book “Global Leadership: The Next Generation” to be one of their Working Knowledge recommended books. She is also a contributing author to 10 leadership and management books.

Maya was born and raised in Taiwan and lives in San Diego, California.  She has worked with thousands of leaders in Global Fortune 500 companies around the world.

To contact Maya Hu-Chan, please email her:, or visit her website: