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.