“I can’t wait for the next annual review,” said no one ever.
While reviews are supposed to reflect the full body of work over the preceding 12 months, they tend to only address the last few months of work, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.
As managers, it is imperative to be constantly communicating to your staff, good and bad. If you are a manager that waits until the annual performance review to bring up critical feedback, then you are doing it wrong. Your staff will feel blindsided and likely become defensive, even if the feedback is legitimate. When we as human beings hear about something that challenges our self-perception of who we are, the “fight or flight” survival mechanism kicks in.
At that moment, both the supervisor and the employee are looking for the exit and to end the review as quickly as possible. Worse yet are managers who fear confrontation and have been avoiding necessary difficult conversations. They might give out a positive performance review when it is not deserved, enabling the performance issues to persist. Daniel Pink, the author of “Drive,” said in regards to performance reviews: “There’s no way to get better at something you only hear about once a year.”
According to Gallup, managers are responsible for at least 70% of the variance in their employees’ engagement. Employees whose managers regularly communicate with them are nearly three times more engaged than those with managers who don’t regularly communicate. In fact, 43% of those highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week. Major companies such as Netflix and GE have stopped doing annual performance reviews altogether. GE managers focus on more immediate priorities and have frequent conversations that lack the formality of a traditional annual performance review about their progress.
Begin with examining your intentions for giving feedback. What’s the purpose of it? Is it to discipline the employee, get it off your chest to make you feel better, or is it truly help the employee improve because you care about them? Feedback is personal, and your intention will affect the way your message is delivered and received. Ask for permission. Before giving feedback, ask, “Do your mind if I give you some feedback that I think will help you be more effective?” Focus on a specific behavior or performance issue, not the person. In other words, make the feedback about the what, and not the “who.” As much as you might want to, do not create a feedback sandwich which is giving critical feedback between two pieces of positive feedback. Most people will see through that technique and see it as manipulative.
What is the ratio of your positive feedback to the negative? Carol Dweck, the author of the book “Mindset,” states negative comments can effect the human brain for up to 26 hours, positive comments, last for a much shorter period of time. A research study reported in the Harvard Business Review states that, “the average ratio for the highest-performing teams in the study was 5.6, medium-performance teams averaged 1.9, and the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.” Essentially, this is saying we should be looking to give positive feedback approximately six times more than critical feedback to get the best results.
With regards to student employment, feedback is more important than ever. The student population is largely comprised of Gen Z individuals. In a recent study, 97 percent of Gen Z individuals indicated they were receptive to receiving feedback on an ongoing basis. With students, they need the validation from you when they are doing well or meeting your expectations. If you are intentional about making connections with your staff and constantly communicating, it makes the delivery of any critical messaging easier to receive.
Think of the best supervisor you have ever had. At some point they likely gave you some negative feedback, and not only did you appreciate them for it, it did not affect your relationship. Conversely, you likely have received feedback from someone you didn’t have a connection with, and I’m confident the feedback was not well received. Connection is a crucial part of feedback. As I have stated before, my wife says “you have to connect before you can correct.”
Make feedback a regular part of your day-to-day conversations and one-on-one meetings. As the supervisor, ask for feedback from your employees in a genuine way. When a manager asks for feedback, it helps establish a foundation of mutual respect. However, you must be able to take criticism on the chin if it’s warranted. By modeling receiving critical feedback in a non-defensive way, employees will learn to reciprocate. If you must give negative feedback, allow it to sink in. Let the person process the it. Listen empathically to them as they begin to process and be honest.
Telling someone “nice work” and “good job” or “needs work” simply isn’t enough. Annual performance reviews should merely be a formality and not a surprise if you’ve communicated consistently and worked to address problem issues or praise those that have earned it. Build in feedback to your daily interactions and especially your one-on-ones. A project should not end without some sort of communication on how it went. Your team should not have to guess at the end of the year if they are meeting your expectations. Tell them often. As W.E. Deming said, “In regards to many things, the one substitute for the annual review? Leadership.”