Dulye Noted/Going Spectator-Free™: Get Comfortable Giving Performance Feedback

The much anticipated performance review. A workplace ritual. 

It’s one of my lingering memories from my days as a communications leader at General Electric. Back then (circa early 1990s), GE’s employee evaluation program was widely regarded as an industry gold standard for its depth, discipline, data and direct dialogues.

I found it to be informative, instructive and inspiring thanks to hours of thoughtful preparation by my managers. But, I also remember that the infrequency of these epic annual events tried my patience. I wanted more information, more often. Wait-free reviews.

Flash-forward, the wait is over! GE made recent headlines for introducing a new performance management system powered by continuous conversations between managers and employees. Work performance and development plans are openly and regularly discussed through feedback exchanges held in person, by phone and even through a new mobile app. 

The trend to bring transparency and timeliness to performance reviews is gaining momentum.  And that’s very good news. A study recently reported in Inc. showed monthly or more frequent chats are becoming the norm.

A change of this magnitude can’t succeed without structured support and coaching. Real-time constructive conversations require well-honed communication skills for confidently and comfortably preparing, giving and receiving meaningful feedback, directly. There’s no hiding behind the veil of technology (email and text messages). 

GE has announced that managers will be trained on critical conversational skills. For those without a training pipeline, these four tips can improve your readiness and proficiency:  

1. Take notice and notes. Spend time daily taking notice of how team members work. Note how they interact with colleagues in their department and other work groups. Observe how they get organized and stay organized. Also don’t forget to check out: 

  • how they communicate, in person and via technology
  • how they react to changes and challenges
  • how they meet goals, budgets and schedules. 

Record timely observations about performance highs and lows—capturing data about actions and words. Relying on memory often leaves you without the specifics that employees want and need to know for their professional development.

2. Prepare and package. Use a simple template to compile and prioritize information. For years, I’ve worked with clients to introduce frequent performance check-ins. Steering clear of complexity, we create a one-page communication tool to address four important questions: 

  • What’s going well?
  • What’s not? 
  • What needs to improve? 
  • What can help you improve? 

A performance review template will keep conversations focused and meetings productive. It also can stimulate engagement when shared with team members, who complete their own self-assessment and bring feedback to the discussion table or Skype call. Comparing notes will open communication lines and mindsets. And, your coaching on how to conduct a personal assessment serves as an investment in their professional development.    

3. Practice and practice. Just as you need to give thoughtful preparation for compiling performance feedback, serious attention is warranted for delivering the message. That’s even more paramount when the message is difficult. If you sweat and stumble your way through the conversation, expect your direct report to be more fixated on you rather than heeding any dire warning or corrective plan. Conduct practice sessions well before the actual review. Rehearse with a trusted colleague who will honestly tell you what worked and what didn’t in your body language, your tone and your actual words. 

4. Invite engagement. The purpose of any review is to help others take stock of where they are today--in meeting goals and supporting the team--AND inspiring them to stretch even higher tomorrow. Rather than hand over a prescription for improvement, create it together. Start the discussion with no more than two concrete recommendations of your own, then invite the employee’s contributions on needed changes and support. Mutual development of a corrective or accelerated action plan builds ownership and accountability. I’ve seen it repeatedly in my work with employee action teams who are tasked by their senior leadership to improve staff appreciation, cross-department communication or another glaring workplace issue. Make others part of the solution by helping them to create it. 

Make performance discussions fluid and spectator-free™! Treat them as a two-way street for learning from and about others. What could be more beneficial to the success of you and your team? 

Dulye & Co. president and founder Linda Dulye is back at her blog from speaking at the General Assembly of YMCAs in Kansas City on the topic, “Communication Strategies that Create Big Connections.”


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