Set future performance reviews up for success now
Hopefully you’re nearing the end of the current performance review season!
Kudos—I know how much time and energy it takes to make sure that your teammates have the information they need to succeed in their roles.
A common refrain that we hear about performance reviews is that they shouldn’t contain any surprises. Once in a blue moon, a manager has given repeated, documented, concrete and specific feedback and their report hasn’t noticed or absorbed it. This is incredibly rare.
It is much more likely that—if a report was surprised by what’s in their review—their manager hasn’t done the work of making their feedback direct and specific.
There are all sorts of reasons why a well-intentioned manager might still surprise their report in a performance review:
They might have given the feedback once and never repeated it again, leaving the report to assume their work towards addressing the feedback fixed the issue.
The manager might have delivered what they thought was clear and actionable feedback before the performance review, but their report thought it was casual conversation, too vague or general to act on, momentary and not a big deal, or optional and dismissable.
The manager might have not wanted to cause too much surprise or stress, or make their report feel bad, so they waited until there was a more formal opportunity (performance review season!) to talk about the feedback they have.
I want to set you and your team up for success in the next performance review season! So how do we avoid these failure modes?
Create a feedback routine
Carve out time for identifying and sharing positive and constructive feedback for each of your reports. Build this into a routine.
Older, now-questioned research said that teams need roughly 6 positive statements for every 1 critical statement to be healthy and high-performing. Some newer research shows it can be as low as 4 to 1 for a team to still be highly effective.
I haven’t landed on a study I fully trust yet about this, but I like the spirit of the idea: identify a ratio that you’d like to aim for with your direct reports, and hold yourself to giving that amount of feedback.
You don’t necessarily need to give feedback weekly, but it does get easier to give more frequent feedback when you’re focused on making sure you’re balancing the ratio with positive feedback (not just constructive feedback).
What do you see your report doing that makes the team, project, company, or outside world better? Be specific about what you see them doing (their behavior) and the positive impact. Like:
You were crystal-clear in that presentation to stakeholders last week. I appreciated how you had answers ready for the questions they’d likely ask; it made the meeting so much more efficient, and I think the stakeholders felt like the team really has their backs.
I’ve noticed how often you hop in to take a look at your teammates’ PRs. Thanks so much for staying on top of making sure they’re unblocked.
I appreciated your question in the All Hands today—thanks for modeling a healthy way to ask tough questions of leadership.
And if you don’t see your folks’ day-to-day actions this frequently? Note the positive effects of their work (psychological safety of the team, what comes up in retrospectives, delivery speed, etc.) and make a note to ask them in your one-on-ones what they’re doing to create these positive impacts!
Ask your report to reflect back
It’s a manager’s responsibility to make sure that each time they give their direct report feedback (leading up to, and including, their performance review), their direct report hears the feedback, internalizes it, and understands that they need to act on it.
If you’re not sure that your teammate has absorbed a piece of feedback, either:
- Ask them what they plan to do next (or change), based on this feedback
- Ask them to reflect back what they’ve heard
Your tone and word choice will make all the difference here! Example phrasing that has worked for me:
- “I imagine this feedback might be surprising. Any new ‘ah ha’ moments so far?”
- “So given that we need [behavior change], what next steps do you want to take?”
- “Okay so I’ve just spoken at you for a few minutes. I want to pause and check in: what’s resonating for you here?”
- “I want to triple check that we’ve got a shared understanding about what we need to address before we talk through next steps. Can you reflect back what you’ve heard so far?”
(I use “so far” at the end of those phrases when I want to make it clear that this is a two-way conversation; we’ve gotten to the end of my statements and we’re about to start problem solving together. The one-way feedback is over, but the conversation isn’t!)
Depending upon your leadership style and relationship with your report, you might take a completely different approach to making sure that your report has heard the feedback and has a plan for moving forward. And in some cases, you might not even need to triple check—they make it clear that they know what they need to do!
More resources to help you give great feedback
In this self-paced video course, watch me coach someone through the process of honing and delivering their feedback. You’ll work with a piece of real-world feedback and mold it into specific, actionable, and respectful communication.
Delivering Feedback Video Course
Use this free worksheet to transform any feedback you need to deliver into something that your teammate will be able to hear, understand, and take immediate action on.
Click File > Make a copy to add it to your Google Drive, so you have the template ready to go whenever you need it!
Feedback Equation Worksheet