Feedback! Oh how we love it, right? Well of course it depends. If it’s good feedback: great. The bad stuff: that’s not so great.
As managers, we generally echo the above. We usually enjoy heaping praise on the well deserved and generally could do without having to deliver harsh criticism. Nevertheless, providing feedback of all kinds is part of the management job. To avoid doing it is abrogating your responsibility.
Most sizeable organizations have established various formal processes to ensure that all employees receive regular performance feedback of some kind. Methods, periodicity, and the instruments used vary widely but most organizations insist on at least one written performance exercise annually.
Personally, I have never been a big fan of written evaluations. Lawyers love them primarily for the support they provide in adverse personnel actions and for documenting low performance. But since the percentage of employees who require adverse actions or who are truly low performers in most organizations are a small percentage of the overall workforce, the written exercise represents a lot of paper work to accommodate so few.
However, my major problem with the documented, yearly exercise is that in my experience, these documents rarely play a significant or decisive role in determining assignments, promotions and advancement. Moreover, they generally represent summaries of performance events long past and oft forgotten by the individual being evaluated, can significantly vary in quality depending on the writer, and no matter how many numbers and so-called empirical evaluation categories they contain, they remain highly subjective.
But if performance feedback is so important to an employee’s development — whether or not you must still periodically render it in writing — is there a better alternative? Yes! PROVIDE YOUR FEEDBACK REAL-TIME.
Performance is observable behavior. It is doing something, whether it is being done superlatively or poorly. Managers observe this performance daily, so why not provide your feedback daily or as close to your observations as possible. If the purpose of feedback is to reinforce good performance qualities or to help an employee make improvements, human psychology tells us that the closer to the actual event it comes, the more likely the desired impact will be achieved.
Most of us know when we have done something really well and real-time affirmation is powerfully reinforcing. Likewise, we usually know when we have screwed something up, are probably feeling bad about it, and are, therefore, as receptive as we will likely ever be to constructive suggestions for avoiding that screw up in the future. The bigger the gap between constructive criticism and the event that precipitated it, the more likely it will seem out of proportion to the event itself. In my personal experience as a manager, I can say that the most helpful feedback I received was the real-time constructive critiques that helped me avoid a potential mistake or a repetition of some counterproductive behavior.
“But I’m often just too busy” I am frequently told by some of my workshop participants to take the time for feedback sessions. Sorry, but that sounds like “work avoidance” to me. As busy as managers are, employee development is a key part of the job. The best managers understand that employee performance is the key ingredient in determining their success and are prepared to seize every opportunity to enhance their subordinate’s ability to perform.
So I say, when you as a manager see something deserving of feedback – positive or critical – CARPE MOMENTUM – seize the moment. Make it one of you top priorities. The payoff in employee development is well worth the effort.