There are some simple basic principles for giving constructive feedback during performance evaluation which increase the likelihood that the feedback is heard and acted upon positively. This prevents the performance evaluation from damaging morale or the relationship between the employee and their supervisor.
The direct purpose of feedback is to make the employee aware of the impact of actions that are either particularly helpful or unhelpful. This needs to be done in a way that the employee will feel is objective and balanced. A secondary purpose of performance evaluation feedback is to help the employee see how s/he could adjust his/her actions so that they are more effective in achieving agreed goals. The person giving feedback doesn’t have control over this – only the employee can decide to act differently (unless the situation is escalated to a disciplinary action, but even then the control is limited).
Performance Evaluation: Tips on Giving Constructive Feedback
Set clear goals
Poor performance evaluation goal setting can be the cause of poor performance. The employee is working hard at achieving what s/he believes are their goals and priorities while the manager wishes they would prioritize their efforts differently. There is the assumption that they both agree on the goals to be achieved, but they’re actually aiming in different directions without knowing it. To avoid the need (in many cases) to give negative feedback, take time over SMART goal setting to ensure you are both on the same page in the first place.
Set up the performance evaluation feedback conversation sensitively. Give it your undivided attention (don’t take calls or allow interruptions) and give the employee privacy. If this can’t be accomplished in the moment the need for feedback arises, make arrangements with the employee to meet at the first possible opportunity. Conduct the conversation in a non-threatening environment and pay attention to seat heights (eye levels should be roughly equal), body language, tone of voice and ensure there are no physical barriers between you, such as a desk.
We are often our own worst critics. Make sure that you are both on the same page regarding goals and priorities – ask the employee to describe their assumptions about these before deciding whether it is feedback or clarification of goals that the performance evaluation conversation should focus on.
If possible, offer the employee the opportunity to reflect first and talk through their own perceptions of what is working and what is not. You could start with “Let’s talk about ……. How do you think it’s going?” There is a good chance that the employee will be their own worst critic and there will be no need for the feedback to come from the manager. The manager’s role then becomes to guide choices about alternative actions and to motivate and encourage the employee to try these alternatives.
If the employee does not reflect critically on their own, the manager can then provide examples of specific instances when things did not go well or goals were not achieved (see below). Be selective – if there are several things that are not going well, choose carefully which ones to work on that will create the biggest improvement in performance. Trying to cover all areas that need improvement may be overwhelming. Also, the quantity of change that they’ll need to attempt will be unsustainable – setting them up for failure. Set up some short term successes so you can sincerely provide positive feedback and encouragement before introducing more change when they are ready.
The person is not the problem
Separate the employee’s intentions from their actions and from the problem. Most people have positive intentions most of the time. Problems often arise because they chose in good faith to act in a way that turned out to be unsuccessful. Start by acknowledging positive intentions, or, if positive intentions are not clear, invite the employee to reflect on what they intended to achieve. There will often be a logic to their thought processes that is not evident to the manager, but makes sense once explained.
Even if you are skeptical about the employee’s intentions and fear that they may actually be the problem, there are very few helpful options for you down this path of thinking, other than working towards a formal disciplinary procedure. Suspend your skepticism if possible and try out these tips, at least to the point you have concrete evidence that they are not working. Don’t go looking for negatives; actively look for positives to build on – we’re apt to find what we’re looking for!
Use the formula “Situation-Behavior-Impact”. Stick to talking about behavior and be specific – avoid all personal comments that imply the person is the problem. Describe instances of specific behavior and the consequences that came from them. For example: “On Tuesday when you were working on….., you did/said ……and XYZ happened”. If possible, talk only about things you have witnessed yourself, rather than about things that others have told you. Never use ‘never’ or ‘always’ to describe behaviors – these will not be true and will undermine your own argument.
Give performance evaluation feedback as soon as possible after the event. Don’t leave feedback for annual performance reviews. There should be no surprises at an annual performance review – it should be a summary of successes and learnings that have already been discussed throughout the year.
Make a point, on a regular basis, of giving positive feedback whenever the opportunity arises. The goal is to give at least 3 pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of negative feedback. This helps the employee feel confident that your view of their performance is balanced and objective. If you are struggling to think of positive things to say, it may be because you have got into the habit of only expecting negative things from a particular employee. It is likely there will be something positive if you look hard enough. Try to give positive feedback on its own as often as possible. Don’t always pair it with negative feedback. Otherwise, the employee will not hear the positive comments – they will only hear it as an insincere attempt to soften the negative feedback.
Summarize Performance Evaluation
End the conversation with a summary of what actions have been agreed. Ideally, ask the employee to summarize. If absolutely necessary, follow up with a written memo, but don’t do this if the conversation has gone OK or if this is the first time you’ve given the employee significant negative feedback. Sometimes people will appear at the time not to have taken in what has been discussed, but will reflect on it later and adjust their actions appropriately. Give them the chance to show they are willing to make changes – don’t assume they won’t because you’re getting a quiet or non-committal reaction from them at the time.
Performance Evaluation: Supporting Change Actively
Pay attention to the employee’s efforts and make a point of praising and reinforcing behaviors that you want them to demonstrate. Change only happens with conscious effort. The employee may unintentionally lapse occasionally. Don’t hold this against them in performance evaluation. Remember the last time you tried to do something differently (eg. change eating habits or get more exercise) – it wasn’t easy and the lapses didn’t reflect bad intentions. Offer practical support such as access to training, shadowing someone who is really good at the behaviors you want the employee to demonstrate, etc. Find out from the employee what they feel would help them make the change through performance evaluation.