Mar 9, 2007

Feedback Anxieties

Yesterday I facilitated a workshop for a client on how to give effective feedback during performance appraisal time. It was an interesting session because while they were expecting to be "told" what is the right way to give feedback, I made the whole process a totally discussion oriented workshop.

I did have around 40 slides regarding feedback, goal setting and coaching but a conversation with my contact person made me aware that what these people needed was not knowledge but to confront their issues with giving feedback.

Feedback is a tricky business, because the word comes loaded itself with negative connotations. "I want to give you some feedback" elicits a "Uh-oh" response from most people. Usage of the phrase "positive feedback" also focuses that mostly feedback is "negative".

Of course, some people have issues giving "positive feedback" too :-)

It must be stressed that giving feedback is not an end in itself. It has to be tied to business outcomes and performance. How does the behavior of an employee link to business results (positively or negatively)? If it links positively then that linkage has to be highlighted as why you want that behavior to be continued in the future. Negative linkages to businesses should also be given when a behavior has to be discontinued.

If as a manager one is not able to link employee behavior to performance, then it's better not to give feedback on that (unless that behavior is against the core ethics and values of the firm)

The workshop also brought the fact that senior managers yearn for consistency in their own managers' behavior in delivering feedback, and I had to stress the fact that like there are star employees and laggard employees there will be star managers and laggard managers. Giving feedback is shaped by the relationship between the two individuals, the time they have worked together and their preferred style of communication.

Organizations should only give broad outlines on "how to" and let people discover their own comfort level. There should be a second line of support for employees also to approach and for managers who either feel they are not assertive enough or too aggressive in giving feedback.