Today we will explore Feedback and Review as they are tightly connected. I contend that without regular feedback conversations, the annual review is ineffective. The challenge is that many IT managers have never been taught how to have a feedback conversation with their employees. To add to the problem, most IT managers are elevated into manager roles without much, if any, management and IT leadership training at all. This only further propagates the problem.
A well–integrated feedback and review process supports holding ongoing performance conversations using goals and development progress to help the discussion. I portray it as a cycle because it is compelling to look at performance management as a system.
An effective performance system requires a coaching approach. A good manager, like a good coach, can see their employees from all sides, subjective and objective. They ask themselves questions regularly: “What is this person good at?” “What do they care about?” “What do they need to be successful?” “Where do they want to take their career?” “What is happening outside of the workplace that is impacting their happiness and performance at work?” The answers cannot be determined in a vacuum. It requires caring about the individual beyond their performance metrics. The answers to these questions need a conversation.
When done well, the performance system is quite effective in providing answers to questions all employees seek: “What do I need to do to be successful?”, “What are my chances of advancement?“ “Am I doing my job well?” “Are my efforts appreciated? “
An Effective Performance System
Periodic Feedback Conversations
There is nothing more potent than performance feedback during regularly scheduled conversations. The cadence will depend on the level and situation of the employee activities. The key is to mutually define the rhythm and then stay true to it. Yes, things happen, but if you are always canceling 1:1’s, what message is that sending the employee? You are sending a message that says – You are not important enough to me.
The construct of the feedback conversations will benefit from a defined agenda to guide the conversation and help the employee come prepared. Create an agenda that works for you. I like a simple agenda:
- Accomplishments since we last met
- Challenges you are focusing on
- Progress against goals
- What is next on your pipeline of work
- What do you need help from me with
I ask that the employee documents the answers to these questions and leaves a copy with me as a foundation for our conversation. During our feedback conversation, the role of the manager is to provide feedback in the form of affirming or outlining corrective actions. Since these are regular conversations, there should be tweaks.
I recommend using the Start-Stop-Continue retrospective feedback model. A start–stop–continue retrospective is a simple and effective way for individuals (or teams) to reflect on their recent experiences and decide on what things they should change as they move forward. I like to reverse the order as it supports ending the conversation on a positive note.
Continue: Identifies things that worked in the previous cycle and needs to be part of the individual‘s core activities
Stop: Looks back at the last period to identify which things that are not working work and should cease or change
Start: Activities are those things the employee will begin doing in the next period
This model was initially developed for team performance, but I find it works as effectively with individuals. If you are not familiar with the model, click on the link above or search for it. There are a vast number of articles written about it.
- Mid-Year Formal Review
Mid-year reviews have been introduced into many organizations‘ formal review process. I question their value if you are holding regular periodic feedback conversations but understand if they are a requirement they must be done. At the same time, I can see value in summarizing an employee’s progress towards performance and development goals.
- Year-End Formal Review
Year-end reviews will be much less daunting and more straightforward with periodic conversations. At the same time, there is a need to formalize progress to plan. My recommendations for you are:
1. Take the time to prepare
Performance reviews directly impact your employee‘s career prospects, morale, and often their identity. Best practice indicates spending at least three (ideally five) hours per employee preparing for performance review conversations every six months.
2. Seek Peer feedback while keeping it in perspective
Peer feedback is essential, for sure. The reality is that there will be times when your employees will not be able to give someone what they wanted. Seek input while keeping it in perspective against the overall performance.
3. Provide substantive and constructive feedback
Every employee is hungry for substantive and constructive feedback. Substantive in that, the feedback is meaningful. Constructive meaning, the actions can be executed against the input given. Nothing is more frustrating to an employee than to receive feedback that does not tie back to prior actions or that they cannot perform going forward. For great constructive feedback examples please refer to the following link:
4. Hold a conversation, don’t just talk at them
A conversation is a two–way dialogue. Too often, managers rush through the review meeting by telling the employee what they think or what they should do without leaving space for the conversation. Yes, managers want to appear in control, but they sometimes lack confidence about showing that they may not have all the answers. A useful performance conversation is a mutual commitment to growth and learning which requires two-way communication.
5. Include a follow-up plan
The follow-up plan is an excellent opportunity to wrap the annual review into periodic feedback discussions. A follow-up plan will ensure that development topics stay top of mind and that progress will be made.
The bottom line is, if you cannot find the time to focus on all your direct reports’ career development throughout the year, you either have too many direct reports, or you are not making your reports a priority.
Find the time; it will pay off.
Until next week!