Performance Appraisals and Giving Feedback
By Jennifer Hibbit
In the recent Executives Leading Sustainable Change program a participant shared her performance appraisal experience in a way I thought was very insightful and an admirable ‘contextual leadership move.’ She started asking questions, asking for more clarity in the feedback.
It was the ensuing conversation and the development work that I’ve been doing regarding delivering powerful assessments that inspired me to write about the topic of feedback. Powerfully receiving feedback, like the ELSC participant did, is the topic of a separate Coaching Tip.
I know that for many of us performance appraisals are not something to look forward to – either giving or receiving! That said, I can’t think of a more critical time to give direct feedback that can make a substantial difference to others than during performance appraisals. In giving feedback, it is important to encourage the other to ask questions to ensure that your specific intent/request is understood. Be sure you are listening generously to their responses with curiosity and fascination.
I would like to thank my wonderful coach, Staci Haines, who has been coaching me to be clearer in delivering feedback. I also want to acknowledge the great training I’ve received from Rancho Strozzi Institute (http://www.ranchostrozzi.com) where I first learned about delivering powerful feedback that can be a contribution to others.
Let’s take a contextual leadership look at giving and receiving feedback, particularly when it comes to performance appraisals.
It’s human to draw conclusions from our experiences, conversations, and what we see in the world around us every day. How do the conclusions you hold come into play in your performance appraisals? Drawing conclusions is how we make meaning of our world and move through life. The conclusions that we draw are shaped by our culture, family background, and the time in which we live.
Conclusions are Not Facts
What is useful to note is that conclusions are not facts. Conclusions are not immovable or unchangeable. They can be changed by conversations – speaking, listening and asking questions. Conclusions are not true or false. They are just conclusions. They can be valid or not. They can be useful or not. The decision is ours.
The most useful feedback is:
- connected to what the ‘receiver’ cares about, their goals or what they were explicitly at work on.
- given by someone who is competent, skilled in the area that one needs the feedback, or is in a position of authority to give the feedback.
- grounded or given ‘supporting evidence’ in a way that the person can act upon the feedback given them.
Thinking about the contextual leadership ‘DNA Model’ (content, process, context), contextual questions are the most important questions you can ask yourself before giving feedback. Catch yourself in the conclusions you’ve drawn. Ask yourself:
- ‘Do I relate to my conclusions as fact or ‘The Truth’ about how it is around here?’
- ‘Is this the biggest opening I can give myself and the receiver of this feedback?’
Getting yourself clear by answering the following questions will shape how you deliver your feedback:
- ‘In giving this feedback, what is it on behalf of?’ Do you want to create a bigger opening for contribution, align yourself or the receiver with the goals of your team and/or organization, or just get through this organizational exercise called performance appraisals, etc.?
- ‘What future do I want to create for this person?’ Do you want a future that is a great opening for the receiver to flourish and contribute into or a future that has them closer to being resigned?
- ‘What relationship or action do I want to produce?’
Giving Honest Feedback in a Way it Can be Heard
In giving feedback, it’s critically important not to rely on the pretense of ‘wanting a better working relationship’ with the receiver. Or, not wanting to be the ‘bad guy’ or thinking that ‘being nice’ will produce the kind of actions that you want (I’m not saying that you do that but we know some friends who do).
As we say, ‘You’ve enlisted into this leadership army. It’s not always clean, easy and pretty here.’ What helps is for someone to be straight, honest and truthful about what’s needed in the situation (i.e., work environment, current goals and/or challenges, etc.).
When you don’t say what needs to be said it keeps the current actions/behaviors in place. In addition, not saying what needs to be said in a way that the other person can hear it and act on it, leaves a lot of room for questions, speculation and their own conclusions to be drawn.
‘Grounding Your Feedback’
So let’s talk about the process of ‘grounding’ what you see (i.e., the conclusions you’ve drawn) about the receiver. Can you:
- be specific about what’s working, not working, or is missing in the receiver’s performance, leadership, ability to work well with others, etc.?
- point to facts of what occurred (not your own conclusions)?
- comment on observable actions that may be recurring (or a recurrent theme)?
- include standards that are shared by your team and/or organization? Does the receiver know about them? When was the last time they were communicated publicly?
- link the actions/behaviors to what the receiver cares about, is at work on, or what will advance their career success?
- link what you see here to the ‘Powerful Questions’ section above?
Check with the receiver to ensure that s(he) can see what you’re pointing to. Not that what you said is valid or truthful, but that s(he) can see how you reached this conclusion. Again, none of what you said is the truth either, but a possible opening for action for him/her.
What specific requests, offers, invitations or proposals do you have of the receiver based on your grounded feedback? Can you articulate specifically what those requests are? Do you have a ‘by when’ or completion date for these changes to take effect?