How do you give performance reviews? Are you formulaic and by-the-book, or do you wing it? Is it time for straight talk or dancing around the issues? Do you take a clinical approach, or are you personally invested?

Whatever your style — and your company’s system — chances are that performance reviews are less-than-satisfying events for you and your direct reports. But learning to give effective feedback can make the difference between a meaningless (or disastrous) review and a constructive conversation.

“Quality feedback is one of the most important elements of successful performance reviews,” says CCL’s Wayne Hart. “It engages the employee in the conversation and puts the spotlight on key issues.”

Hart, author of the newly released book Feedback in Performance Reviews, says when you — the reviewer — understand three principles and four types of feedback, your reviews will improve. “The rest is practice,” Hart adds.

The first feedback principle is that the feedback receiver determines how to react to the feedback. Different people will perceive the same feedback message, delivered in the same way, in different ways. You cannot “make” someone like or agree with what you are saying, but you can increase the chances that your feedback will be well received and not rejected.

The second principle is that the feedback receiver is more likely to receive feedback well if it is not authoritative. If you are perceived as leveraging your positional power or as commanding, dominating, arrogant or self-centered, your message will be blocked. Your direct report is likely to be defensive or argumentative — or passively accept what you say, but resent the feedback and act in counterproductive ways later.

The third principle is that the feedback receiver cannot control the thoughts and feelings that others experience or the actions that they take in response to his or her behavior. Again, different people will perceive the same situation in different ways.

With these principles in mind, you’ll want to decide the best way to give feedback.

“Virtually all feedback can be classified in one of four types: directive, contingency, attribution and impact,” says Hart. “The first three types are authoritative and are more likely to be met with resistance than when you give impact feedback.”

Directive feedback tells someone what to do, even if you are phrasing it “nicely.” For example, “I suggest that you make priorities clearer to your team.” Contingency feedback gives a future consequence: “If you keep interrupting people in meetings, they will stop cooperating with you.” Attribution feedback describes your direct report or her actions in terms of a quality or label, as in “You are a good communicator” or “You are undisciplined.”

In contrast to the authoritative forms of feedback, impact feedback informs the receiver about the effect her actions have had on other people or on the organization. Impact feedback is important in performance reviews because it can shed light on something your direct report never knew or thought about. It gets at “why” her behaviors are either working or not working.

An example of impact feedback is: “Team members were confused, and I was frustrated.” This informs your direct report about the result of his behavior without dissecting the details, assuming motivation or placing blame. It is not authoritative — you are not telling him what to do, setting forth consequences or judging. Instead, impact feedback informs the receiver, empowers him and increases the chance he will decide to accept the message.

“Impact feedback is a great way to start a conversation and set the stage for more authoritative feedback if it is needed,” says Hart. “Once the feedback receiver realizes the impact of his or her behavior, she or he is more receptive to prescriptive aspects of authoritative forms of feedback.”

“You will be more effective in performance reviews — and in giving ongoing feedback — if you are skilled at using all four types of feedback for the right times and for the right reasons.”

Want more details? Order Feedback in Performance Reviews or the CCL Feedback Guidebooks package, which also includes three other titles: Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message; Giving Feedback to Subordinates; and Ongoing Feedback: How to Get It, How to Use It.

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