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 or 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 book Feedback in Performance Reviews, says when the reviewer understands 3 principles and 4 types of feedback, your reviews will improve. “The rest is practice,” Hart adds.
Here are the 3 feedback principles:
- 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’re saying, but you can increase the chances that your feedback will be well received and not rejected.
- The feedback receiver is more likely to take feedback well if it isn’t authoritative. If you’re perceived as leveraging your positional power or as commanding, dominating, arrogant, or self-centered, your message will be lost. 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 feedback receiver can’t control the thoughts and feelings that others experience, or the actions others take in response to their 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 4 types: directive, contingency, attribution, and impact,” says Hart. “The first 3 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’re 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 their actions in terms of a quality or label, as in “You’re a good communicator” or “You’re undisciplined.”
- Impact feedback, on the other hand, informs the receiver about the effect their 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” their 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 their behavior without dissecting the details, assuming motivation, or placing blame. It isn’t authoritative — you aren’t telling him what to do, setting forth consequences, or judging. Instead, impact feedback informs the receiver, empowers them, and increases the chance they 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’s needed,” Hart says. “Once the feedback receiver realizes the impact of their behavior, they are more receptive to prescriptive aspects of authoritative forms of feedback. You’ll be more effective in performance reviews — and in giving ongoing feedback — if you’re skilled at using all 4 types of feedback for the right times and for the right reasons.”