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Performance reviews: the art of feedback

Dec 15, 2020 | Business

Performance reviews, difficult at the best of times, pose a distinct challenge for organisations adapting to the “new normal” of a pandemic. Here we offer advice about how to navigate performance reviews in a time of change. For performance reviews: the art of feedback, keep reading!

Despite its reputation as a “necessary evil”, the performance appraisal is a valuable tool for organisations seeking to boost productivity and embed culture and values. Employees want feedback. People want to know what’s working and what’s not working. Feedback that is relevant, meaningful and delivered well increases employee engagement. On the flip side, a mismanaged performance review process can be “incredibly demotivating”.

In a period of uncertainty, timing is critical. The middle of a lockdown, for example, might not be the best time to assess performance. At the same time, that doesn’t remove the need for accountability. Don’t deny feedback. Instead, approach feedback conversations with sensitivity in an atmosphere of trust and psychological safety.

Shifting goalposts

The economic landscape changed drastically in 2020. Many people may find it impossible to meet employment targets and goals established in a pre-pandemic setting. Before the performance review process begins, ask, “are KPIs still relevant and meaningful – and fair – at this point in time?” Agree on any changes to assessment criteria, and allow both parties time to prepare for the conversation’s new scope.

Be clear about purpose. Ascertain what it is the organisation wants to achieve from the performance evaluation process. Is the performance review tied to bonuses and remuneration? Or is it purely a feedback session? Different organisations have different objectives.

Consider the logistics of a virtual performance appraisal – until now, unfamiliar territory for many organisations. Addressing logistical issues ahead of time will foster the frank and open exchange required to facilitate a focused, healthy and robust conversation.

Well before the review, ensure both parties are able to find a space that is quiet and distraction-free for the conversation’s duration. Troubleshoot technology well in advance, too.

There’s nothing harder than trying to have a conversation when the person on the other end has poor bandwidth. If a dodgy connection precludes the use of Zoom or Skype, a phone call might be better. Work out which options work best for both parties.

How to deliver negative feedback

There are several factors to consider in cases of poor performance. How critical is the person’s role? What is the risk if things go wrong? Has the problem arisen recently – during the pandemic – or is it a pre-existing issue?

Then get curious. Seek to understand the reasons behind shifts in an individual’s behaviour and offer support to help address any problems.

No one should hear bad news for the first time in a performance review. If you have a long-standing performance issue, why have you waited until now to raise it? Delivering critical feedback should be in the moment. It’s incumbent on the leader to give constant feedback. The more you do that, the easier it becomes to do performance reviews.

Feedback should be honest and timely. Schedule regular formal check-ins i.e. monthly – interspersed with informal feedback conversations throughout the year.

Dos and don’ts of performance reviews

Approach the performance evaluation process with empathy. Acknowledge that the pandemic and subsequent recession are major sources of stress that will have an inevitable impact on performance. Let people know that there is a level of leniency here.

Cancel. When a manager cancels a performance review at the last minute, all it says to the employee is ‘you don’t matter.’ If cancellation is unavoidable, don’t delegate the task of rescheduling to an assistant – call yourself and explain why.

Be specific. Leaders often come to the conversation unprepared and offer general observations. It’s vital to provide concrete examples to clearly illustrate what the employee is doing right or how they can improve. The employee wants clarity.

Be distracted – often a challenge when we’re working from home, especially when children and pets are in the picture. Be present. Don’t scroll through messages while you’re talking to someone on Zoom.

Give an employee time to process difficult feedback. Have a couple of conversations. After an initial discussion, allow an employee time to reflect before reconvening later for another conversation. The intent should be to motivate and encourage the employee to either keep doing really well… or to understand that there are concrete ways for them to improve and that you, as their leader, are there to support them.

End the conversation with “keep up the good work.” Finish on a positive note of understanding – ask, “Are you clear about what we spoke about?”. A good manager will say, ‘I’ll give you 24 hours to process, and then come back to me with any questions’.

At DGL we conduct performance reviews annually however encourage an ‘open door’ policy which instills openness and transparency within the workplace between employees and employers. During 2020 we did conduct several appraisals via Microsoft Teams, which was certainly a new experience for all involved. Should you require assistance in regards to staff and performance reviews in your business, whether they be in person or via video conferencing, contact the Team today!

Article by Nicola Heath.