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Posts Tagged ‘performance appraisals’

Give Small Amounts of Balanced Feedback

If I hear this one more time I might lose it.

Manager:  “One of my employees has been making a lot of mistakes. He seems disengaged. I’m not sure what’s happening.”

Me:  “Have you talked to him?”

Manager:  “No. Performance appraisals are coming up, so I’ll just wait to give the feedback until then.”

Me:  “When are performance appraisals?”

Manager:  “In six weeks.”

Most people hoard feedback. We wait for the right time, aka when we’re comfortable. That time will never come. The right time to give feedback is when something happens or shortly thereafter. Practice the 24-hour rule and the one-week guideline. Give feedback when you’re not upset, but soon after the event occurs, so people remember what you’re talking about.

Most employees feel as if they’re treated unfairly during some portion of a performance appraisal. Employees receive feedback they’ve not previously heard or receive feedback that is unbalanced – overly positive or negative, or the feedback is so vague, employees aren’t sure what to do more, better, or differently.

Effective performance appraisals are a quick summary of all the performance conversations you’ve had during the year and planning for next year. To have an appraisal meeting that’s a summary of past conversations managers need to meet with their employees regularly and give feedback every time they meet. Giving feedback regularly throughout the year is the most effective management suggestion I can make.

Meet regularly with your employees. If you never meet one-on-one with employees, start meeting monthly. If you meet monthly, meet twice a month. If you meet twice a month, consider meeting weekly for 10 to 30 minutes.

Below is a one-on-one meeting agenda, which the direct report leads:

  • What is the employee working on that’s going well?
  • What is the employee working on that is not going great, but she doesn’t want your help?
  • What is the employee working on this isn’t going great and she wants your help?
  • Give each other feedback: What went well since you last met?  What could be improved?

**  Give and receive feedback on the work and on your relationship. This will be hard the first few times you do it but will become easier with each successive conversation.

Ask your employee to create a meeting agenda. Take notes during the meeting and keep your notes. The summary of these meetings becomes your annual performance appraisal.

Regardless of whether or not you’re meeting regularly throughout the year, you can only give small pieces of feedback during the appraisal meeting. Discuss three SPECIFIC things the employee did well during the year and three things she should do next year. People can’t focus on more.

Consider how each of your employees should impact your department and your organization’s annual goals. In that context, determine the most important things each employee did to contribute to those goals this past year and what she should have done more, better, or differently? That’s your appraisal. Not more and not less.

During performance appraisals, force yourself to focus on and present ONLY the most important behaviors and outcomes, and your employees will bring the same focus to the ensuing year.


Ask for Specific Feedback – Make Performance Appraisals More Useful

The coaches of my son’s pre-Covid soccer class would frequently tell the kids, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” As adults entering performance appraisal season, I think we can do better.

Performance appraisals are, for many, the most dreaded day of the year.  Most employees anticipate the meeting, wondering what their manager will say. In addition to hearing about the situations your manager, and others in your organization, observed throughout the year, why not tell your manager what you’d like to know?

It’s perfectly appropriate to tell your manager if you’d like feedback about a specific aspect of your performance or about a certain project or piece of work. And the time to ask for this feedback is at least one month BEFORE your appraisal meeting.

If you ask for feedback during the meeting, you’re likely to catch your boss off guard. Managers don’t typically follow employees around or call into every meeting in which employees participate. As a result, your boss may not have an answer to your question. She is likely not thinking about the specific input you want.

Most people don’t like to be caught off guard or feel that they can’t answer a question. Asking for feedback in the moment, that your boss can’t address, may embarrass your manager. Don’t put managers on the spot. Set your boss and yourself up for success by asking for specific feedback BEFORE meetings, and give your manager a chance to observe you doing that kind of work.

Ask a vague question, get a vague answer. Ask a specific question, get a specific answer. If you want specific feedback, let your manager know and give her time to observe you doing the actions you’re asking about BEFORE the feedback conversation.

If you want to know how you manage telling internal or external clients “no”, give your boss a chance to see or hear you do this. If you want feedback on how you built relationships with peers virtually this year, give your boss a chance to observe that behavior or time to ask your peers for input.

Here’s how asking for specific feedback might sound: “My annual performance appraisal is in January. I am, of course, interested in everything you have to say. I’d also like feedback on how I lead large meetings. I’m leading two meetings between now and my appraisal. If you have the availability to call into either one and listen to how I elicit participation while maintaining control of the meeting, I’d really appreciate it. I’ll send you the call-in information.”

When you tell your manager the specific feedback you want to hear and give her an opportunity to observe you doing that work, you demonstrate seriousness about getting feedback and that you respect your manager’s time. You’re also likely to get more useful, specific feedback.

The practice of asking for specific feedback before one-on-one meetings and giving your manager time to observe you doing that work, is something I recommend doing all year, not just during performance appraisals. Feedback should be delivered as work is produced. The annual review should be just that, a review of conversations that happened during the year.

Remember, you get what you ask for. Ask a vague question, get a vague answer.


Effective Performance Appraisals – Raise Performance and Morale

Most people would rather get a root canal than participate in an annual employee performance appraisal.

The reasons employee performance appraisals are so difficult is simple:

  1. Most managers don’t deliver timely and balanced (positive and negative) feedback throughout the year.
  2. Many employees don’t ask for regular feedback.
  3. Too much information is delivered during the annual employee performance appraisal.
  4. And as crazy as it sounds, managers and employees haven’t agreed to give and receive regular and candid feedback.

Employee performance appraisals don’t have to be the worst day of the year.

Here are four steps to ensure employee performance appraisals are useful and positive:

  1. Managers and employees must agree to give and receive balanced, candid feedback. Don’t assume the agreement to speak honestly is implicit, make it explicit.
  2. Managers, be honest and courageous. Don’t rate an employee a five who is really a three.  You don’t do anyone any favors. Employees want to know how they’re really doing, no matter how much the feedback may sting.
  3. Managers, focus on three things the employee did well and three things to do more of next year. Any more input is overwhelming.
  4. Managers, schedule a second conversation a week after the employee performance appraisal, so employees can think about and process what you’ve said and discuss further, if necessary.

The key to being able to speak candidly during an employee performance appraisal is as simple as agreeing that you will do so and then being receptive to whatever is said. And don’t make feedback conversations a one-time event. If you do a rigorous workout after not exercising for a long time, you often can’t move the next day. Feedback conversations aren’t any different. They require practice for both the manager and employee to be comfortable.


Giving Feedback – The Right Time is Now

Most of us wait to give negative feedback until it’s the right time, aka the recipient won’t get upset. Or we wait, hoping the situation will resolve itself. If something is really an issue, the likelihood of either happening is pretty slim. The right time to give feedback is shortly after something happens. I’ll offer up the 24-guideline and the one-week rule. Wait 24-hours to give feedback, if you’re upset. But don’t wait longer than a week.

giving feedback

The purpose of giving positive or negative feedback (I like the words upgrade feedback) is to motivate someone to replicate or change a behavior. That’s it. Feedback is supposed to be helpful. If you wait longer than a week to give either positive or upgrade feedback, the person isn’t likely to remember the situation you’re referencing and the purpose of giving feedback – to change or replicate a behavior – will be lost.

Here are four practices to make negative (upgrade) feedback conversations shorter, less painful, and more useful:

Giving feedback practice one:  Agree to give and receive feedback at the onset of relationships. Do this with everyone you work with – direct supervisors, direct reports, peers, internal and external customers, and vendors. If we’ve done How to Say Anything to Anyone training for your organization or you’ve read the book, you got the specific language to have this conversation.

Giving feedback practice two:  Prepare for feedback conversations by writing down what you plan to say and then delivering the feedback to a neutral person. Ask that person to tell you what she heard and what her expectations would be, based on what you said. Confide in someone either at your level or above at work or someone outside of work, to keep the gossip to a minimum. Ask for confidentiality.

Giving feedback practice three:  Tell a neutral person about your situation, and ask what she would say to address the situation. Everyone but you will do a better job at giving feedback. Feedback conversations become hard when we’re emotionally involved. The guy working at the 7-11 will do a better job than you. Seriously. It’s our emotions and concern about the other person’s reaction that makes feedback conversations challenging.

Giving feedback practice four:  Agree to do a weekly debrief with the people you work closely with, and follow-through. Answer the questions – what went well this week from a work perspective and what would we do differently if we could. Answer the same questions about your working relationship. Giving feedback about your relationship will be hard at first.  It will be easier the more you do it. Be sure to say “thank you” for the feedback, regardless of what you really want to say. One of the reasons giving negative feedback is so hard is we wait too long. Shorter, more frequent conversations are better than long, infrequent discussions.

Giving negative feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Follow the suggestions above and remind yourself that the purpose of giving feedback is to be helpful. If you were doing the wrong work, you’d want to know. And others do too.

giving feedback

Write Your Own Goals & Take Control of Your Performance Review

Many year-end performance reviews include whatever the manager and direct report can remember happening during the last six to twelve weeks of the year. For the most part, managers and direct reports sit in front of blank performance appraisals and self-appraisal forms and try to remember everything that happened during the year. The result: A vague, incomplete performance review that leaves employees feeling disappointed, if not discounted.

If you were disappointed by your performance review this year, don’t let it happen again next year. Take charge of your career by writing your own goals.

One of the first companies I worked for did the goal process so well, I learned early in my career how powerful well-written goals could be. Each employee set five to seven goals. Experienced employees wrote their own goals and then discussed those goals with their manager. Less experienced employees wrote their goals with their manager. Managers wrote goals for inexperienced employees. The goals were so specific and clear that there could be no debate at the end of the year whether or not the goal had been achieved. It was obvious. Either employees had done what they said they would, or they hadn’t. This made writing performance appraisals very easy. Very little on the appraisal was subjective. And this gave employees a feeling of control over their year and performance.

It’s great if you work for an organization or manager who works with you to write goals. If you don’t, write your own goals and present them to your manager for discussion and approval. Managers will be impressed you took the initiative to write goals and will be thankful for the work it takes off of them.

Goals should be simple and clear. It must be obvious whether you achieved the goal or not. There should be little if any room for debate.
Sample goals are below.

Desired Outcome (goal):

• Improve client feedback – too vague
• Get better-written reviews from clients – better
• 80% of clients respond to surveys and respond with an average rating of 4.5 or above – best

Actions you will take to achieve the goal:

• Ask clients for feedback throughout project — too vague
• Ask clients for feedback weekly – better
• Visit client site weekly. Talk with site manager. Ask for feedback — best

Goal template:

Completed sample goal:

How to approach your manager with written goals:

Try using this language with your manager: “I want to be sure I’m working on the things that are most important to you and the organization. I’ve written some goals for 2020 to ensure I’m focused on the right things. Can we review the goals and I’ll edit them based on your input? And what do you think of using the agreed-upon goals to measure my performance in 2020?”

You have nothing to lose by writing goals and presenting them to your manager. You will gain respect from your manager, clarity of your 2020 priorities, and more control of your year-end-performance review. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.


The Employee Performance Appraisal Doesn’t Have to Be the Worst Day of the Year

Most people would rather get a root canal than participate in an annual employee performance appraisal.

The reasons employee performance appraisals are so difficult is simple:

  1. Many managers don’t deliver timely and balanced feedback throughout the year.
  2. Many employees don’t ask for regular feedback.
  3. Too much information is delivered during the annual employee performance appraisal.
  4. And as crazy as it sounds, managers and employees haven’t agreed to give and receive regular and candid feedback.

Employee performance appraisals don’t have to be the worst day of the year.

Here are four steps to ensure employee performance appraisals are useful and positive:

  1. Managers and employees must agree to give and receive balanced, candid feedback. Don’t assume the agreement to speak honestly is implicit, make it explicit.
  2. Managers, be honest and courageous. Don’t rate an employee a five who is really a three. You don’t do anyone any favors. Employees want to know how they’re really doing, no matter how much the feedback may sting.
  3. Managers, focus on three things the employee did well and three things to do more of next year. Any more input is overwhelming.
  4. Managers, schedule a second conversation a week after the employee performance appraisal, so employees can think about and process what you’ve said and discuss further, if necessary.

The key to being able to speak candidly during an employee performance appraisal is as simple as agreeing that you will do so and then being receptive to whatever is said. And don’t make feedback conversations a one-time event. If you do a rigorous workout after not exercising for a long time, you often can’t move the next day. Feedback conversations aren’t any different. They require practice for both the manager and employee to be comfortable.


Ask for Feedback and Take Control of Your Career

Most people wait way too long to give feedback. We wait for the right time, aka when we’re comfortable. That day will not come.

Instead of waiting to give feedback until you’re about to explode in frustration, or until a formal review, give feedback every time you meet with someone.

Managers, make it a practice to meet with each of your employees at least once a month. Twice a month or weekly would be better. But if you’re not doing one-on-one meetings now, start meeting monthly. If you’re meeting monthly, start meeting twice a month. Employees need face time with their boss. Team meetings and casual conversations do not replace individual meetings.

Direct Report One-on-One Meeting Agenda:

The direct report comes to the meeting ready to discuss:

1. What she’s working on that is going well.
2. What she’s working on that is not going well.
3. What she needs help with.
4. Then the manager gives feedback on what went well since the last meeting and what could be improved.
5. And the employee gives the manager feedback on what has gone well since the last meeting and what could be improved.

Feedback goes both directions. Managers, if you want your employees to be open to your feedback, ask for feedback from your employees on what they need from you. Give feedback on both the work and your working relationship. A poor working relationship often motivates employees to leave a job, but it’s the last thing that gets discussed.ask for feedback - book cover

Feedback discussions should be short. You can say anything in two minutes or fewer. No one wants to be told she isn’t cutting it for 20 minutes. Say what you need to say and end the conversation or move on to another topic.

If you’re not giving your employees regular feedback, you can use this language to start:

“I’m realizing that I’m not giving you enough feedback. I want to be helpful to you. If I don’t provide regular, timely feedback, I’m not being as helpful as I could be. I’d like to start a regular practice of meeting monthly, getting an update from you on how things are going, and giving each other feedback on what went well and what could be improved since our last meeting.”

You Are 100% Accountable For Your Career - Ask for FeedbackIf you work for someone who is not forthcoming with feedback, ask for feedback. You’re 100% accountable for your career. Don’t wait for your manager, customers or peers to give you feedback. Ask for feedback on a regular basis.

Here’s how you can ask for feedback from your manager:

“Your feedback helps ensure I’m focused on the right work. Can we put a monthly meeting on the calendar, and I’ll tell you what I’m working on, where I do and don’t need help, and we can discuss how things are going?”

If meetings get cancelled, reschedule them. If your manager says these meetings aren’t necessary or she doesn’t have time, tell her, “Your regular input is helpful to me. What’s the best way to ensure we catch each other for a few minutes each month?” Meaning, push the issue.

If your manager still doesn’t make time for the meetings or doesn’t provide clear and specific feedback, even when you ask for examples, ask your internal and external customers and coworkers for feedback. The people you work closely with see you work and will likely give feedback, if asked.

No news is not necessarily good news. Waiting six months or a year to receive performance feedback is like going on a road trip from St. Louis to Los Angeles but not consulting a map until you arrive in New York, frustrated and far from your desired destination.

Managers: Meet with employees monthly, semi-monthly or weekly, and give feedback every time you meet.

Employees: Ask your managers, customers, and coworkers for regular feedback, and take control of your career.


Performance Management – Shorter is Better

No one (I know) enjoys writing, delivering or receiving performance feedback. It’s time consuming to write, challenging to deliver, and can be difficult to hear. Unfortunately, most performance management systems – goal setting forms, performance appraisal templates and online templates – don’t make the process easier. Insperformance managementtead, they make it harder. Short and simple is best.

When I started managing leadership development for a large company, I inherited a 12-page performance appraisal form and what seemed like 89 competencies. One of the business leaders I supported told me, “I’m not asking my people to use this form. If you can give me something that’s one page, I’ll have my managers use it.” That conversation sent me on a mission to make all performance management forms one or two pages. And really, why shouldn’t they be? People can only focus on leveraging and changing a few things at a time. Why give more feedback than that at any given time?

If you’re chasing people to use your performance management tools and templates, you have the wrong forms. In my experience, when people find something easy to use and valuable, they’ll use it. If something is difficult to use or doesn’t seem to add value, people drag their heels.

Here are a few ideas for making your performance management process easier:

Make your forms and templates simple. No performance management tool should be more than two pages. In a performance appraisal – quarterly, annual, or otherwise – identify up to three things the person did well and a max of three things s/he can either do more, better, or differently next year. Anything more is overwhelming and a set up for disappointment, frustration, and overwhelm.

If you have additional areas for the person to work on, meet again in 90-days and assess how the person has done with the three pieces of feedback already provided. If s/he has made significant progress on the things they were already working on, add a few new things to work on. If significant progress hasn’t been made on the existing feedback, wait to add more.

I know your existing performance management templates may not allow for what I’m suggesting. If you’re working with a template that requires more input, write up to three clear, succinct, and actionable bullets in each required area and not more. Bullets are better than paragraphs. Be specific. “Great job” is not feedback. Neither is, “needs improvement.” Give a specific example or two. No example, no feedback.

Resist the urge to write paragraphs of vague feedback or to accept that type of feedback in a self-appraisal. Paragraphs of feedback take too long to write and often say little. I’d suggest spending less time writing performance feedback and instead spend the time observing performance, asking others for input on the person’s performance, and writing three succinct, specific bullets that describe an action taken or outcome produced. Specific feedback is meaningful, useful, and received with less defensiveness.

performance management


Giving Feedback – The Right Time is Now

Most of us wait to give negative feedback until it’s the right time, aka the recipient won’t get upset. Or we wait, hoping the situation will resolve itself. If something is really an issue, the likelihood of either happening is pretty slim. The right time to give feedback is shortly after something happens. I’ll offer up the 24-guideline and the one-week rule. Wait 24-hours to give feedback, if you’re upset. But don’t wait longer than a week.giving feedback

The purpose of giving positive or negative feedback (I like the words upgrade feedback) is to motivate someone to replicate or change a behavior. That’s it. Feedback is supposed to be helpful. If you wait longer than a week to give either positive or upgrade feedback, the person isn’t likely to remember the situation you’re referencing and the purpose of giving feedback – to change or replicate a behavior – will be lost.

Here are four practices to make negative (upgrade) feedback conversations shorter, less painful, and more useful:

Giving feedback practice one:  Agree to give and receive feedback at the onset of relationships. Do this with everyone you work with – direct supervisors, direct reports, peers, internal and external customers, and vendors. If we’ve done How to Say Anything to Anyone training for your organization or you’ve read the book, you got the specific language to have this conversation.

Giving feedback practice two:  Prepare for feedback conversations by writing down what you plan to say and then delivering the feedback to a neutral person. Ask that person to tell you what she heard and what her expectations would be, based on what you said. Confide in someone either at your level or above at work or someone outside of work, to keep the gossip to a minimum. Ask for confidentiality.

Giving feedback practice three:  Tell a neutral person about your situation, and ask what she would say to address the situation. Everyone but you will do a better job at giving feedback. Feedback conversations become hard when we’re emotionally involved. The guy working at the 7-11 will do a better job than you. Seriously. It’s our emotions and concern about the other person’s reaction that makes feedback conversations challenging.

Giving feedback practice four:  Agree to do a weekly debrief with the people you work closely with, and follow through. Answer the questions – what went well this week from a work perspective and what would we do differently if we could. Answer the same questions about your working relationship. Giving feedback about your relationship will be hard at first.  It will be easier the more you do it. Be sure to say “thank you” for the feedback, regardless of what you really want to say. One of the reasons giving negative feedback is so hard, is we wait too long. Shorter, more frequent conversations are better than long, infrequent discussions.

Giving negative feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Follow the suggestions above and remind yourself that the purpose of giving feedback is to be helpful. If you were doing the wrong work, you’d want to know. And others do too.

giving feedback


Setting Goals at Work – Take Control of 2017

A professional athlete would never get on the court, field, or ice without knowing the rules of the game. Athletes know every action that will result in points, penalties, and other positive and negative consequences. Yet many of us go to work without any idea of how we’re being held accountable and what a good job looks like.

In the next few weeks, way too many people will have a performance review during which they will receive feedback that’s a surprise.

Writing clear, specific, and measurable goals is the key to managing your own work performance and to not being caught off guard by performance appraisals. Writing goals may not be sexy or fun, but doing so is the key to taking control of your year.

Four tips for setting goals at work:

1.  Setting goals at work: Don’t wait for your manager to suggest writing goals. Ask permission to draft 5 to 7 goals.

2.  Setting goals at work: Discuss and finalize each goal with your manager, and ask that the goals be the criteria for your 2017 evaluation.

3.  Setting goals at work: Write such specific goals, that at the end of the year, it’s very clear whether you did or didn’t produce the agreed-upon results. When goals are specific, performance appraisals write themselves.

4.  Setting goals at work: As business priorities and objectives change, goals change as well. Review your goals with your manager quarterly and make changes as appropriate.

Here are questions to answer when writing goals:

  • What results will you produce? What will be different in the organization at the end of the year? (X%) Assign each goal a percentage. Weight each goal by importance.
  • What actions will you take? What will you do, and when will you do it?
  • How will you know you’ve made progress or achieved your goal? What will be different as a result of your work? (This should be quantitative. Use numbers.)

Here is a completed sample goal:

Results to produce: Retain 90% of new customers. Weighting: 40%

Actions to take:

  • Have a setting-expectation meeting with each new customer.
  • Return all customer calls within 24-hours.
  • Call 10% of customers quarterly, and ask for feedback.

Milestones and year-end results:

  • Customer complaints will drop by 20%.
  • Customer change orders will drop by 10%.

When what you need to do during the year is clearly articulated, you’ve set yourself up to win. You know exactly what you need to do to be successful. Early in my career, I worked for an organization that did goal setting well. Each employee wrote 5 to 7 goals that were weighted and extraordinarily specific. It was obvious, throughout the year, if employees were meeting performance standards. And at the end of the year, it was so clear whether or not employees had done what they needed to do, employees could write their own performance appraisal. That’s the power of goals. Wellwritten goals drive performance, empower employees, and remove the debate about results.

Not every goal or objective at work is numerical and clear cut, but many are. Write down what you need to do and what the desired outcome looks like, whenever possible, and you’ll feel more empowered and in control at work than you previously thought possible.

Setting goals at work


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