Thursday, April 19, 2012

Part IV: Avoid the Three Big Killers of Good Performance Feedback

What brings out the best performance in people? Having good people around them as models and getting candid feedback on what their customers, colleagues and community value.

This isn’t to devalue the role of material rewards. However, the truth is that for most people their single biggest motivator at work is knowing they are making meaningful progress towards goals they value.  Good role models and candid feedback enable that.

Add a fair discussion with their manager about what they promised to do compared to what they actually did. Include a reasonable view of their career progression and their future. Now you have the basis of a very good, very simple performance management system.

It may sound like a lot of work, but it isn’t. Even if it were, it’s worth it because it keeps employees engaged and focused on what matters most for the organization.

In a previous post we talked about an entrepreneurial CEO client who was skeptical about putting in 360-degree feedback. He had three main objections we had to deal with.

  1. The whole thing is too bureaucratic/expensive/time consuming.
  2. No one except HR cares.
  3. People treat 360s as a popularity contest and the feedback is too personal.

The key to not making the process bureaucratic or expensive is to keep the questions to as few as our two basic questions: “What does the employee do well?” and “What are the employee’s opportunities for improvement?”

If questions are to be added they need to be specific and relevant, which usually keeps time and expense down.

The key to getting everyone to care is explaining why the feedback is important. Candid, constructive feedback should be part of the regular DNA of the organization. We have seen a lot of carefully thought-out review processes undone by the fact that once the feedback has been received, the notes, commitments and details go into a drawer. They don’t get looked at again for twelve months or the next anxiety-producing review session.

There are few things more debilitating for an employee than knowing there is a great, big review coming up only for it to be a one off event followed by business as usual. Actionable feedback from clients, colleagues and community is critical to improvement and success.

The other big organizational killer of 360-degree feedback (or any kind of performance review) is the tendency to personalize the material. This takes two forms. 

One is where the providers of feedback don’t get confidentiality. It should always be possible to give and take candid feedback. It should go without saying that when you solicit feedback anonymously the people providing the feedback should be confident that their input will be kept confidential and there will be no adverse consequences.

If the process is being run internally, it’s appropriate for someone outside the feedback loop to moderate the input, perhaps by merging and purging the data so that it doesn’t easily carry identifying material, or by going back to the rater and asking them to be less personal and more performance focused with their comments. 

This sort of process moderation is often carried out by functions such as HR or quality assurance. Similarly, HR or the person’s manager should ensure that the person being rated doesn’t take the feedback personally, or disrespect the input by devaluing the people it comes from.

The other kind of personalization that kills feedback is when the input from the raters focuses on the person rated rather than their performance or abilities. Fix this by ensuring the questions are specific, focused and easily translatable into action.

If you want to build a world class multi-rater feedback system and align it with your performance appraisals this is it. 

  • One questionnaire to the person’s customers, colleagues and community with as few as our two basic questions or as many as are specific, relevant and easy for raters to handle.
  • One review at the end of each significant time period, achievement or milestone. The review should include a comparison of actual and promised performance. It should also include a discussion on what’s going well, what can be improved, and how it all fits with the person’s and organization’s needs.

Do you want to discuss this topic in greater detail? Contact Koliso.

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