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Industry Insights Blog

Elevating Your Team Through Performance Feedback

Stephanie Owens

Few professionals welcome the advent of a performance review. When that time approaches, we prepare for the worst, despite the quality of and dedication to our work. Much of that apprehension is the product of past reviews that have focused largely on areas of weakness, mistakes, personal opinion or all of the above. Yet, accountability and candor play an important role in the workplace, so how can supervisors wield them in a way that actually boosts confidence, productivity and engagement? If we approach performance feedback as a continuous opportunity to build on past experience to elevate instead of check an employee’s potential, we can foster an environment where teams operate at their best and highest function.

One of the most challenging obligations a manager has is the responsibility to provide constructive feedback to their team. Common adjectives used to describe “constructive include: helpful, productive, useful, and beneficial. Why then, is it that both managers and employees can be reluctant to give and receive constructive feedback? There are countless reasons to explain the hesitation, many of them based on past experiences. Perhaps it’s the manager’s lack of training or their tone in delivering the message. Maybe the employee is defensive, lacks self awareness or doesn’t accept any accountability. Regardless, when approached differently, these difficult conversations can serve as a chance to transform what could feel like a disciplinary measure into a teachable moment.

I’ve seen the role of the HR professional shift from being a workplace referee to a business partner and advisor, coaching managers on how to handle challenging situations within their teams. One of the primary goals of coaching is employee retention, avoiding the cost and disruption of turnover by fostering a culture of growth, trust and respect among colleagues. Informal coaching is designed to: openly and honestly identify the issue, give the employee a chance and means to improve and (hopefully) propel them on a path to sustainable success.

Keys to effective coaching:

  • Ensure a distraction-free environment (turn off your phone, close the door, shut down your computer)

  • Choose a private room wherein you can sit across from the employee to gauge body language and eye contact

  • Be prepared, gather all of the facts and make sure you have specific examples

  • Prepare a brief script that includes the lead in to the conversation and bullet points of the messages you want to convey (do not read the script verbatim)

  • Anticipate possible reactions (defensiveness, anger, silence, tears)

  • Be patient during awkward silence; allow the employee time to think; if you need to take a break and resume the discussion, do so

  • Be timely in your feedback

  • Be honest, sincere and direct (get to the point immediately; do not engage in small talk)

  • Ensure you are providing open communication at all times; if you haven’t done so already, establish weekly one-on-one meetings to follow up on progress

  • Be an active and empathetic listener which will likely result in engaging the employee in the process, which should be highly collaborative

  • Make sure that the employee is a vital part of the plan to correct the performance, behavior or conduct

  • Document your conversations in a separate file from the personnel file (informal and formal discussions; dates, times, nature of the conversations); work with HR on written warnings

  • Can you use HR as a resource or do you need an external coach?

  • Ask open ended questions to clarify and understand misunderstandings or facts

Being an effective coach isn’t always easy. However, with practice, patience and experience, managers can master these skills to ensure they are taking a different approach to building their teams up and developing their human capital to be more productive and motivated contributors to the business.

Resources and References:

“The Everything Coaching and Mentoring Book: How to increase productivity, foster talent and encourage success,” Nicholas Nigro

“The Progressive Discipline Handbook: Smart strategies for coaching employees,” Margie Mader-Clark, Lisa Guerin, Esq.

“Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most,” Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project

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