5 reasons performance feedback fails and what to do about it

5 reasons performance feedback fails and what to do about it

Giving and receiving feedback is heartland territory for performance conversations. Both delivery and receipt require a combination of skill and character, making it a strong topic for Leadership and Management training programmes everywhere.  It’s essential for continuous performance improvement and without it, effective change won’t gather pace. Yet it’s often delivered and/or received badly; exacerbating poor communication practices and ineffective working relationships.  Here are our top contributors that we believe hamper effective feedback and our ideas for how to solve them.

  1. Feedback is delivered as a one-way conversation

I’ve seen it often. The perception is delivered in a ‘let me tell you what I saw, experienced, felt’ style and standard rules like be clear, be factual, give examples, be assertive are followed. Agreed, these are all important, however, this approach doesn’t allow for a mutual understanding and resolution to be reached.  Feedback is a response to something that we want changed or repeated, and this means co-operation is required. For co-operation, there must be two-way involvement.  If you have a skilled recipient, the conversation may hold promise because they may be able to receive the information in a way that is useful, regardless of the delivery.  However, without managing the conversation, it’s more likely problems will surface.  Above all else, check first if it’s a good time for them to receive this information and whether you are the most effective messenger.

A message delivered articulately and empathetically is as important as the accuracy of the content, so tailor your message delivery to match the context, environment and circumstances of the recipient. Things like ‘Is this a pattern they have noticed for themselves?’  work well.  Inviting someone to self-assess before giving your view means you are less likely to encounter resistance. Another example could be when you’ve observed something that’s out of character. In this case, ask what was different that day or in that meeting etc. before sharing your observations. The response you receive may negate the need to give your view altogether.

  1. You prepare for the conversation without preparing yourself

Particularly when there’s a tough message involved, feelings of uncertainty, anxiousness, nervousness about the potential response combined with fear of negative consequences, can undermine your approach regardless of your intentions.  To control the discomfort, it’s human nature to want to avoid it (flight) or push through it (fight). This usually happens when someone is attached to being ‘right’.  To bolster your view, you may seek agreement from someone you trust. Then share the information according to when you’re ready. The feeling of ‘There, said it. Phew! Now it’s up to them. Right?’ may resonate here.  If so, have a think about how many times you have reached a satisfactory result following just one conversation. It’s unlikely to have a high yield, if at all.

When I have something I feel strongly about, I let it ‘sit’ for a while. Then I discuss it with someone I trust to challenge my views.  The stronger the reaction, the longer I let it sit and the more I seek challenge. Examining your motives and judgments is important because these determine your beliefs.  And those beliefs? They’ll inform how you feel.  If the conversation is going to lead somewhere good, it’ll be because you kept your opinions, judgments and emotions in check. Not absent, they count, but not in the driving seat. I believer if you feel ‘right’, that makes the other person wrong.  That’s a black and white position with no room for exploration.  With no room for taking in the other person’s experience / perspective then it’s a one-way conversation. The result is more likely to be an uncomfortable transaction, without a sustainable resolution.  So, seek alternative views, talk to someone who may share the other person’s perspective as well as your own and who can challenge your thinking. It won’t change what has happened, but it could shape a stronger outcome.

  1. The delivery is formulaic and fails to inspire an appetite to change

We use a variety of communication models in our work and advocate many different feedback models however, we urge our clients not to rely on them. Instead, consider these as criteria for preparation. Like a set piece in sport or a recipe for a meal, formulas support how something is put together.  So use formulae for infrastructure then employ empathy and responsiveness. Avoid over-scripting and over-managing as this will undermine conveyed sincerity.  Instead, join forces to explore relevant issues and find solutions to secure your best chance of co-operation and commitment to change.

If you really want to inspire change, be proactive with your feedback by finding ways to give forward feedback.  For example, when we work with delegates who are taking part in an exercise in our longer-term programmes, we will draw their attention to a skill they’ve shown in a previous session. For example, “I know you’re not sure how to approach this right now, but I know you can do this because you achieved {[X] result in the [Y] module. Use your [mention special skill] here and you’ll be on your way to really seeing some traction on this”.  Express what you’re looking to see more of and what difference it could make to the results of the company, team, project etc and motivation will soar.  It will also build a habit and mindset that will spread like ripples throughout the team. Not only for the individuals receiving it but for those witnessing the culture you’re fostering. 

  1. A commitment is expected immediately

I remember a time I received some feedback. It was important I heard it and understood it. It stung a bit!  I accepted it and said I’d go away and think about it.  The person who gave me the feedback was upset that I didn’t have a more committed response. I felt I needed time to work out how best to deal with it.  We found our way through it, but I’ll never forget the feeling of being on the receiving end of feedback that was completely valid, yet outside of my awareness.  Why is this important? Feedback is often a no-brainer to the person giving the information, so the impact it has can often be under-estimated.   Remember, it’s only obvious when you know.  And if they know, it’s not feedback!  In which case, I would challenge you to think about the purpose of the conversation you really need to have here.

On the flipside, you may receive an emotional or highly charged response.  In this case, give it some time and distance. Then return, don’t avoid it.  During the gap think about your timing, delivery, what might help reduce the emotional charge when it’s revisited? Go back to your trusted source(s) for some perspective.  I’m not suggesting you accept unhelpful behaviour; I am suggesting you consider the emotional make-up of the receiver and what their motives might have been for their original actions.  In short, re-visit the qualification points and then adjust from there.  And if you got it wrong, apologise and treat it as feedback for yourself.  Boundaries and ownership are key to achieving personal change, so encourage it by being a role model for it by adjusting your approach if you need to.

  1. Agreed actions sit only with the recipient

Feedback is particularly effective when we know what we want to be different.  I hear people express what they did or didn’t appreciate yet fall short on the required change.  Just as the feedback may have been a surprise to the recipient, the actions required to make a change may feel equally like an enigma.  A strong leader will be clear about what good looks like and will understand how to support without reducing ownership on the individual.  So, it’s a good idea to think about how you will make sure you manage the change and progress that you’re asking for. What are the review timescales? What is reasonable to expect and when? What do the incremental changes look like? For example, if it’s greater accuracy, what’s the reduction in mistakes you’re looking to see? If it’s a more positive contribution in meetings, what does that look like? Then think about what support you need to provide. What will you do to actively encourage commitment to the change? What will need repetition and what will need enough space to allow progress from you?  If you’re thinking about how you can support the process, you’ll handle the conversation and subsequent follow up better, and you’ll be in a better place to use it in an exploratory, solution focused way from the start.

At Organic P&O Solutions we’ve worked with individuals and teams, high performers and underperformers, in high output departments and in personally charged employment disputes. We always talk about constructive dialogue being key and we’ve witnessed it deliver improved performance when done well.  It has also supported companies to manage the destructive effects of toxic relationships and move into a more productive way of working.  If you’d like to find out more about how we might help you build a stronger performance amongst your team, we’d love to hear from you.

 

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