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How to Give Effective Performance Feedback


No one loves a performance review. The conversations can be stilted even when you deliver praise. They induce dread when you know you have to give critical feedback. Discussing losing eligibility for work-life programs like telework or explaining the performance improvement process can be some of the most difficult and important conversations you will have as a supervisor.

Employees, even good ones, tend to disengage during performance feedback. They’re nervous or upset. Or they’re just trying to get this awkward meeting over with (much like you). We wonder: Is he even listening? Does she understand how serious this situation is? Why don’t they ever say anything? One review down and a ton more to go – is this all a waste of time?

We’ve all been there. And it doesn’t have to be this way! You can turn a soul-crushing performance appraisal into an opportunity to engage your staff. Make it an interactive conversation that energizes both you and your employee. My team and I have used the following format for performance feedback for over a decade. We use it for both glowing appraisals and tough reviews. Instead of sitting through the same one-sided meeting, it yields productive and unique conversations. Every. Single. Time.

Here’s a quick rundown for giving effective performance feedback. It’s surprisingly easy to do.

  1. Ask for input before the review. Ask direct reports for input regarding projects, training conducted or attended, and leadership over the last six months. Also request that they think about feedback for the management team. Send this a couple of weeks before the review with the meeting invite. This input can help you write the review and give you insight regarding issues that may be on the employee’s mind. Pro tip: make the input request an email template – you only have to write it once. Sending it ahead of time will help your introverts come up with feedback for you because you’re not putting them on the spot.
  1. Use the Review Outline to guide your performance discussion. Use the same basic bullets every time. It works well because you start and end by asking your employee for feedback. Ask probing questions and start a conversation that will lead into the analysis of their performance. When your employee has the chance to make their case, they are more open to hearing what you have to say. Your employee will walk out of the room feeling heard and understanding how to improve.

Review Outline

  • Take the time to thank your employee.

  • Explain the review process if the employee is new or new-to-you.

  • Ask: How did the last six months go? Surprises? Challenges? What was enjoyable? What could have gone better? Struggles with workload management, etc.?

  • Give concrete examples of their strengths.

  • Give concrete examples of their opportunities for growth.

  • Tell them what they need to focus on for the next six months. Be specific. If they need to review more reports, tell them how many. If quality needs to go up, tell them how you’ll know when quality goes up. Give benchmarks. Together, come up with a plan for how they’ll be held accountable for those benchmarks.

  • Discuss professional development, including if a class or additional training would help with what they need to focus on for the next six months. Ask if they’d like to engage in the Individual Development Plan process or evaluate their existing IDP.

  • Ask for any other feedback and thoughts for management.

  1. Document. Save a few notes about your conversation. You can look back at these notes when you have the next review. Pro tip: these notes also count as documentation if you need to move an employee to a PIP.
  1. Follow up. If employees give you ideas or if you promise training, follow up with them. Send them the resources for IDPs. Schedule interim meetings to discuss benchmarks.

If you don’t want to have the same one-sided conversation with your employees over and over, change the way you conduct reviews. It’s a great opportunity to engage your staff. You can make them feel heard, help them open up to the feedback you need to deliver, and raise morale. You have to give the performance review anyway. Turn it into an asset.

Lauren Lien is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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