A busy professional has this question regarding employee performance reviews.

She asked:

  • How to give feedback employees will hear?
    What are some tips for giving effective feedback?
  • What are the barriers to hearing and understanding feedback?
  • When giving feedback, how can you make sure employees get it?


Who needs the feedback the most?

These are very good questions.  Before we answer each of them, lets review some reasons employees need constructive feedback.

  • They are doing well but seem too comfortable in their current position. They don’t seem to have any desire for advancement
  • They are average performers but are essentially falling behind because those around them are excelling
  • They are excelling
  • They are performing below expectations

As you can see, the need for employee feedback isn’t isolated to those that are not performing as expected.  Exceptional, Above Average, and Average employees all need constructive feedback.

Setting the stage

Giving an effective feedback starts with understanding your employees’ goals and career objectives.  Once you understand the “why” the employee comes to work – the better you can connect the feedback to their goals.

For example, if they want to eventually lead the team or become a manager, then focus on the skill sets that will help them achieve those goals.

These business commitments or goals need to be agreed upon at the start of the performance review year.  These documented PBC (Personal Business Commitments) tie the individuals role/responsibilities to the company goals.  Everyone understands how they can individually contribute to the company’s success.   These PBCs can then be reviewed several times during the year and before the official performance review.  Setting the stage in this manner makes feedback easier, because everyone involved understands both the employer and employee expectations.

These business goals need to be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Attainable, Relevant and Time bound).  With SMART goals, it’s very easy for both the employee and manager to agree whether the goals were met or exceeded.

Barriers to hearing

The most prevalent barrier to hearing and understanding feedback is our mindset.  The moment your supervisor releases a perceived negative comment, we automatically go into defensive mode.  Our brain immediately will find situations that negative what was just been said or provide detailed reasons/excuses for the events.

Best advice is to continually focus on the SMART goals or commitments set at the start of the year.  Use the agreed upon PBCs as your starting point.  Since your PBCs will have specific metrics and goals in place for each performance commitment, it will be easy to determine if the criteria has been met.

For example, If one of the PBC goals was to standardize code reviews in the development team to reduce delivered defects to test group by 30% – and the employee (team leader) still does not conduct regular code reviews and the defect rates to test group are on the rise – all you need to do is share the past defect rate and current defect rates.

Then simply ask the employee if he/she feels if they have met that particular goal.

Repeat this until all the PBC goals are reviewed.

Making sure employees get it

Once you and the employee have agreed upon the status of the PBC goal, ask their opinion on where to go from here.

For instance, if the employee agrees that the team did not meet the defect rate goals – he/she also agrees that standardized code reviews would have caught a number of these defects by simple review – and therefore would have been fixed prior to sending to the test team, you can now start a discussion on where to go from here.

The discussion is focused on working on a solution together. Perhaps it’s unrealistic for the team to take the time to gather and code-review each other’s work.  Perhaps there isn’t enough time in the schedule to detail code review.  Therefore perhaps the next assignment is for the team leader to investigate and recommend a development tools that automatically code reviews. The mandate then becomes 80% of all the code review defects are fixed before handing to the test group.   Perhaps the new PBC is to automate the unit tests going forward such that a set of automated acceptance tests are run before handing off to the test group.    Then the development teams continually add to the unit tests as they go along.

As you can see – these discussions then become the foundation of their next PBC SMART goals.

Keep them involved

At the end of the day, keeping your employees involved and engaged in their own career development is key.  Although the above examples were technical, this method also works on soft or people skills.

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