Fixing the feedback loop at work

The performance review. Is this the most vexed topic in the workplace today? There should be no surprises at these sessions but usually there are. Why?

In short, many bosses don't give feedback throughout the year and employees don't invite them to do so. So when the big day comes, it can be shocks all round.

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As kids everything we learn is through making mistakes and getting feedback, guidance and coaching. It starts with our parents teaching us things - don't touch the stove, hold your knife and fork this way, answer the phone this way.

Then our teachers guide us with our spelling, essay writing and debating techniques. We get constant feedback – “structure your essay like this", "do your experiment like that".

" Many bosses don't give feedback throughout the year and employees don't invite them to do so."

Then before we know it, we have graduated from university and started work. And for many of us the feedback stops. Or it comes once or twice a year in an awkward conversation during a formal performance review session.

So here's some feedback for managers: GET BETTER AT GIVING FEEDBACK!  

Please tell them

Your employees want to know how they're doing, so please tell them.  Don’t wait for a formal performance review.

After a meeting, tell them what they did well and what they could have done better: constant – constructive – feedback day to day, on work, on reports, on professional interactions.

You don’t have to badger, it’s not formal, just suggestions here and there, praise for good work. We all want to know how our managers are thinking about our performance and how we can keep developing - so one day we can have their job and then their boss's job!

When I was a young lawyer, I had a boss who would regularly come into my office and say “Jodi, if I were you, I would…[insert a tip]”. It was gold!

People have their own styles, there’s no one right way but here's a simple process I use with my direct reports (and them with theirs) to improve engagement and performance.

As a result, our team is enjoying work more, is more motivated and engagement and productivity have improved.

We call it "PFD" - a 3 step ongoing "conversation".

P is for: PERFORMANCE GOALS/ PRIORITIES.

If you don’t know what your goals are, how will you know if you have succeeded?  People are more engaged and motivated to perform better and achieve more if they have clear goals, know what they have to do to achieve them and understand how those goals are aligned to the corporate strategy. 

So, start by asking each of your direct reports to set their performance goals for the coming year and agree them - in writing.

This should include tasks they need to achieve in their job (eg, write monthly board reports or sell a million widgets), as well as some growth goals (eg, improve their presentation skills so they can give board presentations or lead a team selling five million widgets).  

This is not just a form filling exercise. We need to continuously reference back to our goals and check in on how we are going with achieving them.  Once a year is not enough.

Success is much more likely to happen if managers have regular, honest conversations with their direct reports on how they are performing and the issues, hurdles or blockers which might be getting in the way.

F is for:  FEEDBACK

At any opportunity give your direct reports feedback (and ask them to remind you to do so). When they give you a report, when they lead a meeting, when they visit a client, or when they close a deal, tell them straight away what they did well and what they could have done better.

Be open, respectful, honest, constructive, clear and specific. Give it by the water cooler, in the queue at the coffee shop or in your weekly catch up. Just make sure you give it.

Feedback can be difficult, people can feel threatened.  Sometimes it helps to start by asking - "Are you open to receiving some feedback?" or by saying - "I would like to give you some feedback". Similarly, if you are the employee and you want feedback, ask your boss - "How did that go? How could I have done it better?"

Like anything in life, the more you practice something the easier it gets and the better you get at it.  So, I suggest you start practising giving and asking for feedback.

Practice until giving regular feedback becomes a habit, part of “how we do things in our team”, part of our culture.

D is for: DEVELOPMENT

So you've given your direct report some feedback. Well done. Don't stop there. How about giving them some guidance on how to develop to the next level or develop a certain skill?  Tell them what they need to do to improve - or even better give them an opportunity to do so.

We can all improve. Winston Churchill said "to improve is to change, so to be perfect is to change often".  Developing is not only necessary to get your next role or promotion, it is also interesting, exciting, stimulating and fun.

For us to develop, we need to think about the feedback we've been given, the mistakes we've made and what needs to change so we can improve.

We may need some technical training (eg, how to read a balance sheet), or perhaps some professional skills development (eg, negotiations 101). Maybe we can be thrown in the deep end and given the chance to step up by, say, leading a project.

We do find it useful when feedback is referred back to over the following months. I might say I have noticed an improvement or perhaps offer another suggestion as to how the person could continue to improve.

"PFD" shifts performance management and development from being a dreaded annual conversation to an exciting, respectful, ongoing and dynamic one which helps us set challenging goals, ensures we are aware of how we are performing week to week and enables us to acknowledge and work on  our development.

Jodi Fullarton-Healey is General Counsel, International & Institutional Banking at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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