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10 mistakes leaders make when giving performance feedback

Performance feedback is something everyone gets nervous about — leaders and team members alike. Often, this is because leaders don’t communicate well enough or put enough time or energy into making the review useful to everyone.

However, the process doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Providing feedback to others is a skill that requires tact and finesse. Leaders can make the process useful to everyone by avoiding the most common mistakes.

  1. Being self-referential

A prior manager I had could turn any performance review conversation into a diatribe about how he would do things. Don’t make this mistake, as it only serves to alienate employees. I will never be you, nor will anyone else. Tell me how I can leverage my skills, strengths and talents to be successful, not how I should be your clone. Otherwise, disappointment and disengagement will reign.

  1. Criticizing employee for taking risks

Never peg a person as a misfit or someone who can’t learn from a mistake. Great managers know that the best way to encourage creativity and innovation is to let people try different approaches to solving a problem. Reward those who dare to fail. Mistakes are often the springboard for new ideas, so never tell a person that mistakes are unacceptable.

  1. Not taking care of yourself

If you’re low on sleep, eating crappy, fighting with your spouse, hungover, over-caffeinating, or trying to power through the day, your capacity for empathy, leadership and compassion will all be compromised. Make sure you’ve taken care of yourself so you can take care of your team. Angry people make people angry. Make sure your self-care game is on point so you don’t come across as a douche.

  1. “Winging it”

Many leaders dread reviews. Hence, they don’t make it a priority or take the time to sufficiently prepare. Don’t “wing it” or reschedule the review because something “important” came up. Rather, write a thoughtful review, plan what you would like to discuss, and have the meeting when you said you would. This communicates that the employee is important and valued.

  1. Leaving employees feeling forlorn

I’ve heard so many managers say they think it is their job to do all the talking in the review. Employees often don’t know how to participate. Lead them through a Q&A so they can reflect on their performance. By the end, the two of you should have collaboratively come up with a plan to improve, with you expressing encouragement. My motto for this is: “Always leave them with hope and action.”

  1. Talking only about what’s not working

A spoonful of sugar makes the “needs improvement” pill go down easier. Even if you are a fair boss, unless you really are Mary Poppins, your employees probably don’t look forward to performance reviews. The best way to make an evaluation go well is to first lead with the positive. Tell them what they have done right and then move into areas for improvement. When addressing needs, be sure to help them create an action plan so they feel elated instead of berated.

  1. Making comparisons to other employees

It is important that an employee be recognized for their unique skill set and what they bring to your organization. A major faux pas is making direct comparisons of other employees. It creates an underlying tension and feelings of resentment amongst employees and their leader.

  1. Using the number system

A lot of performance feedback is based on a number system, e.g., 1-10. This is the quickest way to demean an employee as well as put you in a position to debate on every single item that is being checked. You may think they are a 6, they believe they are an 8, and yes, they have examples of why you are wrong. No one walks out feeling good. Drop the number ratings.

  1. Using the feedback sandwich model

We were once taught to “sandwich” negative feedback: praise, criticism, praise. Let’s permanently ditch that approach; it’s ineffective, dilutes the message, and makes positive feedback suspicious (employees get used to waiting for the “but…” followed by criticism). Offer praise and criticism independently of one another. This is more respectful of the employee and builds trust between you.

  1. Talking too much

Typically a manager approaches a feedback conversation as a soliloquy and not a conversation. Don’t talk at your employees; talk with them. People buy into their own ideas more than anyone else’s. If you want the feedback conversation to create action, take these three steps: talk less, ask more questions and collaborate on an approach. Empower your employees and see the feedback become impact.