In a previous blog, I pointed out that the desired outcome of any performance feedback session is to produce better performance after the conversation. They should be called “feed forward” sessions. While this may sound obvious, leaders often tell me that their goal is to "Get the person to understand..." or "Have the employee do their job..." WRONG! The entire focus of these sessions should be improving performance after the sessions.
So why do many feedback sessions, especially those criticizing performance, fail to accomplish their primary objective? Usually it’s because the leader commits one or more of the common mistakes made when giving feedback. These include:
1. Providing vague feedback. Telling someone they are "Not performing well" or "You need to improve your presentations" does not identify the specific behaviors that need improvement.
2. Judging the individual instead of the behaviors. Saying "You were too harsh" or "You need to be a better communicator" is a judgment of the individual that puts them on the defensive.
3. Talking too much. Because many leaders are uncomfortable during a counseling session, they tend to talk too much. Don’t give advice, talk about your own experience, and spend too much time problem solving. Criticism is difficult to hear and you need to give your employees time to digest it.
4. Misusing the sandwich technique. Providing criticism between two complements sounds like a good idea, but it is seldom executed properly. The employee often perceives the approach as manipulative.
5. Exaggerating. Using terms such as "never" or "always" are loaded with the emotional baggage. As soon as the employee hears them, they imagine all the times when they did not do what you claim that he did.
6. Using passive-aggressive humor. Saying "Glad you could make it" when someone comes five minutes late to your meeting is both indirect and ineffective.
7. Concluding without a plan. Ending a counseling session without a follow-up plan is like driving to a new restaurant in a strange city without a map. You'll end up somewhere, but it probably won't be fulfilling.
So, which of these are you guilty of? How do you avoid them?