Performance Feedback – Ever faced a situation when you were walking blindfold and fumbling your way through? Performing a job without seeking feedback is somewhat like that. You grope your way through hoping you will somehow reach your goal, but chances of that are quite slim. You need to know where you are going, whether you are doing the right thing or not, and how you are doing. The only way to find out is through performance feedback.
Performance appraisal and evaluation is at the core of human resource management. We all work to earn appreciation, rewards, and a steadily increasing pay package.
At the end of the appraisal period, when all this is denied to us saying we haven’t performed as per company expectations, it comes like a slap in the face. Why didn’t they tell me earlier? You want to scream.
If you had sought out feedback on your performance from time to time, perhaps you would have sensed that you would have to put in extra efforts to come up to expectations. You would have understood the deficiencies in your output and would have corrected the areas where you were going wrong. So performance feedback is the key to doing well on the job.
Now, it is quite obvious that in a formal work setting you can’t just barge in into your boss’ cabin and demand to know what he/she thinks about your work. There is a time and place for eliciting feedback.
So how do you go about it and what is the process? Before we go into that let us discuss what performance feedback is and how it differs from casual general feedback.
Performance feedback constitutes:
- Periodic exchange of feedback between your boss and you on how you are doing in your job
- Comparing actual job performance as against what was planned at the beginning of the performance review period
- Two-way exchange of inputs in which the job-holder (you) will state your constraints and problems and your supervisor will attempt to understand what holds you back
- An attempt by your supervisor to coach and counsel you in tackling your problems and roadblocks
Feedback on performance can be given at regular intervals. It can be as frequent as every fortnight or maybe once a month, depending on the rapport you share with your boss and how he perceives your performance. If you are comfortable with it, you can seek feedback as often as you think necessary. However, be careful not to nag your boss about it, or keep asking for feedback whenever you do something.
Ideally, the place for exchanging performance feedback should be a quiet setting, where people won’t walk in or overhear. It may be in your boss’ cabin or a secluded conference room; anywhere you both know you won’t be disturbed. You need to switch off from distractions and get into the listening and communicating mode.
This is the most crucial part of the process. A look at the diagram below will simplify the process:
The employee (you) seeks performance feedback from your boss. In the process that ensues, you share your problems and hurdles, and your supervisor or manager gives you a patient hearing. He/she promises to help in removing these hindrances, and also counsels you on how you can perform better. He/she explains what is lacking in your performance, and where you need to go.
Let’s take the performance feedback example of Sharad. An extremely soft-spoken reticent person, Sharad was the Assistant HR Manager in a firm. Six months into his job, he was enjoying his work, but was also becoming aware of something amiss. His colleagues kept him at arm’s length and other department employees stopped their talk when he passed. He was puzzled why people were avoiding him when he had done nothing wrong. One day, his boss Meera called him to her cabin, and explained to him the reasons behind his exclusion. By nature, he rarely mixed with his coworkers, hardly chatted or gossiped, and was never known to share confidences with anyone. Added to that, he was the big boss’ favourite. So everyone had assumed that he was the spy of top management, who needed to be kept at arm’s length. Sharad protested that he had never told tales to anyone neither had he ever attempted to cozy up to the top bosses. Meera agreed that she knew that, but others didn’t. The perception of Sharad among his coworkers was that as a human resource person, he was too aloof and cold. Sharad asked his boss to help him fix this problem. Meera and Sharad formed a plan of action so that he could redeem his image with colleagues and bond with coworkers.
So this was a case when performance feedback was based on behavioral aspects and involved a planned change of future behavior.
Performance feedback may be on behavioral aspects of the job, or on other aspects like:
- Under achievement of targets or performance goals
- Problems with customers or other stake holders
- Failure to adhere to office protocol or regulations
- Lack of motivation on the part of the job holder
- Conflicts with other employees
- Routine matters
So how do you go about seeking feedback to know how you are doing or where you stand?
Step I : Seek Time To Talk
Speak to your boss about your need for performance feedback and seek time from him/her. Keep in mind the fact that your boss might be busy at that moment and probably put off such a serious topic for a later date. Don’t be discouraged. These are sensitive topics that require deep thought and thorough attention. If the process is done half-heartedly or with a distracted mind, it turns out self defeating. Your boss too needs time to get into the right frame of mind to give you feedback.
It’s okay if he/she just nods and/or changes the topic. The matter has gone home, you can be sure of that. Sooner or later, you boss will call you and arrange a meeting between you two.
By taking initiative in seeking feedback you manage to convey:
- You are concerned about your performance
- You are proactive in addressing areas of improvement
- You are motivated about your work
You have earned yourself brownie points already!
Step II : Get Prepared for Performance Feedback
Do your homework before you go for the meeting. List the areas you will be discussing and seeking feedback in. If there is an urgent issue in hand which needs to be tackled with the boss, address it first. Don’t keep it for the performance feedback meeting.
The performance feedback discussion will be led by your boss, true, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot draw up your own agenda for it. Keep a list of your KRAs (key result areas) or KPAs (key performance areas) in hand. You will be able to structure the discussion well and keep it focused on your performance.
Step III : Keep an Open Mind
Be prepared to listen to criticism and complaints. A performance feedback discussion is never complete without both sides cribbing about each other, so take it in your stride. Your boss will first address your weak areas and probably remind you of your shortfalls. But in the course of the discussion, he/she will also mention your achievements, and laud you for it.
Take the good with the bad in the right spirit. An open attitude will allow you to admit your mistakes and accept suggestions for improvement. Listen with an open and unbiased mind.
Don’t presume your boss will haul you over the coals. He/she is not there to make your life miserable. If there is something your boss does criticize about, first examine it for its truth. Maybe, you were getting too laidback. Maybe, you did not pay due attention to details while preparing the client report. Maybe the sales presentation you gave was actually half-heartedly prepared. Be prepared to face and accept reality.
At the same time, do not keep apologizing for things beyond your control. State your point of view clearly and mention the roadblocks you are facing at work. That way you both will be frankly discussing areas where your performance can be bettered.
Step IV : Keep the Discussion Focused on your Work
Do not use the performance feedback session as an opportunity for venting your grievances against all and sundry. You are peeved with your coworker, okay. Your customer is giving you heartburn, right. But you still need to deal with those as part of your job.
The feedback session needs to focus on how you will improve your work. Your boss will help you in tackling the hurdles. But don’t blame everyone for your lack of performance. That is not professional, it is simply childish.
So instead of saying:
“X did not give me the inputs when required. That’s why I could not finish the report in time.”
“I know I could not finish the report as per schedule. But that was because I was expecting better inputs from X, so that the report could be well rounded.”
See how the message goes across? Your boss will get the point, without your complaining.
At the same time, if your boss gets too personal in criticizing you for your job behavior, gently remind him/her that this discussion is meant to tell you how you are performing on the job. So the feedback should focus on your work, not personal traits.
Step V : Draw up a Plan of Action
The performance feedback session should ideally end with a concrete plan of action to remove the pitfalls of performance. Your boss and you can draw up a list of areas where you are going to put in extra effort, and the areas where he/she will handhold you or support you more.
For example, you need some inputs from the finance department for finishing your client proposal. In spite of repeated reminders, the accounts person does not give you the data. Your boss can put in a word with the Finance Manager to arrange to give the required inputs.
Or maybe your aggressive nature has led to a customer complaining against you. You could offer to make up for it by being courteous and polite to the same client henceforth. You could also promise to check your attitude while dealing with other customers.
Or maybe there is some conflict with coworkers in your division. Your boss can promise to look objectively into the matter and intervene to establish peace.
The plan of action that you both agree on will have a specific time period i.e., one month or a fortnight. Keeping it time-bound ensures action is effective.
- If you need more autonomy in a particular area of work, mention that to your boss. But keep in mind that it also means extra responsibility. Be prepared for what you ask for.
- If, on the other hand, you are feeling overburdened by responsibilities mention that too. You probably have too much on your plate. Ask your boss to relieve you of some minor duties, or ask for assistance in these areas
- If some aspect of your work is worrying you, discuss it with your boss. It maybe something minor, but it may snowball into a big issue later.
Don’t restrict getting feedback just from your boss. Seek out supportive colleagues and seniors from other departments, to tell you how you are doing. Customers, who you have been doing business with for a long time, will be able to give you relevant inputs on your performance. 360 degree feedback gives you an overall perspective of your strengths and weaknesses as seen from different angles.
You will soon learn that finding out how you are doing on the job is not difficult at all, as people are more than eager to tell you. It is getting the relevant and effective feedback that will help your performance improve that ultimately matters.
At the end of the day, you are the one ultimately responsible for the ups and downs of your performance. Therefore, the responsibility for seeking performance feedback and acting on it also lies squarely on you.