Want to Improve? Ask for Real Feedback

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Not the dreaded performance review, please no, I hope that we don’t have to succumb to that institutionalized excuse for feedback and performance.

I have heard a variant of this throughout my corporate working life. Being on both sides of the equation, both as an employee who received feedback and as a manager who provided the feedback, I can say that what modern corporate America has put in place leaves a ton to be desired.  For sure the experience is one that everyone on the receiving side dreads.   As a manager, it was imprinted upon me in my HP days that performance reviews were a key part of my management job to ensure that the organization performed well.  But it was a part of the job that amusingly I chose to work on during airline flights where there was literally nothing better to do (ouch).

The Horror, The Horror

How many of  you have experienced these horrors of performance evaluations?

  • The feedback is provided with no concrete examples of the behaviors I am being dinged by
  • My manager is only relying on what my “non-supporters” are saying
  • My boss asked me to write my own evaluation
  • I never received an evaluation
  • I am being evaluated on how our project went and for a variety of reasons outside of my control the project was not successful
  • I am totally shocked at the feedback (often followed closely by a process to get rid of me….)

This list could go on.  On the manager side of the equation:

  • My employee only emailed people who are giving him glowing comments, where are the rest of the people to get a balanced perspective
  • Doing more than a dozen of these evaluation is burning me out…time to cut corners
  • I wish I collected anecdotes through the year
  • The only negative feedback I am receiving is from my manager
  • This employee spent most of the year working for someone else and now I can’t  get more than two sentences of feedback from them, or on the flip side I don’t have time to send a review for someone who only worked for me for 4 months this year

Where should I begin?  How does a regular employee who is looking for that great performance evaluation start?  I have experienced many systems, methods and tools for the performance evaluation process.  Some systems were yearly, others were spread out across the year.  The most creative process I experienced was with a chip design group in HP that disassembled and reassembled teams with every chip release.  They organized as the projects turned over and after the end of every project (involving 200 or so people) they did performance evaluations for the project cycle. By the time the corporate system was needed for the formal review, all the supportive information was already documented.  I was very impressed with this system.  It was one of the core competencies of this organization.

Time for Something Different

There are no perfect systems, but as an employee and manager, the performance evaluation process is a less than desirable experience.  In fact, companies are starting to ditch the process.  Timelines are faster than 12 months, for both the project and the need for people to get feedback and for the organization to improve.

Where does one go from here? My current thinking is that people need to ask for feedback continuously.  This means asking your boss every two weeks or once a month for a one-on-one meeting to provide feedback on how you can improve your performance.  Some managers are surprised by this tactic and don’t have anything queued up to discuss. Others ask for time to think about it and get back to you.  Do not wait for the performance review.  Also ask peers of your manager.  This is important for getting the promotion (I have a future blog on that topic).

Ask for Direct Feedback

Even more importantly ask the people you work with, both within your group, and your cross-disciplinary project teams for feedback, perhaps as the end of a sprint, or release cycle.  Getting that direct one-on-one feedback from a peer is an art that you need to develop over time.  As kids, how often  did we ask a parent for direct feedback?  We would usually slink around when we knew the parental units were close to providing direct feedback.  So this is something that is unpleasant, but we need to work on getting that feedback.  Sometimes your company will enlist you in a 360 degree process where feedback is provided by your manager, your peers, your partners and your direct reports.  Often the analytics break down the responses by relationship.  When you take the time to analyze this sort of data and look at the results honestly without judgement, it can help you immensely.  In the absence of this data, ask for that feedback.  In fact I often tell people who work for me to get that feedback by scheduling quarterly “joint feedback sessions” with peers.  Learning how to break that ice and “confront” a peer with their behavior (and let them confront issues they may have with your behavior), clear the air, and move on to a new understanding and behavioral patterns will help you enormously.

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