Solid Feedback

During this first month of the year, three clients asked for help on the annual review they needed to give a specific employee. Each had concerns about how to address challenges – knowing their direct reports were likely to react poorly.

My response was to have them stand up, look toward me and describe what they saw over my shoulder. Then I asked them to turnaround and look out the window. “How much of what you see now is the same as when you just looked at me?”

They quickly understood: what happened during 2014 is in the past and nothing will change that. The goal of a review is to look forward… identifying what went well and what didn’t – then mutually agreeing to build on strengths and work on areas that need improvement. The approach should be a robust dialogue about opportunity – not a “you did a good job, but…” listing of shortcomings.

Back in the day when I was managing a lot of people, I kept a cartoon on the bulletin board of my office: ‘If you don’t have something good to say, drop it in the employee’s file and save it for his review.’ It was a reminder to address issues throughout the year as they appeared: to create a culture of continuous improvement, instead of a company with an environment of fear and dread over a once-a-year meeting.

Last week one of the clients sent me an email update: “Had the review with Joe today. It went well. Calm. Cool. Collected.”


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