Busting out of the shackles of bureaucratic process feels great. I’m excited by the changes I’m seeing in the annual performance review process. Many companies are replacing the dreaded once-a-year day of judgment with systems that encourage ongoing feedback and honest conversations about workplace effectiveness. Bravo!
I’m coaching Jerry, who leads a team in a company with a technology-enabled messaging platform. With the new system, people are told to give each other feedback all the time. He’s noticed some new pain in his team: Feedback fatigue and inconsistent participation. A bit of political maneuvering and swapping of favourable comments. Criticism cloaked as helpfulness. Time wasted defending and resisting. Time spent trying to please more vocal colleagues. Confusion about what good performance looks like.
Jerry wants to provide good leadership to his team. We talk about the emotional aspects of getting, and giving, unsolicited feedback on our work. We detail the interpersonal skills which some lack. We discuss how a system that increases speed and volume of input might backfire. We explore how a leader can help others navigate the complexity of such interconnections.
Jerry sees four support roles this new performance management system calls for:
- Balancing: In a busy workplace, irritated people might be quick to comment on what’s gone wrong, but forget to talk about what went well. Our brains are wired to hear negative messages more loudly than praise. Jerry can help put the proper emphasis on the feedback, downplaying what is least helpful or inaccurate and increasing a focus on the positive. He can encourage those who are feeling demotivated by too much criticism.
- Sorting and discerning: In a flood of commentary, which views are most relevant? Jerry can help his staff to prioritize the input and to decide which are goal-specific and crucial to ongoing success, and which – while accurate – could be ignored at this time. He can help prevent an erroneous focus on “people-pleasing” when what’s needed is to resist pressure from others and champion change.
- Meaning-making: Once the feedback is balanced and sorted, Jerry can help the receiver make sense of it in a larger context. Placed in a broader horizon, how does this specific comment offer clues to a larger development need? Jerry’s supportive listening and questioning skills can help his team member to stay real and wake up to what they already know. By offering a safe space to be vulnerable, Jerry will encourage the recipient of feedback to find personal meaning in the information.
- Coaching: Good leaders are interested in helping others to grow and flourish in the workplace. Together, Jerry and his team can design ways to respond to the relevant feedback. Jerry can demonstrate patience and care, knowing that no one can change overnight, and provide real-time face-to-face support specific to the development goal.