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Performance reviews: balancing the scales on feedback

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Performance Reviews

When you’re giving feedback, neither constant praise nor endless criticism is any good.

Many leaders fall silent when something is done right. Even worse, unrelenting criticism undercuts morale and kicks up anxiety, killing any joy that people take in their work.

Astonishing but true: A boss was giving a three-year performance review involving 360-degree feedback from more than 50 colleagues. The responses were overwhelmingly favorable. The boss managed to dig out a few criticisms and acknowledged that there weren’t any major problems.

Then he administered this swift kick: “Of course, the fact that you lost your son this year probably made it hard for anyone to say anything critical.” As soon as he found a new job, that employee was gone. And the boss’s career stalled.

Even if you offer only praise, one-sided feedback still gives employees a false picture of what’s going on and no idea of how to make it better. Without knowing how to move forward, they get stuck.

You can fix it, though. If you consciously decide to do more than correct problems, people not only hear what’s working well but also feel appreciated, which is worth its weight in gold.

Lesson: Never assume that the right balance of praise and instruction is going out to the troops. Besides striving to give balanced feedback yourself, make sure all your managers learn to do it, too.

— Adapted from Deep Smarts: How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom, Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap, Harvard Business School Press.

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