Tips for Effective Employee Reviews

Performance reviews are a common practice for organizations – they can provide vital feedback and can help guide improvement measures when needed. With that being said, providing feedback through a performance review can be challenging – how do you provide constructive criticism? What should be covered? How often should these performance reviews occur? To learn more, FullStack sat down with BoxScore’s Patrick Burke to learn the ins and outs of performance reviews and how to provide (and receive) feedback that’s useful and measured.

F: What’s the best way to give constructive feedback? 

P: First, receiving constructive feedback is easiest when coming from someone who also sincerely requests feedback, themself.  So, before you start giving very much feedback, demonstrate that you’re the person who asks for it yourself. Second, give it as often as possible in small bites so that no single exchange feels like a major deal or a major dump of accumulated stuff.  Make it feel like a normal personal interaction that happens, without calling a meeting to do it. Third, give affirmation – positive feedback – every time you can.  Then, when something constructive needs to be said, it will be easier to listen to and not so threatening.  Try to maintain a strong positive – to – negative feedback ratio. Finally, when you’re about to give constructive/negative feedback, it often helps to simply ask permission first: “Can I give you some quick feedback on that customer call?” The employee will, of course, say yes.  But now, with their permission, your comment will feel more relational and less critical. Feels more like an investment in the person rather than a knock on them.

F: How often should managers and employees be giving and receiving feedback?

P: Continually!  The most effective feedback is the least threatening feedback, in both directions.  Each simple and caring feedback encounter earns you the right for the next one and so it goes.  If feedback only happens once a year – in the boss’ office – the impact of any critical comment is magnified many times and creates defensiveness.

P: We like to use the term “Formative feedback”.  This is an ongoing series of simple but meaningful touch points along the way as regular work happens.  Each simple touch yields actionable, micro adjustments with the potential for macro impact over time. And positive feedback is especially formative, since the person now knows that you truly value the way she did that particular thing. Don’t keep people guessing about what great performance looks like.

F: What are some misconceptions about giving and receiving feedback as both a manager and employee?

P: Managers often under-estimate how desperately their best people want feedback.  They want clarity on how they can grow, develop and advance.  And their best people aren’t afraid of constructive feedback either – it helps them grow even faster. Great employees/teammates view lack of feedback as neglect. On the other end, under-performers sometimes hide from feedback and a weak manager may go along to avoid a confrontation. But a manager owes it to the organization and to the high-performers to provide that constructive feedback and insist on appropriate performance levels. Lots of small, consistent, ongoing touches makes it much easier. One thing we often remind people: When you receive some surprising or negative feedback, it can feel like something bad just happened to you or that your relationship with that person somehow changed. In reality, that person has been thinking this all along.  The only thing that has changed is that you are now aware of it – and now you can do something about it.  That’s a gift and a feedback win!

F: After feedback is given/received, what should be the next steps for both the manager and employee?

P: That depends on the type of feedback. A brief encounter may be all it takes for an employee to see your perspective. And positive feedback doesn’t really need a next step, unless it’s to tell someone else about the great job this person did. If it’s more complicated, offer to discuss it again in a couple days, after the employee has had a chance to reflect on it.  They might have follow-up questions. If it’s a significant issue, a manager should jot down a quick note with the date and the summary of the conversation, in case the issue recurs.  If it happens again and you discuss it again, a follow-up email to the staff member may be in order, documenting both of the conversations.

F: For many managers and employees, feedback is a one-way street from the top down. How can more managers and leaders incorporate upward feedback from their employees?

P: There is an unfortunate legacy of unilateral performance evaluations just being handed to employees at the end of the year, with minimal, if any, input from them.  And, to make things worse, these evaluations often suffer from a “recency bias” where the manager seemingly overlooked many of the strengths and accomplishments of the employee throughout the year and focused on a few mistakes or performance issues from the last few weeks or months before the review.  That often makes it feel unfair and frames the review process as adversarial. Fortunately, this is much less true these days as leaders see the value, impact, and necessity of regularly and fully engaging with their employees.One of the best ways to build this engagement level is for leaders themselves to demonstrate their sincere desire to receive constructive feedback from their staff – the ones often closest to the customers and the problems. This happens when leaders display an attitude of vulnerability, openness, and receptivity.  They create simple channels for feedback in the normal course of the work.  They acknowledge and thank employees for their feedback and then they respond to it constructively and act on it, when appropriate. This kind of leader response adds fuel to the feedback engine and builds a genuine culture of feedback, where it’s not only safe – but valued!

F: Speaking of culture – how does company culture relate to employee and managerial feedback?

P: Feedback – in either direction – is really nothing more than one person sharing their perspective with another. The value an organization places on regular, candid, and constructive feedback speaks tons about their culture, their hierarchy, decision making processes, staff development, care for individuals, etc. The value of ongoing feedback may well be the primary driver of employee engagement: “Does my voice matter here?” If the feedback in your company is infrequent or only top down or only negative, your culture may well be driving out your next generation of leaders. 

F: Finally, how does BoxScore help companies and managers with improving their ways of giving and receiving feedback?

P: A few years ago, we created the thing we felt was missing from the feedback world.  We built a very simple, SaaS application to facilitate quick and formative feedback in many different settings.  It’s fully customizable but designed so that users can provide meaningful and immediately actionable feedback in less than 30 seconds. This allows for lots of ongoing, real-time formative feedback which create those small touches. Our users get tons of affirmation they’d never know about and they can also give and receive those small bits of constructive feedback, creating a continuous improvement loop.  And – even better – each touch may be the prompt or ice-breaker for a quick conversation. Simplicity with flexibility yields strong response rates, which adds continually to the feedback and engagement culture companies want and need today.

Thank you again to Patrick Burke from BoxScore for sharing his insights into giving and receiving feedback. To hear more about Patrick’s journey as an entrepreneur – give a listen to his recent appearance on the Savage to Sage Podcast