That’s the question we would all like an honest answer to!
But how many of us feel that we get it; and how many of us as supervisors and managers can say that we truly and without exception, give our people honest answers?

Managers dread the annual performance appraisal interview. It’s time consuming. It can involve conflict. They worry that if they give high ratings, but are not able to give large salary increases, people may become de-motivated. They worry that if they give low ratings, people will definitely become de-motivated!

Employees dread the annual performance appraisal interview too. They fear criticism. They are scared that they will become emotional and defensive. The process feels unfair when managers seem to have made up their minds before the interview and don’t ask for employee opinions. People are scared to speak up, admitting to lack of competence or confidence, in case they are accused of having poor attitudes or worse, of being obstructive.

The real problem is that poor performance goes unchecked. Many people can testify to the years of performance appraisals they endured in which they were given “satisfactory” ratings, before being retrenched, or fired for incompetence. Confronting poor performance is never easy, but the alternative is even more painful. As a manager or supervisor do you really want to be surrounded by a team of under-performing people?

How am I doing?

If you are responsible for giving others feedback on their performance, here are six steps you can use that will help you answer the question honestly, and help your people perform to their potential.

1. Set the tone for the conversation

Make it clear that the purpose of the discussion is to help the employee, not punish or evaluate. Open the conversation in a way that sets a safe tone for what will follow. Separate any talk of salary from feedback on performance, in both time and place. Find time and a place for the conversation that is comfortable and safe for both of you.

2. Start with the facts

Do your homework: have the facts of the person’s performance in front of you and use the best of them. Describe them without accusation or exaggeration. Facts provide an anchor for the conversation while allowing disagreement on their interpretation.

3. Explain how you see it

After you have put the facts on the table, explain how you feel about the person’s performance. Give positive feedback where it is warranted. But if you are disappointed with the performance, say so. If the person has let you down, say so. If they made an undertaking that they have broken, explain how you feel about it. Explain the implications of continued poor performance. The strength of your feelings about the situation provides the motivation for the conversation and underlies the need for improvement.

4. Invite dialogue

You’ve explained how you see and feel about the situation: now you need to hear the other person’s take on it. Ask open questions and listen carefully to the answers. Acknowledge what you have heard and understood. Use empathy where appropriate. Clarify where necessary. Don’t move on to discussion of what to do until you have properly heard the employee out.

5. Move to action

A very common mistake is for the manager to tell the employee what he wants done.

Don’t tell! Ask!

The more you tell, the less likely you will be to obtain commitment from the other person. As far as you can, build your ideas onto those of the other person.

6. Obtain commitment

Summarise the actions agreed and discuss how progress will be tracked and evaluated. Agree a follow up date – and stick to it!

When people become comfortable discussing performance in this way, conversations are easier, quicker and more productive. It takes a little time and practice, but everyone who wants an answer to the question, “How am I doing?” knows it is time well spent.

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