Areas of focus in providing performance feedback based on direct observation: Tangible artifacts
I advocate that managers provide performance feedback using direct observation as much as possible. In my previous articles, I recommend that managers set up practice environments and attempt to observe the performance directly to understand how an employee performs. I feel that if this is not done in your work environment, this is bad management design.
There is a third form of “direct observation” a manager can use to provide performance feedback: tangible artifacts.
When an employee does their job, they create all sorts of “artifacts” – the things they are supposed to produce. These can be things such as a project plan, software code, an analysis, an engineering schematic, a recording of a customer service call, a plate of food, etc. I call these things tangible artifacts. If you can print it out or touch it, then it is a tangible artifact. So email would be considered a potential tangible artifact. It is basically something that the person produces, whether digital or physical.
With tangible artifacts, the manager can provide performance feedback to the employee. In many cases this is a great source of direct observation of the employee’s performance. The manager can sit down with the employee, observe the artifact, and say what it is that is good or should be changed about future artifacts. If it a call center agent, the manager can listen to a recent call by the agent, and discuss what was correctly done and what should be done differently. The manager can also look at the “artifact” of what the agent did in the Customer Relation Management system, and provide feedback on this. In a restaurant, the manager can taste the food and look at the presentation of the foot, and provide feedback on what the employee did that created the results. Too much salt?
There are times when the artifact is so far off the mark, it is hard to determine what the employee did to create it. If this is the case, then the observation of the artifact is not direct enough, and more direct observation is needed. In the case of the sous-chef — that dish the sous-chef made – it looks terrible, but the lead chef has no idea how it got that way. In this case, the chef needs to watch the sous-chef make the dish and provide feedback along the way. (This is a good candidate for the “practice environment” performance feedback scenario.)
In the example software code, if, after looking at a sample, it is far from your expected level of quality, and it is hard to determine why it is so, then taking the step of directly observing the person create the code would be the next step. Use this artifact as a signal for taking part in more direct observation.
So you can use direct artifacts to provide feedback on (I’d change this, or change that. . . ). Or your can use the artifact as a piece of information indicating more direct observation.
Note that this goes for high performers as well. If you have someone on your team that always writes amazing software code, then sit down with that performer and watch how she does it. You will likely learn a lot!
Take some time to identify the “tangible artifacts” that are related to the performance of the job you are managing. Start (and perhaps end) by looking at artifacts that are most related to the expected job output of the person you’re managing. If your employee is a project manager, start by looking at their project plan. If your employee is a business analyst, start by looking at their business analysis.
Seems simple enough, but how often is this done?
In my next article, I’ll discuss the approach managers should take toward human-based “intangible” artifacts, such as relationships, valued customers, and sales.