What inputs should a manager provide performance feedback on?
If you are a manager, you get lots of inputs in regards to how your employee is performing. Let’s do a quick review of some of these places:
- Direct Observation of Employee Behaviors
- Employee Output and Artifacts (emails, presentations, documents, code, tangible items)
- Peer Feedback
- Customer Feedback
- Employees’ Manager of Manager Feedback
- Metrics tied to employee output (customer satisfaction scores, number of items produced, number of sales made, number of contracts negotiated etc.)
Now, what does the manager do about it? Does the manager provide performance feedback on all of these inputs?
The manager should give performance feedback on only the top two – Direct Observation and Employee Output and Artifacts.
The remainder are all indirect sources of information about an employee’s performance. Let’s look at them:
Peer feedback: This is essentially hearsay, and provides you an incomplete notion of what happened. A manager attempting to give an employee feedback based solely on information provided by a peer will find that the conversation is very difficult, goes nowhere, spends a lot of time arguing points of fact, and provides unclear alternatives for actions for the employee to take. It’s a mess, and warrants its own extended article (coming soon!).
Customer feedback: This, too, is hearsay. The customer can either fill out a survey on your employee, or in many contexts will send direct feedback to the manager. In other contexts, the customer will cease to work with the employee and “escalate” to the manager. This is a form of providing feedback on the employee. However, if what the employee did while engaging with the customer was not directly observed, it is very difficult to know what it was that the employee did, if anything, that caused the customer complaint or compliment. It’s a mess, and warrants its own articles (coming soon!).
Employee’s Manager’s Manager feedback: This is an especially rich source of information about an employees performance, and a particularly useless one. The employee’s boss’s boss has the authority to make assessments and judgments, and will do so based on very little information. The influence is huge as well. It is also is useless (yes, I realize I said this twice in the same paragraph). It’s useless because it is usually based on a meeting the big boss has with the employee rather than observations of the employee performing his or her job duties. It’s a mess, and warrants its own articles (coming soon!).
Metrics tied to employee output: Many organizations fastidiously put together a set of metrics that an employee is expected to drive toward. They are usually quantitative (number of sales, number of support calls taken, number of items reviewed, number of lines of code, number of projects completed), or qualitative (number of defects in output, customer satisfaction scores, return on investment of project). I’m a big supporter of having these metrics! However, I’m not a big supporter of using metrics as proxy for providing performance feedback. That’s because these metrics, however precise, are indirect indicators that are the result of numerous and cumulative actions by the employee and that of the teammates and larger infrastructure. Sure the employee can drive toward these metrics, but the employee is hardly ever solely responsible for achieving a metric. So a manager would be incorrect to point to a metric and tell the employee that they did something wrong if the metric goal is not obtained, because it is simultaneously impossible to isolate an employee’s action that caused the failure, and it is usually not a single employee’s action anyway. This, too, can get messy, so keep reading this blog for ways to manage to metrics so that it doesn’t annoy everyone and actually gets some results!
In short, a manager should not provide performance feedback on items that are indirect and removed from direct observation of an employee’s performance. This is a mistake that many managers make – they actually err on the side of using these indirect sources to provide feedback to employees, but they violate many of the guidelines for providing useful and quality feedback to employees.
In my next series of articles, I’ll provide more discussion on how to use the direct observation for providing performance feedback and options for how to increase opportunities in this area.