When to provide performance feedback using direct observation: Practice sessions
In my previous article, I discuss how managers tend to rely on indirect sources of information to provide feedback, rather than direct sources of information. This creates a common mistake for managers. They have to rely on some form of hearsay about the employee, and then they provide feedback on what the hearsay says. It is only an assumption that the hearsay is correct, and, for this reason, employees generally don’t like getting “performance feedback” on such hearsay. Also, the feedback tends to not make any sense.
In today’s article, I’d like to discuss how to increase the amount of performance feedback based on direct observation.
Here are three “sources” of direct observation that a manager can engage in:
- Practice of the performance
- Direct observation of behaviors while they are being performed
- Artifacts that provide evidence of the performance
Let’s talk about “practice of the performance.” Not many managers consider this an option or utilize this, but this is a rich and useful source of providing performance feedback. Imagine an employee needing to do a critical presentation. The manager can improve the chances of success by scheduling a “practice” session of the presentation, in this case, “the performance”.
There are many advantages to this:
–The performer practices and gets better, both by practicing and by getting feedback
–The performer gets performance feedback that doesn’t get conflated with evaluation, since it isn’t the actual performance. That is, the performance feedback is “safer.”
–The performance feedback is specific to the performance and immediately given. You can stop the “practice” at any time and give feedback. That makes it as specific and immediate as possible, and increases the chances that the feedback will be behavior-based.
–The performer and the manager are aligned in what the expected performance is
–The manager has “skin in the game” for the performance
And it doesn’t have to be only on “big events” like a presentation. You could have a manager sit down with a software developer to see how they perform some of the expected tasks in a non-production environment. If the software is doing it right, the manager can say, “you’re doing it right.” Performance feedback is provided and everyone is happy and aligned. If there are some behaviors that can be corrected, the manager can provide that feedback.
If the intent is on giving performance feedback to improve the performance, employees generally crave it. (As usual, the performance feedback needs to be behavior-based, to avoid generalizations and to avoid value judgments. Also, the manager needs to be prepared to describe the preferred alternative behavior.)
If it is a new behavior, such as a new system implementation or process, this is an excellent way for a manager to proactively take control of managing, rather than wait for things to go wrong and be surprised when they do. Sit down with the team and see how they do the proposed new process, and let them know what adjustments, if any, they need to make. If they are doing it right, praise them. This increases the confidence in both the manager and the team in the new process.
Should things go wrong after the launch, the manager can eliminate “user error” as a reason for it going wrong, and focus on the real forces that are causing the problem. Should it go right, now the manager and the team have something to collectively celebrate.
So managers: Direct observation of behaviors is possible. Try to find ways it can be done in a practice environment, and this generally creates the opportunity for more honest dialog, improved specific and immediate feedback, and higher confidence of the “in-production” work.
If you don’t have a practice environment, then this is a management design flaw, as it takes away a major tool for managers to manage effective and smartly, and for employees to get better at their job.
Do you provide practice opportunities to your staff? Do you create feedback opportunities during those practice sessions? For you management designers out there – do you create practice time and environments for your employees to get performance feedback?