Performance Feedback is about next time

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Here’s a scenario:  Jim reacts badly to a new change in the organization.  He starts telling all of his co-workers how much he doesn’t like the change, and discusses ways to undermine or avoid the change.  This causes increased doubt in the change, and even causes confusion as to whether the change is actually going to happen.

Jim manager has the option of either addressing or ignoring Jim’s reaction.  If the manager addresses it, this would be a performance feedback conversation.

However, many managers avoid the performance feedback conversation.  One reason for this is the manager may believe that Jim’s behavior on the job is deeply embedded in the employee’s personality, and the employee’s actions are innate to their very being.   So a basic thesis emerges that “Jim is just like that.”  There is the belief that Jim just won’t change.  So no performance feedback conversation is necessary.

But this is an untested thesis.  Jim did react badly to the news, but does this mean that he has to react the same way next time?  The answer is—you don’t know until you have the performance feedback conversation.

If you don’t have the performance feedback conversation, the Jim will definitely behave in the exact same way should a similar set of circumstances occur.  His behavior was “negatively reinforced,” meaning that he received no information that his behavior was incorrect and he received no adverse reaction from his manager.   In fact, his behavior may have also been “positively reinforced” when the other employees start agreeing with his arguments about how he doesn’t like the change.  The manager, by being silent, is letting the other forces of behavior determine Jim’s behavior in the workplace.


So the basic thesis that Jim “always is like that” only is true if he never receives coaching or feedback on what he should do instead.  And when the manager does not step in, then for sure this thesis will be proven correct.

So the manager needs to provide an alternative path for Jim to see if, next time, Jim behaves in the same way.  The way to do this is via the performance feedback conversation.

In the performance feedback conversation, the manager provide expectations for what to do next time:

Next time, I’d like you to address your concerns directly with me, rather than expressing your frustration with the larger team.”

By providing a path for Jim to follow next time, it avoids the “negative reinforcement problem,” where Jim now knows that someone (his manager) doesn’t agree with his actions.

Also, the manager can determine whether it is indeed true that Jim reacts to change in the same way every time, or whether he can take coaching, perform differently and behave in a way that helps the team rather than hurts the team.

So think of the performance feedback conversation as an opportunity for next time.  Don’t assume that someone will always behave the same way – find out if this is true or not.

The manager has the ability to modify the behavior of the employees for the better, but if the manager never tries to do this, then the behavior will be shaped by other factors.

The Art of Providing Feedback: Make it Specific and Immediate

An example of giving specific and immediate feedback and a frightening look into the alternatives

Examples of when to offer thanks and when to offer praise

What inputs should a manager provide performance feedback on?

When to provide performance feedback using direct observation: Practice sessions

When to provide performance feedback using direct observation: On the job

Areas of focus in providing performance feedback based on direct observation: Tangible artifacts

What to do when you receive a customer complaint about your employee’s performance

An opportunity to increase the amount of performance feedback on your team

Helpful tip for managers: Keep a performance log

Important fields that an employee performance log should contain – Beginner Level

Important fields that an employee performance log should contain – Intermediate Level

Important fields that an employee performance log should contain – Advanced Level

Providing corrective feedback: Trend toward tendencies instead of absolutes

Behavior-based language primer for managers: How to tell if you are using behavior-based language

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Avoid using value judgments

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Stop using generalizations

The Art of Providing Feedback: Banish the use of “always”

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .

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