Performance Feedback is about next time
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.