Performance feedback must be related to a performance

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Have you ever received performance feedback about what you say and do in a 1:1 meeting?

Have you ever received performance feedback about your contributions to a team meeting?

Have you ever received performance feedback about not attending a team event or party?

Were you frustrated about this?  I would be.  Here’s why:

The performance feedback is about your interactions with your manager and not about what you are doing on the job.  This is an all-too-common phenomenon.

If you are getting feedback about items external to your job expectations, but not external to your relationship with your boss, you aren’t receiving performance feedback.  You’re receiving feedback on how you interact with your boss.  The “performance” that is important is deferred/differed from your job performance, and into a new zone of performance – your “performance in front of your boss.”

OK, so now you have two jobs.  1. Your job and 2. Your “performance in front of your boss.”

Managers often conflate the two.  The manager mistakes your “performance in front of your boss” for your job.  And perhaps even manages exclusively to this.

Let’s take the example of Andy. I n the weekly 1:1 meetings Andy has with his boss, he raises lots of issues that need resolution – this helps him unblock and prioritize and helps him do his job.  He asks a lot of questions of his boss.  He asks for opinions.  He mentions the areas of indecision he has and the pros and cons associated with the options.  He might have a lot of detail in the thinking about the issues and concerns.    Once he performs this collaboration with his boss, he goes back to his job, and is more decisive, clear, and focused, knowing that he has the support of the direction he’s received.

So Andy is doing a good job.

Well . . . that’s his actual job.

The “Performance in front of his boss” job is going terribly for Andy.

One day (or perhaps its not until the performance review), Andy’s boss gives him “feedback”:

–You provide too many details

–You are indecisive

–You don’t know how to prioritize

–You need to be more concise

–You don’t know how to drive things to resolution

(Note: these are examples of bad performance feedback since they are generalizations, but they are also common examples of feedback).

All of these things are untrue with Andy’s performance on the job, but they are all true with his “Performance in front of his boss.”

This is a trap that many managers lay.  And it is one that the emerging field of Management Design needs to design out.  Managers too often use their interactions with their employees as “the sample of work observed.”  The employees are using the manager as a resource to get the job done, while the manager acts like interactions with the manager is the job output.

Current management design typically makes it easy (if not the default) for managers to use their individual impressions and interactions with their employees as the sampling of employee performance.   Better management design would discourage this – it would require managers to provide evaluation and feedback on interactions and output external to the employee/manager relationship.

Does your manager seem to give you more feedback on how you interact with your manager, rather than what you do the rest of the time while on the job?  Then your manager is in need of some better management design.

Related articles:

A tool for how to tell if feedback is relevant to your job

What inputs should a manager provide performance feedback on?

A model to determine if performance feedback is relevant to job performance

A second phantom job many employees have: Managing perceptions of others

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 managers can do about “intangible human-based artifacts”

Three reasons why giving performance feedback based on indirect information doesn’t work

Bonus! Six more reasons why giving performance feedback based on indirect information is risky

Tips for how managers should use indirect sources of information about employees

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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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  1. […] often default to more extraneous areas of job performance, such as perceptions of others and behaviors in meetings that are indirect (at best) to job […]

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