Using perceptions to manage: An example of how to transform a perception into improved performance feedback
In today’s article, I take an instance of when a manager feels compelled to use the line “There’s a perception that. . .” as a means to give performance feedback. For example, a manager may intend to “help” the employee by saying, “There’s a perception that you are difficult to work with.” The implied notion is that the perception is the negative impact, and “being difficult to work with” is the behavior that needs to change.
However, this is badly given performance feedback, and there is an alternative!
Citing perceptions as feedback is the reverse order of good performance feedback, so let’s turn it around.
Here are the (compressed) steps for giving performance feedback:
- Start with the context
- Describe the observed behavior
- (Only if it isn’t clear what the impact is) cite the impact of the behavior
- Offer alternate behavior.
Let’s take the example of a manager who attempts to give feedback by saying the following:
“There’s a perception that you’re difficult to work with.”
By leading with the perception, manager reverses the order of feedback and eliminates the other steps. It starts and ends with the so-called impact: The negative perception of being difficult to work with. Aside from the generalization of the employee being difficult to work with, there are no cited behaviors that lead up to the perception. The impact, however ephemeral, is the feedback.
Behavior-based language primer for managers: Examples of how to improve employee corrective feedback and how to get rid of damaging adverbs
An important skill for any manager is to use behavior-based language. This is the latest in a series of primers that help managers modify their language so that they can better focus on an employee’s performance, rather than make the mistake of (mis)characterizing the employee’s value through generalized language or value judgments.
An important step in improving your behavior-based language skills is to reduce the use of adverbs, as they are merely shortcuts that undermine your ability to describe and improve an employee’s performance. In my previous post, I described the process of removing adverbs to improve behavior-based language using examples of positive feedback to an employee. In today’s post, I do the same for corrective feedback.
The intent for corrective feedback is to have the employee stop doing one thing, and start doing another. Using adverbs in your corrective feedback creates a haze over this process, and will likely confuse the employee receiving the feedback. Here are some examples of things managers tend to say that are decisively not behavior-based (and therefore should not be said):
You really let me down.
You’re totally not focused on the right things.
You’re very indecisive.
You make way too many errors.
You’re always late.
The Manager by Design blog explores the core skills that managers need to be good at being managers. A key skill is the ongoing use of behavior-based language. In previous posts, I discussed the need to avoid making generalizations and stop making value-judgments. I’ve also provided the markers for what good behavior-based language looks like. In today’s post, I provide another marker of behavior-based language: Refraining from using adverbs and superlatives.
Step #1: Remove adverbs when describing or discussing your employee’s performance
If you use the common words “very”, “really,” “totally” or “completely” to describe your employee’s performance, you are using adverbs. Adverbs such as these have no place in using behavior-based language and they should be removed. Removing the adverb from the sentence will elevate the objectivity of the statement without sacrificing the content:
|With Adverb||Without Adverb|
|Joe was very effective at closing the sale.||Joe was effective at closing the sale.|
|Mark totally addresses customer needs.||Mark addresses customer needs.|
|Janet really works at finding and resolving bugs.||Janet works at finding and resolving bugs.|
|Rene completely finished her work items.||Rene finished her work items.|
In the previous post, I provided some markers of behavior-based language that will help managers avoid the pitfalls and tendencies (documented here and here) of providing performance feedback incorrectly. In today’s post, I’ll discuss how using behavior-based language makes it easier to transition to evaluating and providing performance feedback to an employee. As a manager, you are expected to evaluate an employee’s performance as part of the performance management process, so getting to the point where you can do this to your employee is important. Here are some tips for getting to that evaluation using the set-up of behavior-based language.
I advocate for starting a performance feedback discussion with observations using behavior-based language, which isn’t always easy, but worth the effort. Here are some examples of starting a conversation with behavior-based language.
“I heard you say, ‘I plan to slack off work next week.’”
“I observed that you came in late in each of the past three days.”
“I saw that you were setting up the presentation in advance.”
“I observe that you code has not broken the build all month.”
When you use this behavior-based language, you naturally build a case toward an evaluative and corrective conclusion.
The Manager by Design blog explores the core skills that managers need to be good at being managers. A key skill is the ongoing use of behavior-based language. In previous posts, I discussed the kind of language that is decidedly NOT behavior-based: Language that makes generalizations about an employee’s behavior, and language that that makes value-judgments. In these posts, I make the case that there is no use for this, even in the effort to be efficient. In today’s post, I attempt to describe what behavior-based language is.
By its nature, language is a slippery thing, so I don’t make the assumption that there is a clear distinction between what is and is not behavior-based. What I advocate is for managers to at least attempt to slide in the direction of behavior-based language in performance discussions with their employees.
This is the first of two parts identifying if you are using language that is behavior-based:
If you manage people, an important skill to have is the ability to consciously use of behavior-based language. This is also known as performance-based language.
This is the second of a series of posts providing tips on how to increase use behavior-based language. In the first post, I described how generalizations, in an effort to be efficient, tend to undermine the intent of changing the employee’s behaviors. A similar mistake that managers tend to make is using value judgments. Using value judgments is an effort to summarize the net impression that an employee is making, but the problem is that this summary completely clouds the behaviors that the employee is doing. Instead, if the value judgment is a negative one, it comes across as a personal attack to the employee. That’s because it is, in essence, a personal attack on an employee.
Here are some examples of value judgments a manager may make in regards to an employee:
You’re not good enough
You don’t have what it takes
Your heart’s not into it
You’re not cutting it
You’re too wordy
Your work is shoddy
If you manage people, one skill you need to develop is the conscious use of behavior-based language. This is also known as performance-based language. This is the first in a series discussing how to transition your language to be more behavior-based.
Behavior-based language is using language that attempts to describe specific behaviors, rather than language that makes generalizations or value judgments. In today’s post, I’ll discuss a common management mistake: Using generalizations.
Examples of generalizations (or generalized language) a manager may use:
“You always show up late for work”
“You don’t seem to know what you’re doing.”
“You’re trying really hard, but it isn’t working out.”
“Your code isn’t up to par.”
“You’re doing a great job!”
“You’re doing a terrible job!”