In my previous articles, I advocate that managers provide performance feedback based on direct observation. This way, the feedback is more likely to be specific, immediate, and behavior-based. All good things. The best sources are observation during practice, direct observation during a performance, and tangible artifacts.
Yet, managers receive lots and lots of data about employees’ performance from indirect sources: Other employees, customer feedback, the “big boss.” I generally advocate that managers refrain from “giving feedback” based on indirect sources of information, because they have some serious disadvantages:
(This article uses examples of the boss’s boss giving feedback about an employee, but the same goes for peer feedback or customer feedback given to a manager.)
1. Indirect feedback tends to provide non-specific summaries and vague generalizations.
Let’s say your boss likes one of your employees a lot. She tells you, “John really nailed it this week.” This is great! But you have no idea what it is that John did that earned this praise. Giving feedback to John on this – even when positive — is kind of awkward: “I have some feedback for you, John. Sarah says that you ‘nailed it’!” It’s great to give the praise, but without the specifics, it doesn’t make much sense. John will say to himself, “Okay, I’m not sure what I did, but I’ll take it.”
In the negative example, when the boss says, “John is screwing up, do something about it,” the manager is in the situation where it seems like performance feedback is necessary, but on what? Even though it is “from the boss,” recognize that it’s incomplete and vague. (If the boss’s boss were a “manager by design,” this kind of non-specific feedback wouldn’t be given, and would be more behavior-based.)
This is the latest in a series of articles on what inputs a manager should provide performance feedback on. The three best sources are practice sessions, direct on-the-job observation, and “tangible artifacts”. The reason these are the best input to provide performance feedback on is that these are the closest to the performance, hence performance feedback is possible. The intent of providing performance feedback is that this feedback will help performance improve. The better the feedback, the more likely the performance is going to improve.
It’s a fairly simple model that often gets messed up. Here’s why:
After “tangible artifacts,” there the are lots of other thing that employees produce — and managers receive a lot of input about an employee from these – but, as the label implies, these are less tangible (see this article for a general overview) and therefore less useful for providing performance feedback on. So let’s talk about perhaps the most common of these inputs, what I call “intangible human-based” artifacts and how managers should use them.
Intangible, human-based artifacts:
There are intangible artifacts related to the people they work with that an employee produces. These are things like “relationships” or “valued customers” or “buy-in from a partner” or “sales.” These are all human-based outcomes that the employee can “produce,” and in many jobs, these are the thing that the employee must produce.
Since these are human-based “artifacts”, a manager looking at the artifact – i.e., talking to the person or seeing the person’s comments from a survey — is seeing only an indicator of performance, and not the performance itself. Here’s what I mean:
Imagine walking in at the end of a dance performance. The performance is over and you see the crowd stand up and clap and yell, “Bravo!” The dancer created the intangible human-based artifact of the “delighted audience.” Awesome!
This is clearly an indicator that the dance performance went well, but you cannot provide performance feedback to the dancer. You can comment on the audience’s reaction, “Wow, the crowd really loved the performance!” But you are still perhaps curious as to what the performance looked like, and the best you can do is inquire to the dancer, “Did you do all of the steps as we discussed?” It’s better to watch the actual performance so you can say, “I loved that massive jump you did during the finale – such extension!”
I advocate that managers provide performance feedback using direct observation as much as possible. In my previous articles, I recommend that managers set up practice environments and attempt to observe the performance directly to understand how an employee performs. I feel that if this is not done in your work environment, this is bad management design.
There is a third form of “direct observation” a manager can use to provide performance feedback: tangible artifacts.
When an employee does their job, they create all sorts of “artifacts” – the things they are supposed to produce. These can be things such as a project plan, software code, an analysis, an engineering schematic, a recording of a customer service call, a plate of food, etc. I call these things tangible artifacts. If you can print it out or touch it, then it is a tangible artifact. So email would be considered a potential tangible artifact. It is basically something that the person produces, whether digital or physical.
With tangible artifacts, the manager can provide performance feedback to the employee. In many cases this is a great source of direct observation of the employee’s performance. The manager can sit down with the employee, observe the artifact, and say what it is that is good or should be changed about future artifacts. If it a call center agent, the manager can listen to a recent call by the agent, and discuss what was correctly done and what should be done differently. The manager can also look at the “artifact” of what the agent did in the Customer Relation Management system, and provide feedback on this. In a restaurant, the manager can taste the food and look at the presentation of the foot, and provide feedback on what the employee did that created the results. Too much salt?
There are times when the artifact is so far off the mark, it is hard to determine what the employee did to create it. If this is the case, then the observation of the artifact is not direct enough, and more direct observation is needed. Read more
In today’s article, I continue my series of sources of direct observation managers can use to provide improved performance feedback. Previously, I discussed how a manager can use practice sessions to provide specific and immediate feedback that dramatically increases the chances of high quality (and aligned) performance when it counts.
In today’s article, I discuss direct observation of the actual on the job performance as a source of performance feedback.
I advocate that managers should give performance feedback based on directly observed performance. However, there are some guidelines that need to be observed in attempting this.
1. Give performance feedback during the performance only if it doesn’t ruin the performance
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. Read more
If you are a manager, you get lots of inputs in regards to how your employee is performing. Let’s do a quick review of some of these places:
- Direct Observation of Employee Behaviors
- Employee Output and Artifacts (emails, presentations, documents, code, tangible items)
- Peer Feedback
- Customer Feedback
- Employees’ Manager of Manager Feedback
- Metrics tied to employee output (customer satisfaction scores, number of items produced, number of sales made, number of contracts negotiated etc.)
Now, what does the manager do about it? Does the manager provide performance feedback on all of these inputs?
The manager should give performance feedback on only the top two – Direct Observation and Employee Output and Artifacts.
The remainder are all indirect sources of information about an employee’s performance. Let’s look at them: