Feedbacks, which are used to find fault, point fingers, humiliate and terrorise, are wrongly seen as traumatic. Frequent and mandatory feedback from employees can help the company achieve desired results.

Results should be the focal point of performance appraisal systems. However, performance is often confused with results. This crystalises into inappropriate appraisals, which reward people for effort and not for results. The effect is to institutionalise a system that recognises activity, “hard work” and “busyness” to the detriment of results. Any organisation that desires exponential growth must focus on results instead of performance. Performance is entirely possible without results but results are impossible without performance.

How do we guarantee achievement of results?

Let’s take recourse to time-honoured wisdom! Milestones announce progress on the highway enroute to the destination. They tell us if we are on the right route and indicate the distance and time to destination (like display screens on long-haul jets); that helps us make course corrections and adjustments in speed and progress. In organisations, feedback is the milestone that signals progress of individuals on the journey to their result-destination.

Feedback: Tool for terror?

Sadly though, the very mention of “feedback” sends shivers down the spines of the “victims”. Leaders have, in effect, taught their subordinates that feedback is traumatic and stress-filled. By not understanding the power of feedback to boost results, bosses have used it to demonstrate their power to find fault, finger-point, humiliate and terrorise! That is a poor reflection indeed on the leadership!

Leaders must recognise that their own survival depends on the ability of their subordinates to deliver results consistently. Therefore, it is in their enlightened self-interest to master the art of providing feedback that increases the probability of achieving results. How can they do that?

Firstly, feedback is an empowering process that makes the subordinate realise that she is respected and valued. Therefore, the objective of the exercise is only to determine what is working, what is not and how and when the gap between the target result and the actuals can be eliminated. That means listening with understanding and thinking collaboratively. All ideas and suggestions to bridge the gaps are welcome and worthy of consideration. The only focus is on how to get to the result. Discussions and problem-solving sessions are all acceptable. What is not acceptable is outsourcing the accountability for results. Every subordinate must know, without a shred of doubt, that he or she owns the consequences of achieving or not achieving the result. Feedback is only meant to assist in achieving the result.

Attention to details

Secondly, feedback has to be frequent, pre-fixed and mandatory. You cannot pounce on the hapless subordinate during the appraisal and prove that he does not deserve a raise. Rather, every month the boss has to sit with him and discuss performance and results in painstaking detail. That takes the pain out of the final appraisal! The issues and ways forward have to be subjects of frequent and frank discussion. Unpleasant surprises can’t be sprung either on the boss or on the subordinate during the appraisal.

Thirdly, every feedback session must clearly define specific areas that need to be improved and changes needed in the subordinates’ performance and behaviour. And every one of those changes have to be map to the results. For example, the person may be lax in attention to detail, which spawns errors in billing. This must be clearly identified; he will have to improve to eliminate billing errors in the next cycle.

Fourthly, feedback is not restricted to pinpointing mistakes, non-performance and change imperatives. It is equally important to identify successes, achievements and positives that can all be analysed and learnt from. Further, all these effective methods and behaviours can be replicated and integrated into mindsets, processes and activities. So, the feedback session is also a powerful motivator because it also recognises the person’s successes.

Give and take

Finally, the feedback process can be credible only if the giver also establishes conclusively that he too is ready, willing and able to receive feedback. In other words, feedback is a two-way street in which both parties exchange inputs to improve. Each is a stakeholder in the success of the other; interdependence is vital for collaboration and teamwork, which, in turn, is so crucial to the sustainable delivery of results.

Willingness to receive feedback and act on it is, therefore, the key to the success of the feedback process.

Organisations will do well to design a Standard Operating Procedure for the feedback process based on the areas discussed above. They will be well served also by constructing a statement of purpose for each session. Broadly, this SOP will cover the context, data, what’s working, what’s not working, specific changes required, deadlines, the feedback session calendar and resources required. Such a comprehensive approach will make the entire feedback experience not only effective but also enjoyable.

(The author is a speaker and management expert. He mentors CEOs and business owners)

(This article was published on March 14, 2013)
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