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Performance Reviews: How & When to Give Constructive Feedback.


Performance reviews are often the source of anxiety for management as well as employees. How do you deliver constructive feedback? How often should you deliver it? Is there a process I should follow?

First and foremost, the performance review process is not something that happens on a sheet of paper once a year. At least it shouldn’t. It should be set into your company’s culture and part of what you do as a leader every single day. Regular feedback is essential to creating a culture where employees not only feel appreciated for their efforts, but also feel like their employer cares about them and wants to see them learn, grow, and succeed. It fuels employee satisfaction, which fuels performance and retention.

When done properly, feedback is truly a gift.  Providing direct and actionable feedback in a timely manner can be critical to someone’s career development.   Because of its profound impact on your team’s success, I’m dedicating a three-part series on performance reviews. In this first edition, I will discuss best practices for structuring feedback.

Across the board, with any kind of feedback - positive or negative – remember that these are just conversations. Real, honest, ongoing, two-way conversations. Here are a few guidelines for making them constructive and meaningful:

Be consistent. According to a Gallup poll, employees are 3.6 times more likely to be motivated to do outstanding work when their manager provides daily feedback versus annual. Make it a habit. When you notice someone’s performance, talk to them about it. As a general rule, nothing should ever be written on a formal performance review that is a surprise.

Be Timely. The best time to give feedback is shortly after the occurrence, with a general rule of not allowing more than 48 hours to pass. The longer you wait, the less impactful your feedback will be and the more likely you’ll forget to give it. Delaying feedback happens more frequently when it’s negative, but keep in mind: the sooner you provide it, the sooner they can learn from it.

Be specific. Tell them exactly what they did, right or wrong. Avoid obscure compliments like, “Great job today!” Instead, say “You did a wonderful job in that meeting. You provided a comprehensive agenda in advance, clearly explained your points, optimized everyone’s time, and sent minutes immediately afterward. That was exceptional.”

Be organized. Write it down, both the good and the bad. Keep a record of the performance and date it so you can reference it in the future.

Giving negative feedback is tougher, of course. All of the above still apply, but the conversation should generally follow this structure:

  1. Clearly and professionally state what occurred and the impact it had in a neutral way.
  2. Explain the impact of the action.
  3. Communicate what you’d like for them to do in the future.

The employee should walk away knowing what didn’t work and what they need to do differently next time.

The more performance conversations you have, the easier it gets. Employees come to expect it and depend on it. Other leaders start to realize they can have an impact on behavior and performance, and it very organically drives a transparent, focused, and productive team.

Originally published in  Small Business Monthly's October  issue of 2023 by Julie Tuggle-Nguyen, EVP of Human Resources