Along with yuletide cheer and rain, the end of a year usually brings with it the year-end performance review process. That it's an annual or bi-annual process is required to manage a firm-wide process with many moving parts. But the process mostly lacks heart and has little impact or meaning for those being assessed.

An interesting report from Oxford Economics makes the point that annual isn't good enough. Some 50% of high performers say they expect at least a monthly sit down with their managers, but only 53% say their manager delivers on their feedback expectations.

Aside from getting the frequency wrong, the truth is most of us are unbelievably poor at providing feedback.

As a coach, I take time at the beginning of the relationship with the coachee and their line manager to identify and agree goals for the coach client. I've been surprised at how senior leaders can stumble and bumble their way through these conversations. Across the board, the line managers fail to be specific about what it is they want from coachee. Proposed goals like "be more strategic in meetings" or "be more open to new ideas" are impossible moving goals posts for person being coached. When I challenge the line manager to explain what success might look like, we are met with more vague looks.

In fairness to those of us in the corporate world, we've never been trained on giving feedback. We've learnt through our own experience of receiving and most of that is shockingly poor. My own experience of HR support in annual performance reviews is unhelpfully focused on standard distribution of scores. This works well for management of the masses by HR but is of little use to you in motivating and inspiring your team.

The need to provide honest perspective, at times negative, can unstick the bravest of leaders. There are some points to keep in mind when providing feedback:

  • Be clear you are giving feedback and ask permission. Don't trap someone in a lift and offer feedback. If you start feedback with "Oh, and by the way," your timing is definitely off. The word 'feedback' is a trigger for many so allow the recipient the choice of time and place.
  • Give context and be specific. State clearly what behaviour you observed and what the impact was on you and the team. Avoid labelling behaviour. For example, "When you were 20 minutes late for our presentation to the board, I felt let down. I'd really like to understand why you were late." Having the courage to name the impact on you and the team makes this real for the recipient and hard to hear it as a criticism.
  • Give feedback as soon as possible. Waiting for the annual feedback process in Q4 to give feedback on something that happened in January is unhelpful. The chances are the recipient won't remember the event. If you are looking for behaviour change, you need to provide feedback as soon as reasonable after the event.
  • Be open to hear what the recipient of the feedback has to say. You hold only one perspective on what happened, so stay open and respectful to hear the other side.

It's time we upped our game on feedback, and what better time to start than January.