Posted by Meg Bear on March 14, 2008
We are always hearing people complain that performance evaluations require a lot of work and always seem to miss the mark. Those of us who are looking to help automate the process absolutely agree that the systems today are too complex and we are, of course, looking to ease that pain point, but even when the paperwork is simple that still wont be enough.
The biggest problem here is not a software problem. Nor is it really the fault of the desire of HR to put down a repeatable system of measurement. Where the process breaks down is, of course, that it often lacks honesty, I mean real honesty.
I like the way Debora Dunn expressed this in the HBR article
“I feel there is no greater disrespect you can do to a person then to let them hang out in a job where they are not respected by their peers, not viewed as successful, and probably losing their self-esteem. To do that under the guise of repsect for people, is, to me, ridiculous.”
Maybe it is just that I have always been well aware of my weaknesses, that I find myself surprised that often people are not aware of where they are strong and where they are weak. I probably have to thank my family who were so quick to provide me with early feedback
You are a crybaby, a snob, a wimp, a bad dresser, a geek, stubbern, opinionated, always think you are right, and so on…
Why is it that our families are able to tell us these things and never have us doubt that they like us anyway. Maybe it is that these kind of phrases were followed up with things like “oh, and can I borrow some money?” I guess when you have mutually assured destruction you build an alliance that transcends brutally honest feedback.
Of course, some of my flaws have softened over time, in fact, I’m pretty sure few really know that I’m a crybaby anymore. I have also managed to build elaborate systems to work around some of my other flaws. For instance, my lack of fashion sense is currently solved by having a style coach and personal shopper on my team. While I didn’t actually post the job description that way, I did change the job requirements based on the skills of the individual.
Still lots of my core flaws remain and have produced quotable feedback items like
“Meg does not suffer fools gladly” or “sometimes a more tactful approach is appropriate”
In fact, as far as I can see there is really only one character flaw that was not first identified by my family. The reason is, that they are to blame. In my family the only way to get a word in any conversation is to quickly jump in during a pause. Turns out, that in the “real” world people see this as interrupting, who knew?
So what is a manager to do here?
Realize that honest feedback is not mean, lack of feedback is mean
Recognize that feedback is not just constructive. In fact, the best feedback is pointing out those traits that you want to continue. It works with puppy training and it also works with humans. Yes, you heard it here first. Positive feedback works better. Try it.
Remind people that they will make more progress if they play to their strengths and get support for their weaknesses. When possible, help move people into roles that play to their strengths.
Understand that feedback has the most impact when it is timely. When you observe a behavior that warrants a comment, give it, as soon as you can.
Finally, be sincere. Sincere in your motivation about why you are giving feedback and sincere about the content of the feedback you give. If you really care about the people who work for you, then you want to help them. You are not filling out the form because HR is forcing you to, you are providing feedback because you want the person to benefit.