One of the
things that supervisors find most uncomfortable is to give performance feedback
to their employees. It doesn't matter whether they are talking to private
sector or government employees, they simply don't look forward to these
situations. After all, no one likes to give their subordinates what is often
viewed as bad news, nobody likes confrontation and no one that I know looks
forward to the fallout from a feedback session that doesn't go well.
it doesn't have to be that way. On the contrary, if these sessions are looked
upon as an important and necessary part of the regular performance management
process, and are handled in the manner described below, they can be both
extremely productive and positive - even if negative news is conveyed and
keys to a successful session actually occur before, during and after the
session. They involve the employee 1) being told in advance what is expected of
him; 2) receiving the requisite tools and training; 3) being given regular feedback
on his performance so the information discussed at the session is not a
surprise; and 4) being given honest information at the session and the
opportunity to provide his perspective.
discuss each of these keys in more detail:
should be told in advance what is expected
It is impossible to succeed if you don't know what
is expected of you. I don't think anyone would argue with this. With respect to
individual performance management, employees should receive clear performance
standards that, at a minimum, let them know what they need to do to retain their
jobs (sometimes referred to as the "fully succeeds" level) and what they have to
do to exceed their standards and qualify for an award (sometimes known as the
"far exceeds" level.)
the employee has a position that is transactional in nature, it should be
relatively easy to assign numerical expectations to each element of his job.
However, if the job is more difficult to measure, I recommend developing a
quality review sheet that can be used to assign a score to each project the
employee completes. In this way, you will be able to provide the employee with
an objective measure of his overall performance and have documentation to prove
receive the requisite tools and training
I believe that all supervisors want their
employees to succeed (unless they make and take things personally, which is a
big mistake). It therefore stands to reason that, as a supervisor, you should provide each of your employees
with the tools and training needed to do the best possible job. A good way
to do this is to provide each employee with an individual development plan (IDP)
when the employee first starts working for you. Identify what is needed in terms of tools
and training and when you will provide it. Ascertain the employee's perspective at
time you have a performance feedback session (I recommend they be held
monthly, or at least quarterly), review the IDP with the employee. This will
ensure that these important topics will be fully explored.
Employees should be
given periodic feedback, so the information discussed at the session is not a
A good rule of thumb is that an employee should
always be able to see coming any personnel action involving him, whether positive or negative. That means the employee should be able to reasonably predict appraisals,
awards, etc. This can only happen if management has reliable consequences for
every level of performance and employees receive periodic feedback as to
how they are doing relative to the expectations of management.
there are reliable consequences, employees will conclude that management is
serious about the systems, serious about implementing them consistently, and
serious about working with employees to help them succeed.
Employees should be
given honest feedback at the session and the opportunity to provide their
Whenever you hold a feedback session as a supervisor, I recommend
that you begin the session by asking the employee how things are
going and what if anything the employee needs from you in the way of assistance.
In this way, you will immediately learn how the employee sees things and be
prepared to adjust the remainder of the session if the employee's views are different
from yours. After the employee provides her perspective, I suggest that you repeat what you think you just heard in order to ensure that you're both on the same page. In this way, your employee will feel she has been
heard, which is an important part of any supervisor-employee relationship.
that, you should provide the employee with feedback. The feedback
should focus on how the employee is doing relative to management's
expectations. Clearly state what is going well and what is not going
so well relative to these expectations. Moreover, provide the
employee with both data and examples in order to make her perspective as clear
this point, ask the employee for her reaction and ensure that you understand her perspective. Keep the session focused on the employee's
performance and don't let the discussion go too far afield.
next step is talk about what the employee can do to improve and what if any
additional help you will provide. This is also the time to review
the employee's IDP in order to identify if there are any gaps in the
plan/implementation. By taking this approach, you will both be working together
towards a common goal and end the meeting in a positive manner.
While feedback sessions can be difficult, using the
approach described above will ensure that these sessions are a consistent and
integrated part of your overall system of employee performance management. By
the same token, it will ensure that these sessions will generally go well and lead
to a mutual commitment for improving performance.
More insight from Stewart Liff:
Improving Government Performance – Part Five : Posting Performance Information
Improving Government Performance – Part Four : Writing Employee Performance Standards
Improving Government Performance – Part Three : Employee Metrics
Stewart Liff writes on human resources management issues in government for OhMyGov. A recipient of the President's Council on Management Improvement Award, he is the author of five books, including the just-released Improving the Performance of Government Employees. His expertise includes employee relations, labor relations, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), performance management, staffing, training, rewards and recognition, metrics, systems design and succession planning.