Performance Management - Giving Effective Feedback
One of the four core competencies defined by the Institute of Certified Professional Managers is management control. In the design of machines and systems control is maintained by using feedback. The feedback loop in a machine maintains the stability of the machine's performance by continually measuring the difference between and expected state and the actual state. This information is used to adjust the machine's performance so that it remains stable and continues to produce a predictable outcome. Feedback is just as important to producing consistent performance when the 'machine' is a business. Here the primary components are not gears and circuit boards but are individuals and teams and yet the same principles for feedback are applied by successful managers. The key elements of successful feedback are 1) it is frequent, 2) it is specific and describes the gap between what is expected and what is being done, and 3) it is used as the basis for a dialogue on how to close the gap.

Too often the model for feedback in corporations is the annual performance review. This is simply a case of too little too late. Watching an individual or team struggle with performance and not providing them with feedback is like watching someone drown and not throwing them a life preserver. Feedback is not a punitive act, it is a gift. The more immediate and specific feedback is the more effective it is in producing results.

Effective feedback is delivered using facts and data. It objectively describes the results that are expected and the results that are being achieved. Closing this gap is the objective of providing the feedback. Effective feedback is free of assumptions, attributions, and judgment. It sounds like, 'Last month his team had $100,000 in sales. The expectation for sales teams is $150,000 a month. I would like to talk about how to close that gap'. It does not sound like 'This team is not working hard enough and its time all of you got serious about getting the job done'. The first example opens the door for a dialogue that lays the groundwork for sustainable improvement. The second example sets the stage for a defensive confrontation that will not produce lasting results.

Finally the feedback becomes the basis for a dialogue on how to close the gap. In the example above it would mean exploring with the team the possible reasons for the low sales and what actions could be taken to increase sales going forward. This is an opportunity for a dialogue not a diatribe. It is important to find the root causes for the disappointing sales and to address them with meaningful actions. Neither a motivational speech nor a scolding will produce lasting results which, after all, is itself the measure of successful management.

To enhance the performance in your organization make frequent use of feedback that is structured around the gap between expectations and outcomes. Paint a clear picture for the organization of optimal business performance. Objectively describe the actual results that are being achieved. Share your thoughts on how the results can be improved and invite individuals and teams to provide theirs as well. From this it is possible to create a successful plan to produce sustainable business results.

Maret Maxwell PhD
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© 2008 MRDC Groups LLC