Performance Management - Make Feedback Immediate
One of the most powerful transformations that managers and employees can make is to move from thinking of feedback as loosing to thinking of feedback as learning. Too often feedback is perceived as a negative experience, a correction in behavior, which focuses on an underlying shortcoming. However, the power of feedback comes from the fact that it provides useful information that contrasts current results with an expected standard of performance. This makes feedback an opportunity to learn and to develop strategies for success. Infrequent feedback helps to perpetuate the model of feedback as loosing particularly when the only feedback that employees receive is tied to the annual performance review which typically includes some form of rating. Even when the overall review is favorable feedback on expectations that were not met will still feel like a loss because it will be perceived as deducting from the rating.

There are three reasons to provide immediate feedback. Fist is that immediate and frequent feedback results in more cycles of learning which allows employees to accelerate their move up the learning curve. An annual performance review model means that an employee is getting only twenty cycles of learning in a twenty year career. Delivering feedback on a daily basis could create the same twenty opportunities in only a month. Second the events are fresh in everyone's mind which results in fewer differences in memories of the occurrence. Feedback that results in a 'Yes you did. No I did not' encounter is a loosing proposition. It is difficult to have a meaningful interaction when the facts are in dispute. Third immediate feedback avoids the problems that occur when issues go unaddressed. A manager who does not provide timely feedback when standards of performance are not met conveys implicit approval. When employees do not get feedback they will assume that what they are doing is working or at least is acceptable and likely will continue the behavior.

The easiest feedback conversation to have is one that addresses a single recent event. When the first occurrence is not addressed, the behavior is repeated and becomes a pattern. A conversation about a pattern of behavior will catch the employee unawares. After all, they thought things were going well and now unexpectedly they are not. Delayed feedback by a manager will support the story that 'the rules keep changing'. If feedback is further delayed and patterns of behavior which do not meet performance standards become well established, then relationship issues will arise. Delaying feedback creates the opening for managers to believe that continually unmet expectations are the result of an employee's character. From the employee's perspective, the manager's failure to share calls into question the manager's candor and undermines trust.

To make the transition from feedback as loosing to feedback as learning managers must give immediate feedback. The course is easiest to correct when the deviation is smallest. When a potential problem occurs or when an expectation is not met, find the first available private moment with that person to give the feedback. Doing this regularly will increase the number of learning cycles, avoid the development of problematic behavior problems, and develop a relationship of candor and trust.

Maret Maxwell PhD
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