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Beyond Year-End Reviews: Strategic Feedback Helps Employee Performance

By: Rebecca Goldberg

Supervising employees is not easy.  Providing constructive feedback can be one of the most challenging aspects of management, but it is crucial to creating and maintaining strong staff performance, so supervisors need to approach performance evaluations and staff feedback skillfully.

The annual review should not be the first time an employee receives feedback.   Successful management is an ongoing process.

Why Provide Feedback?

Feedback helps to ensure employee compliance with supervisory expectations, job standards, policies, procedures, and work rules.  Of course, standards and rules should be announced ahead of time, with training and an opportunity for questions.  Employees should receive coaching when they make mistakes and disciplinary action for violations of these rules.  This should occur as close as possible in time to when the issue arises, not reserved for an end-of-year performance review.

Supervisors are often uncomfortable delivering feedback and it may be tempting to avoid dealing with performance issues, but without feedback, problems may fester.  Additionally, implementing discipline for the employee who violated the rule may be more challenging if a behavior has gone unaddressed for some time.  Employees may have incorrect expectations of their performance and standing when they are never coached about concerns.  Additionally, other supervisors may have a difficult time enforcing the same rules if one supervisor is lax.  Further, discrimination claims may become more likely if rules are not enforced consistently.

Tips for Delivering Effective Feedback

To provide effective feedback, supervisors should not focus only on the negatives.  They should provide praise wherever possible.  Praise should be public, as in a company-wide email celebrating a staff member’s achievement.  Criticism should be delivered in private.  A supervisor who provides a mix of positive and negative feedback is more likely to be viewed in a positive light and employees are more likely to deliver improved performance.

To deliver feedback effectively, supervisors should:

  • Provide both positive and negative feedback as warranted
  • Provide feedback close in time to the situation
  • Discuss what the employee is doing well and what the employee must do to improve
  • Be specific, using objective language wherever possible
  • Explain the reason behind the expectation
  • Invite questions or comments
  • Explain next steps

Supervisors should be prepared to discuss concerns in detail, citing examples.  Vague criticisms are unlikely to assist the employee in identifying the issue and strategizing to address it.  When an employee asks for examples, supervisors should view this as an opportunity to explain the situation, rather than reprimand the employee for “challenging” them.

Documenting feedback provides the employee with notice of the expectations going forward and can also serve as a basis for progressive discipline.  If an employee’s performance does not improve, the documentation will show that the employer tried to address the problem and gave opportunities for improvement.  It also provides a contemporaneous record of events, which may be important should a legal challenge arise.  Documentation should be written using objective language to describe the discussion, how the problem was explained, and any response the employee gave at the time.  It should also indicate that future concerns may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.

Formal Evaluations

When conducting formal evaluations, it is best to use standardized forms for consistency, but ensure that the form is consistent with the job.  Use objective language, including both positive and negative feedback as warranted.  Make sure to consider the entire review period, not just the last few weeks.  Make notes throughout the year of items you want to include on the evaluation.  Consider others’ experiences with the employee, so that their effectiveness on a team is considered, not just their responsiveness to their immediate supervisor.  Make sure to consider each item on the evaluation separately.  Employees are rarely all good or all bad, so focus on specific metrics, not how much you like or dislike the employee.

To ensure consistency among ratings, compare evaluations among co-workers.  Did you rate one employee a “3” and another a “4” when their performance is comparable?  If so, recalibrating the reviews before finalizing them will allow you to provide fair, consistent feedback.

Performance Improvement Plans

A performance improvement plan typically creates specific objectives for the employee to meet within a set timeframe.  Failure to successfully complete a performance improvement plan often results in termination.  Goals should be specific and reasonable, not a set-up for the employee to fail.  Employees often view a performance improvement plan as a sign that their job is in jeopardy and may begin consulting with counsel at this point.  Make sure your own actions are appropriate throughout the process and that the employee is placed on the performance improvement plan for legitimate, documented reasons.

Notice Required by Connecticut Law

Finally, remember that Connecticut law requires that employers include a statement in clear and conspicuous language in any documented disciplinary action, notice of termination, or performance evaluation that the employee may, should they disagree with any of the information contained in such documentation, submit a written statement explaining their position. If an employee submits such a statement, it must be maintained as part of the employee’s personnel file and accompany any transmittal or disclosure from the file or records made to a third party.  Employers should consider the employee’s response to determine if any changes are warranted to the documentation or the action taken, but they are not required to take any action requested by the employee.

Providing employee feedback can be challenging. Following these guidelines will make the process smoother and more effective, while providing the documentation needed in the event of a legal challenge.