4 Tips for Mastering the Most Difficult Performance Management Conversation

In a recent article for the July edition of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Ignite! newsletter, senior consulting partner Ann Phillips describes three types of conversations managers need to master—goal setting, feedback, and one-on-ones.

One element within the feedback conversation—redirection—tends to be especially challenging for managers. It focuses on those times when a manager must provide feedback that a direct report’s current performance is off-track.

In their book The New One Minute Manager, coauthors Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson lay out a time-tested approach to help managers deliver needed feedback. Here are 4 key takeaways you can use to improve your feedback skills.

  1. Do your homework

Before you rush to deliver feedback, make sure clear agreements about goals, norms, roles, and expectations have been established. Often the root cause of poor performance is a lack of clarity around goals. Verify with your direct report that the two of you are operating from the same set of expectations. Many performance issues can be rectified at this stage.

  1. Focus on behavior

If goals are clear but there is a gap between expectations and observed performance, talk about it with your direct report. Describe their behavior in specific, not general, terms. Use a neutral tone to ward off any sense of blame or judgment—remember, you are addressing the behavior, not criticizing the person. The goal is not to tear people down; it is to build them up. As Blanchard and Johnson explain, “When our self-concept is under attack, we feel a need to defend ourselves and our actions, even to the extent of distorting the facts. When people become defensive, they don’t learn.”

  1. Let it sink in

After giving feedback, pause for a moment so you both can process the situation. Let your direct report feel your concern as well as their own.

  1. Move on

When it’s over, it’s over. Don’t dwell on the experience. Be sure to reaffirm your belief, trust, and respect for your team member so that when your meeting is over they are thinking about how they can improve their performance, not about how you mistreated them. Expect that the feedback will be received and acted upon. And be ready to endorse and praise performance when you see improvement.

Giving performance feedback is a critical job responsibility of any manager, but it can be a daunting task for many people—especially when the feedback is less than positive. Managers don’t want to generate negative emotions, damage relationships, or make a bad situation worse. As a result, managers often delay or avoid giving necessary feedback, allowing poor performance to continue.

Don’t let that happen to you or to the people in your organization. With a little practice you can develop the skill of delivering feedback in a way that changes behavior while keeping the relationship intact. Feedback is an essential managerial skill. Take an extra minute to improve your skills in this important area!

Would you like to learn more about improving the quality of performance management conversations in your organization? Join Ann Phillips for a complimentary webinar on Performance Management 101: 3 Conversations All Managers Need to Master. The event is free courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies. You can learn more and register using this link.

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