When we talk about ongoing performance conversations we almost always think of the manager giving feedback to employees. But if you can build in a way for managers to also get feedback from employees, your performance conversations become a true dialogue that benefits both parties. This two-way communication is the heart of ongoing performance management - a process that helps employees achieve their goals, and in the process, help the company thrive.
However, it can be tricky for employees to give feedback to managers. To create a productive conversation, you need to structure it so that it's easy, feels safe and produces useful results.
Focusing the conversation on specific topics
Rather than tell managers to ask for generic feedback, or demand that they invent their own questions, you can give them specific suggestions on topics you know are relevant. You can find some great ideas for these questions from Google, which set up a team to find out what makes a good manager.
Three important things Google identifies are:
- Managers should provide specific, constructive feedback.
- Managers should empower their team and give stretch assignments.
- Manages should express interest in employees' well-being and make new folks feel welcome.
These can easily be turned into questions managers can use to get feedback:
- Is there anything I could start doing to ensure you get more specific, constructive feedback?
- What kind of stretch assignment should I give you in the future?
- Is there anything I could do to make our next wave of new hires feel welcome?
Making the conversation safe and comfortable
You may have noticed that I used a trick from executive coach Marshall Goldsmith on structuring the questions: The questions are about the future not the past.
Instead of having managers ask the uncomfortable question, "How well did I give you specific, constructive feedback?", we encourage them to ask for suggestions on how they could do it better in the future.
It may seem like a subtle difference, but it's an important one. Just spend a moment imagining how these two alternative approaches would play out: the first where a manager asks an employee to rate their past behavior, the second where the manager asks for a suggestion about something they could do in the future. Talking about the past feels like the manager is asking for an evaluation of their performance, whereas when a manager asks about the future, they're offering the opportunity for the employee to collaborate on a better process. The second option is easier for the employee and will be more productive.
The other essential to making Goldsmith's technique work: when the employee gives feedback the manager must not critique or debate the suggestion. Imagine an employee giving feedback and the manager replying, "That would never work because..." That would discourage the employee from making another suggestion. Managers must simply listen to the feedback and then say, "Thank you." Saying thanks doesn't mean that they'll follow the suggestion; it means the employee has been heard and the manager is appreciative of the feedback.
A culture that supports continuous feedback
If we are revising performance management then we want a culture that supports continuous feedback. We can get there by offering managers support on how to have those feedback conversations. Managers like specific scripts they can use. This may seem like spoon-feeding, but anything that makes it easier for managers to build relationships with their employees is welcome. You can do some of the thinking for them by providing well-thought-out scripts for short, comfortable and effective continuous feedback conversations.