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Darci Ahlin-Stiere
HR Solutions, LLC
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Human Resources Update
Giving Feedback
By Darci Ahlin-Stieren

e have been through quite a storm these past couple of years. Our work environments have fluctuated with the way we engage and connect with each other. Many have found themselves shifting to a virtual or hybrid work model that has reduced impromptu conversations; instead we find ourselves scheduling zoom calls or trying to connect in person.

Finding our new normal has meant changing how we communicate and revisiting some of our programs. One example is shifting away from traditional annual performance reviews by forming a more continuous feedback approach. This is not to say an annual review does not still occur, it just means a different approach is taken leading up to the review.

Illustration of three people with different color speech bubbles above them
Rethinking Feedback
When we think of a review or official feedback, some of us are reminded of sitting in class, waiting to see our graded test. We think we know how we did, but we do not know until we see the results. However, through breaking the annual review cycle and establishing a line of ongoing, honest communication, we can bridge the gap between employer expectations and employee performance. This approach is intended for everyone, and not just reserved for a certain group of employees.

There are many opportunities throughout the course of the year to offer coaching or give feedback about performance or development and address issues that directly impact employee performance. When regular real-time conversations can take place, it has a direct correlation to growth and development and increased engagement.

Feedback can be given throughout the year and, as it becomes part of your routine, you will find those feelings of anxiety surrounding the annual review begin to fade, both for the person giving and the person receiving the feedback.

Characteristics of Regular Feedback
  • Concentrate on the behavior, not the person. One strategy is to open by stating the behavior in question, then describing how you feel about it, and ending with what you want. This model enables you to avoid sounding accusatory by using “I” and focusing on behaviors, instead of assumed interpretations.
  • Balance the content. When relevant and authentic, I encourage the “sandwich approach.” Begin by providing comments on specific strengths. This provides reinforcement and identifies things the recipient should keep doing. Next, identify specific areas of improvement and ways to make changes. Conclude with a positive comment. This model can help to bolster confidence and keep the areas of concern in perspective.
  • Be specific. Avoid general comments that may be of limited use to the receiver. Try to include examples to illustrate your statement. Offering alternatives rather than only giving advice allows the receiver to decide what to do with your feedback.
  • Be realistic. Feedback should focus on what can be changed. It is useless and frustrating for recipients to get comments on something over which they have no control. Also, remember to avoid using the words “always” and “never.” It can be triggering, and human behavior is rarely that consistent.
  • Own the feedback. When offering evaluative comments, use the pronoun “I” rather than “they” or “one,” which would imply that your opinion is universally agreed on. Remember that feedback is merely your opinion. If you do use words like “they” or “we” be prepared to quantify “they” or “we,” otherwise it can be perceived as if everyone has been talking around them or about them rather than to them.
  • Be timely. Seek an appropriate time to communicate your feedback. Being prompt is key since feedback loses its impact if delayed too long. Delayed feedback can also cause feelings of guilt and resentment in the recipient if the opportunity for improvement has passed. As well, if your feedback is primarily negative, take time to prepare what you will say or write.
  • Offer continuing support. Feedback should be a continuous process, not a one-time event. After offering feedback, make a conscious effort to follow up. Let recipients know you are available if they have questions, and, if appropriate, ask for another opportunity to provide more feedback in the future.
Change Has Benefits
The typical annual performance review process, on its own, does not inspire self-confidence or engagement, nor does it really drive employee development or growth. The antidote for this seems to be consistent, impromptu feedback. When an employee is aware of expectations and is not afraid to ask for guidance, they are more likely to maintain engagement, increase performance, and remain with the company!
Darci Ahlin-Stieren, PHR, CPC, principal of HR Solutions, LLC, is a certified human resource practitioner and leadership coach with more than twenty years’ experience. A trusted resource and business partner, Ahlin-Stieren offers scalable human resource outsourcing solutions, training, and leadership coaching.