Mastering the feedback process

Updated: Oct 31 2005, 05:30am hrs
How often do you communicate to your team about their performance Do you wait for performance appraisal time to address issues with them If the answer is "yes", then you are far from being a smart manager (though not an uncommon one). Evaluation time is often associated with negativity as managers confront their juniors on what the latter should not have done or have fallen short of achieving. A good manager must never wait for six months/a year to give feedback to his team members. Where the feedback is negative or positive, it should be on an ongoing basis. It is a skill that they have to master with a lot of caution.

Performance appraisal should not spring any surprises apart from the happy news of a good raise. There are at least 16 reasons why people don't perform the way you want, according to Ferdinand Fournies, author of Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed to Do and What To Do About It, "The one who loses most when an employee fails is the manager; the one who gains the most when an employee performs well is the manager." Consequently, it is the manager who must intervene to assist the employee to perform appropriately.

Understanding the process

Appraisals have nothing to do with feedback, asserts Minoo Dastur, Chief Operating Officer, Nihilent Technologies. "Feedback should be given all the time-in the context of objectives-and throughout the year. These should be in planned sessions. There should be at least three to four feedback sessions (formally around the person's growth)." Employee appraisals are pure HR tools, and the cycle for both should be separate.

It is important to understand the purpose of the feedback process. "Feedback is a part of the cyclic process towards improvement. Hence there is probably no 'right time' as against the 'wrong time' if the feedback is geared towards improvements. If the feedback intends to be judgmental then it needs to be timed. Positive feedback perhaps has no 'proper' time; it is human nature to be happy hearing praise or encouragement. Hence such feedback may only motivate not otherwise," explains Harish Bhattiprolu, Director-Sales, Kenexa Techno- logies. He points out that prudent management practice would distinguish between those issues which are tied to strategic performance and those which are rather tactical and of everyday nature. "Those which are important for performance evaluation (as part of criteria of evaluation) must be highlighted at the performance appraisal; however routine or everyday observations and operational feedback may be given continuously," adds Bhattiprolu, reminding that it is quite important to apply adequate discretion in raising issues.

Caution is however the key. Suhas Nerurkar, President, TVA Infotech feels that while feedback has to be at least once in three months and in some cases immediate if needed, however, it is not a good idea to give feedback too often over trivia-as this makes the employee uncomfortable (feeling of being watched). "Furthermore feedback should never be given in the middle of a crisis. It should always be done when pressures are relatively lesser," points out Nerurkar.

Delayed feedback

A delay in communicating to a team member about issues concerning his work is considered an unpardonable offence on part of the manager. Agrees Sai Gundavelli, CEO & President, Solix Technologies, "Delayed feedback is unpardonable. Every individual works for the benefit of the organisation. The manager shouldn't wait till the end to declare that the employee was doing the right thing or not. He should spontaneously and constructively keep track of the developments to ensure he doesn't miss the boat along with his staff." He acknowledges that managers often dread and struggle with the performance appraisal process-sometimes over how to communicate and sometimes in trying to understand the effect of the feedback they are providing. "It is a key skill a manager has to have to ensure that his/her appraisal style and wording of different pieces of performance feedback result in a constructive open discussion that helps avoid any pitfalls in the appraisal process."