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HUMAN RESOURCES

Maximizing Performance: Feedback... before it's too late!

Three things happened last week that made me recall the vital importance of feedback in an organisation. The first was part of a client operational review to assess what was needed to improve performance. The emphasis was on training, but other things were glaringly obvious. One key element that emerged was the incredibly useless performance review approach that was being used. There was nothing relating to "performance" in the review format. Rather, it was all about virtues and behaviours.
The managing team was frustrated because the form and exercise were supposed to produce information on performance, improvement made, and areas that needed attention... or training needs. But, for some reason, the criteria that had been selected for review had little to say about this. No one had checked prior to the meeting.


Mari Novak

Three things happened last week that made me recall the vital importance of feedback in an organisation. The first was part of a client operational review to assess what was needed to improve performance. The emphasis was on training, but other things were glaringly obvious. One key element that emerged was the incredibly useless performance review approach that was being used. There was nothing relating to "performance" in the review format. Rather, it was all about virtues and behaviours.

The managing team was frustrated because the form and exercise were supposed to produce information on performance, improvement made, and areas that needed attention... or training needs. But, for some reason, the criteria that had been selected for review had little to say about this. No one had checked prior to the meeting.

The second event was related to a cooperative project. Each person had a responsibility to deliver part of the work. Some of the participants did very little, claiming they were too busy. Those that had taken the time and fulfilled their commitment (and handled their normal workload) were a bit taken aback. But instead of saying something, they swallowed their resentment. They were not sure how to give constructive feedback. Since the manager had not checked the ongoing progress, she now had a bigger problem than just a late project... she had to re-motivate the better workers.

Lastly, when coaching a junior manager in some requested skills, I realised that the person thought she was doing an excellent job. The senior manager, however, believed the person was doing poorly. The senior manager was considering what was done toward projects that were delegated. The junior manager saw the checklist in front of her. Guess what! The tasks that the junior manager was working on were the wrong tasks. She was doing them brilliantly, but they were not what the manager wanted. She had conceived of the project in a totally inappropriate way, and done the wrong things right! But there had been no monitoring or feedback to correct her until the damage had been done. Her performance was poor because she had not done the right thing.


Steven Kelly

This brings us to communication loops. All of these incidents took place in the same office, just metres apart. There should have been interaction, face to face contact, status checks - no magic is required to prevent these problems from cropping up, it just takes a small amount of focus and attention along the way. Too busy? Just consider the implications of not doing it.

Now consider the complications when you are managing by email.

There is increasing research, evidence, and anecdotal experience to know that people write, respond to, and use email quickly and casually. In other office communications of 'yesteryear', there was a chance to rethink how an important piece of information is stated. With the volume and the quick turnaround of email, you are getting lots of information, but how do you know what is said in an email is correct? Do you get enough information? Are people sharing information or dueling?

The use of email to communicate and manage projects and work groups highlights the need to have clear messages, confirm them, set up monitoring and evaluation standards, and make sure there is feedback on the issues. The weaknesses that we have developed in "normal time" and management approaches are highlighted by the separation and speed of the email.

So, in real time, and e-time, take the extra effort to insure that the message has got through. Get people to summarise, give short status updates, and by all means don't wait until it's too late to make simple corrections.

Mari Novak and Steven Kelly are partners at KNO Slovensko. Their column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to kno@kno.sk.

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