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A Delicate Conversation:

Providing Performance Observations 

As we begin a new year, some things in the business world don't change - and they shouldn't. One of the essentials is providing employees and colleagues with productive performance observations that either support what they are doing well, or guide them back on track towards successful performance.  While giving and receiving observations about performance can be a delicate process, there's no doubting its value in helping to identify and solve issues. 


It's a universal fact - we have all been there - people often view this type of conversation with fear and anxiety - their brain tells them to prepare for "knock down" time. This is why it is so important to create a sense of safety as you provide the most effective guidance you can. Believe it or not, people who receive feedback apply it only about 30% of the time, according to Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner, who cited that research at the NeuroLeadership Summit in Boston. If the person receiving the feedback doesn't feel comfortable, this can cause the feedback to ultimately be unproductive. If you don't have a close relationship with a colleague or employee that allows you to say virtually anything to each other, then I recommend you go for handling the conversation in a positive way with civility and safety as your approach. Don't be mean-spirited. The conversation usually won't be productive if it's concentrated on making the other person feel bad or make them look foolish in front of peers. The intention here is to help employees and colleagues improve and grow; discussing where they are and next steps in terms of expectations and goals - yours, theirs, and the organizations.


Here are some signs that a conversation is necessary:

  • Persistent problems.
  • Repeated errors.
  • Performance doesn't meet expectations.
  • A co-worker's or peer's work habits disturb you.
  • Someone requests your opinion about how they are doing.

As an effective supervisor or manager, the trick to make this conversation as helpful as possible is learning how to share your observations constructively so that employees and colleagues can understand, respect and use them. Remember, productive observations and guidance are used to build things up, not break things down!


Here's what to keep in mind when sharing your observations:


1. If you can't think of a productive purpose for giving feedback, don't give it at all. Good feedback should always have an intentional destination point that embraces aiming for improvement.


2. Be descriptive rather than judgmental. Describing behavior is a way of reporting what has occurred, while judging behavior is an evaluation of what has occurred in terms of "right and wrong" or "good and bad." Productive observations should not be judgmental.

Example: The simple statement, "Your communication skills are good," isn't very helpful. Instead, you want to be specific by saying something like, "You demonstrate a high degree of confidence when you answer customer questions about registration procedures."  


3. Focus on observation rather than inferenceObservations refer to what you can see or hear about an individual's behavior, while inferences refer to the assumptions and interpretations you make from what you see or hear. Be an observer. Focus on what the person did and your reaction.

Example: When an employee is constantly missing deadlines, approach them with an observation, like "You haven't been meeting your deadlines for the past two weeks, which is putting a strain on the rest of the team." Stick to the facts.


4. Concentrate on behavior rather than the individualRefer to what a person does rather than what you imagine she/he is. To concentrate on behavior, use adverbs, which describe action, rather than adjectives, which describe qualities.

Example: "You talked considerably during the staff meeting, which prevented me from getting to some of the main points," rather than "You talk too much." See the difference?


5. Provide a balance of positive and negative observationsIf you consistently give only positive or only negative feedback, people may begin to distrust it and not listen.


6. Avoid feedback overload. Select two or three important points you want to make and offer observations about those points. If you overload individuals with more than that, they may become confused about what exactly needs to be continued, improved or changed.


Clearly, these conversations should be conducted in private; however, I believe this article wouldn't be complete unless I included this important point: unlike these private conversations, if your employee, peer or co-worker has done something praiseworthy, you should praise them generously, publicly, and at every opportunity - especially at the conclusion of special assignments. From a leadership perspective, most bosses I have encountered seem to think that they provide praise on a regular basis; yet, I don't often meet employees who feel that their bosses appreciate their accomplishments. So, as often as possible, tell your employees how much you value their commitment and hard work.


For sure, sharing productive observations benefits everyone! There should always be consistent communication between managers, employees and co-workers. It builds relationships and allows for valuable coaching and development. The individual receives the information they need to be successful while the organization gains enhanced productivity. It's a win for everyone!


Happy New Year 


Good Wishes for an Abundance of Fulfillment in 2014!




Appreciating today's rapidly changing business strategies and what it takes to become a market leader and great manager, JV Consulting strategically provides our clients with talent, performance and customer management solutions that are results-driven and spot-on accurate. Our solutions address: 
  • Selection and Hiring
  • On-boarding
  • Retention--focusing on improving employee engagement, loyalty and productivity
  • Leadership / staff development
  • Succession planning strategies focusing on top performance at all levels
  • Incumbent coaching
  • Team compatibility
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