Q: My manager is not a great communicator. He rarely gives us feedback and seems to hold it all for our annual performance evaluation. This is a problem because we have no opportunity to improve throughout the year and some of the concerns he shares are hard to remember (from several months before the review meeting). How can we get him to share this information more frequently?
A: Annual performance evaluations are a tool to share feedback. You have raised several valid concerns about the weaknesses of this process. First, annual feedback seems too infrequent. Second, as you mention, there is no opportunity for an employee to listen, understand and then change their behavior.
Most employers have moved, either formally or informally, to more frequent sharing of feedback. Some managers feel like they share almost daily feedback verbally. “Maria, instead of adding this column, can we display the information this way since it might be easier to understand?” Others have quick weekly meetings where feedback is shared. While in other organizations, metrics and project plans can speak volumes about performance. I have one organization who has sales results posted online and it is updated daily. Every sales person knows where they stand.
The annual performance review is a bit of a relic. More frequent, formal and informal feedback, is craved by most employees.
However, sometimes employees can be resistant and defensive when hearing feedback. This behavior can sometimes cause a manager, to withhold information until that annual review meeting. Although your manager may be a reluctant communicator, you and your peers may be signaling that feedback really is not welcome. How does an employee send the message that feedback is welcome? Watch your non-verbal cues. Maintain eye contact. Nod when appropriate. Listen. Acknowledge. Try to minimize defensiveness. Confirm what you have had heard by asking clarifying question. Be careful that your tone of voice is professional vs. angry. Finally, thank your manager. If you don’t agree with all of the feedback, you can share that but maintain a professional friendly demeanor. “Jack, I didn’t realize missing that deadline was so important as I thought other deadlines were our focus, but it is helpful to know this information. I will check in with you more often to ensure my focus is where it should be.”
Norms for sharing feedback vary, although I would suggest that frequent, informal feedback be a significant part of the mix.