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Feedback Stories: The Impact of an Annual Performance Review Handled Poorly

May 7, 2024

Today we’re kicking off our “Feedback Stories” series. For each post in this series, we’ll feature a real-life feedback experience — highlighting what went well, what could have been improved, and the impact feedback has on employees.

As we’ll see, the way that we receive feedback and how we interpret feedback can have a lasting impact on our performance and our self-esteem. So, it’s important that the person delivering the feedback is aware of the techniques for delivering feedback successfully.

As we take a look at our first story, we’ll be reviewing some feedback tips shared in the Feedback Academy e-modules.

Let’s set the scene.

Our first testimonial features an employee that has been with the same company, working under the same boss, for several years.

To her knowledge, she had been a stellar performer in her role. She consistently received promotions during her yearly performance reviews and had always felt that her boss and the organization really valued her contributions.

So, when the time came for this year’s review, she expected the conversation to go as it always had. She’d listen as her manager shared some positive remarks, they would discuss any additional responsibilities she would be taking on, and, hopefully, she’d receive a raise.

There had been no feedback delivered throughout the year to make her think otherwise, so she entered the meeting feeling confident.

How was the feedback delivered?

During the meeting, her boss opened by sharing some things that had not gone well during the year. The employee was surprised since she was not expecting this type of feedback. She listened, taking the remarks into consideration.

But the redirecting feedback continued to come, and the employee began to shut down. She did not realize there had been so many mistakes. At times, the manager even used exact wording to describe specific interactions with clients and peers. It was humiliating and she began to think her job was in jeopardy. No positive feedback was delivered during the session.

“In my mind, I had been doing a great job. I still think about that to this day. If I don’t get feedback I worry.”

How did this employee respond?

For an employee who was not used to hearing anything negative about her performance, receiving redirecting feedback, especially this much redirecting feedback, was devastating. Without her knowledge, she had been closely monitored for months, while every less-than-perfect phrase or action was documented.

Ideally, we’d like to think of feedback as a powerful motivator. But when delivered like this, all at once and especially without any hint of a positive, it can be deflating.

So, did this manager get anything right?

This manager did deliver the feedback privately, which was the right thing to do. Delivering feedback in private is especially important when the feedback is redirecting.

Another thing this manager did well was to present facts. In most situations, it is likely not necessary to record each mistake an employee makes — word for word. But it is always best to be objective when you describe an employee’s behavior.

What could this manager have done better?

First, this manager should have shared redirecting feedback with the employee closer to the time the mistakes were being observed. By saving all examples for the end of the year, this employee never received an opportunity to correct these mistakes on her own. If this employee had received redirecting feedback throughout the year, some of these missteps could have been avoided.

Second, this manager should have shared some positive feedback from throughout the year. Surely, there were good behaviors and efforts that had a positive impact throughout the year.

It’s critical for career growth for an employee to understand what they could be doing better. But it’s just as important for their self-esteem and for job satisfaction to recognize areas where they are performing well.

Later, this employee went on to share how their self-esteem was affected by this feedback encounter. They always second-guessed themselves and wondered if there was something they were doing wrong. There’s no way to know for sure, but perhaps this could have been avoided if the manager had opted to also share some positive reflections in their meeting.

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