Follow these six steps when providing constructive performance feedback

When you need to provide team members with feedback, it's usually a breeze when their performance is up to snuff. However, if an employee requires constructive feedback, it can be a delicate situation. Check out Tom Mochal's tips on how to approach these one-on-one meetings.

The role of the project manager normally does not include providing formal performance reviews to team members. This is usually the responsibility of a functional manager. (Of course, the project manager might also be a functional manager, but these are still two separate roles.) Even so, providing some performance feedback is one of the soft skills that all project managers need to practice.

The purpose of performance feedback is to let team members know how they are doing and whether they are meeting your performance expectations. Performance feedback doesn't just mean telling people when they do something wrong. You want to make sure that you recognize when team members meet their commitments or do something great, as well as when they are not meeting your expectations.

In fact, telling people they are doing a good job is easy. You can recognize them with a simple thank-you. You can write them a nice e-mail or a memo. You can also praise a team member in front of others so that the feedback gets the added benefit of broader recognition.

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On the other hand, when team members don't meet your expectations you should also provide performance feedback. It would usually not be appropriate to do this in front of others, or copy others into the feedback. Constructive performance feedback is typically better handled though a one-on-one meeting. When this type of conversation is appropriate, you can use the following steps.

  • Plan. This helps you develop a framework for providing effective feedback. You should think ahead of time about the behavior that should be highlighted and how you can help the employee improve.
  • Provide examples. Vague criticism fosters anxiety. Tangible examples are required to highlight the feedback. You do not need to provide dozens of examples. Hopefully, you can make the point with a couple representative observations. If you don't have examples, you cannot provide the feedback.
  • Motivate. Use motivational techniques in the discussion. The employee is bound to be disappointed by the feedback. Look for opportunities to build the morale of the team member as well, so that he or she will be eager to improve.
  • Sandwich. The project manager should start the session with positive comments, then get to the feedback and finish with positive, motivating comments. Many people think this is trite and perhaps obvious. However, it is still a valid way to proceed. If you can find some positive things to say, open and close the discussion by mentioning them.
  • Allow time for feedback. The process needs to be a dialogue between the project manager and the team member. So, seek feedback from the team member and allow him or her to agree, disagree or provide his/her perspective. It is possible that he or she may have mitigating factors that you were not previously aware of.
  • Set a timeframe for action and follow-up. The project manager should document any action items, circulate them to the team member and ensure that they are completed. Before the meeting is over, the project manager and team member should also agree on a follow-up timeframe to check progress.

This type of discussion would be very appropriate for a project manager to have with a team member. If this type of feedback does not change the person's behavior, you can have a second, similar discussion. However, ultimately if there are performance problems that cannot be corrected, the situation will need to be brought to the attention of the functional manager.

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