Performance Feedback: The Seek-First-to-Understand Approach

Get your free video now and see how you can humanize performance appraisal, get employees the feedback they need to achieve their career goals, and enhance the performance of your entire organization. You will learn:

  • The most frequently overlooked stage in traditional performance appraisals
  • The #1 goal of performance feedback
  • The Seek-First-to-Understand method for giving performance feedback
  • Why this method is far more enriching for employees and managers

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More information for those who love the details …

Few employees like getting a performance evaluation. The process often feels rigid, judgmental and de-humanizing. In many cases it seems like a charade orchestrated to justify a low salary increase. Most managers, of course, are obligated to give annual performance evaluations, and many would tell you it’s the thing they hate most about their job. It shouldn’t be this way. Employees desperately want and need feedback. And managers have much to gain by providing it.

The Goal of Performance Feedback

Many managers think the goal of performance feedback is “to tell employees how they’re doing” or “to evaluate performance.” Of course these things happen in the process, but they’re just the means to an end. The #1 goal of any performance feedback process is to create ALIGNMENT between the employee’s goals and company’s. When you accomplish this, you reap two huge benefits:

  1. You improve productivity. Employees who feel their goals are aligned with the company’s are more motivated and work harder.
  2. You improve retention. Alignment creates loyalty because employees see how their current role will help them achieve their career goals.

But alignment almost never happens in traditional performance evaluation systems because these systems minimize, or completely overlook, a key stage in the process: Employee input. Perhaps you know Steven Covey’s adage, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey was talking about communication in general, but the message is especially applicable to performance feedback.

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The Seek-First-to-Understand Approach

The Seek-First-to-Understand approach to performance feedback includes two core meetings: The Employee Self-Evaluation session and the Manager Feedback session. In neither session is salary discussed. It’s critical to completely de-link performance feedback and salary reviews. In fact, the two should weeks or even months apart.

The Employee Self-Evaluation Session should be focused almost entirely on the employee. The employee should be doing all of the talking, while the manager listens and takes in what the employee has to say. Ideally, in this meeting the employee would answer three critical questions:

  • What did you accomplish this year?
  • What would you have liked to accomplish but didn’t?
  • What are your career goals and how do you intend to achieve them?

After those three questions are addressed and the employee has a chance to ask any questions they might have, the manager ends the meeting by setting up a follow-up meeting, the Manager Feedback Session.

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In the Manager Feedback session, managers need to convey three things:

  • The employee’s strengths, as perceived by the manager
  • The employee’s weaknesses
  • Developmental recommendations

Each of these three things is dependent on what the employee said in their review. Again, it’s all about getting alignment between employee and organization. None of these can be answered with vague statements like “hard working” or “keep up the good work”. They all require specific responses.

Achieving this alignment won’t always be easy, especially if you have to deliver some cold, harsh truth to a struggling employee whose perception of their own performance is way off base. But with this approach, managers do everything within their power to get employees on the same page as the organization, and employees leave with a sense of where they stand and a clear set of objectives to get where they want to go next.

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Steve Meyer
Stephen Meyer
CEO, Rapid Learning Institute


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