It is not unusual to get an emergency phone call from a leader on a performance conversation gone wrong. By the time it gets to me, both the leader and employee are at ten paces, ready to hurl whatever accusations or criticism, hoping that one sticks more than the other. Nine times out of ten, it can be prevented by the way the leader approached and executed the conversation.
Graham Winter, author of “the man who cured the performance review”, outlined probably two of the most common performance feedback approaches that land leaders in hot water.
The dancer or a dumper.
Those who underutilise the skill and typically dance around the performance issue. They might give the famous ‘feedback-sandwich’. This consists of starting with a positive comment, inserting the negative quickly and then without pausing, giving another compliment. These mixed messages can have the impact of having to engage in more performance feedbacks. Firstly, some individuals will only hear the positive, and ignore the negative performance feedback. This means that you then need to find another time and place to have the same conversation, repeatedly until they get the message. Others will hone in and focus only on the negative. These individuals become fixated on the negative feedback and continue to harass you, either to justify their actions or hope that you give up and change your mind. Either way, it can be exhausting and only reinforce the leader’s dislike for giving performance feedback.
Signs that you may be a dancer:
- Avoid tough conversations
- Only give positive feedback or avoid all together
- Dance around the issue, without giving specifics or all of the facts
- Rush the performance discussion
- Hide behind the rules or the system
Dumpers are those who do the classic feedback dump and run. These leaders usually hold up all of the feedback and then when they reach a point of frustration or opportunity, they let it rip. The person is usually unaware or surprised by the magnitude of the dump, especially when they realise that no one had told them sooner. Usually, leaders like to be in control of the situation and find themselves either lecturing or listing off all the things the employee hasn’t done since the last performance conversation.
Signs that you may be a dumper:
- Employees act surprised when you give the feedback
- You wait until it suits you, rather than immediate
- Feedback is harsh and critical
- The conversation is usually one-way
Intent versus Impact
Whilst your intent may be to help the other person succeed or to achieve the team results, you may want to consider the impact that your performance feedback is having. Take time to review each list and mentally check off whether you show signs of doing this sometimes, often or always.
- If you find that you are more of a dancer, you may be avoiding feedback conversations and letting things run their own course – this could be to your own detriment.
- If you find that you are a dumper, your bluntness may be giving people unintentional surprises or damaging the relationship (playing the person) instead of tackling the problems (the ball). (Read our earlier blog post on Playing The Ball, Not The Person
Like any rule, there are always exceptions. In some circumstances, the right course of action can lend itself to either dancing or dumping. Where an issue is low on importance, you may decide you will pick your battles. Similarly, there are occasions where dumping can build more trust in the relationship – where you agree to put ‘all-the-cards-on-the-table”. The key is to ask yourself, what is my intent and what impact do I want to achieve?
Find The Right Balance
The key to finding the right balance is when you see the need to give performance feedback, you choose the right time and place to deliver the message. For “difficult” conversations, focus on being open and honest in a way that suits the person and the situation.
If you have made it this far, perhaps take time to reflect on how you and your leaders handle performance conversations, where there is a need to give feedback?
- Performance Reviews That Deliver Results
- Playing The Ball, Not The Person
- Introducing PEAK Leadership For Individual Change
- Building Strong Teams
About the Author
Tim has vast experience in the strategic and financial management of businesses with a particular focus on cash flow and profit improvement, strategic thinking and performance reporting. He has extensive knowledge of business start-ups and acquisitions as well as exit and succession planning. Tim is an adviser with Supertrac, a corporate advisory firm specialising in business divestments, mergers and acquisitions.
Tim is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (FCA), Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD) and a Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA) with the Exit Planning Institute (EPI).
If you have any specific questions or would like to suggest future blog topics, please do not hesitate to contact Tim on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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