Friday, April 27, 2012

Performance reviews - It's not just about what you say

Performance reviews are a management ritual that everyone dreads.

And now, according to Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence author), brain science shows that the way in which that review gets delivered can directly impact an employee’s response and, consequently, their ability to do anything constructive with that feedback.

The neuroscientist, Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, has found that when we’re in an upbeat, optimistic, I-can-handle-anything frame of mind, energized and enthusiastic about our goals, our brains turn up the activity in an area on the left side, just behind the forehead. That’s the brain state where we are at our best.

But when we’re feeling down, with low energy and zero motivation, even anxious, our brain has turned up the volume on the right side and that is the side where we are least productive and energised.

Performance feedback that focuses on what’s wrong with us puts this downer brain area on overdrive. We’re so preoccupied with the bad news (and our thoughts that this means we’ll be fired) that we just don’t have the energy or can’t focus on working at our best.

Not only that, but how you deliver the message has a huge impact on how it’s received. In one study, when people got positive performance feedback that was delivered in a negative, cold tone of voice, they came out of the session feeling down–despite the good news. Amazingly, when negative feedback came in a warm, positive tone of voice, they felt upbeat and energized.

Of course, any manager should be giving staff performance feedback as a matter of routine. But too many are poor at giving feedback. The problem here takes two forms: being hyper-critical and focusing only on what’s wrong without balancing it with what’s right, or undermining even positive feedback with a negative tone of voice.

In theory, well delivered performance feedback improves our performance, setting us on the right track. Such feedback is best given on the spot (not months later in a formal review), and with a sense of trust and openness between the giver and receiver.

One of the most effective feedback styles is:

When you do X (action) it has the impact of Y with the consequence of Z.

For instance,

When you habitually turn up late for meetings (action) it gives the impression that you don’t care about wasting the time of your colleagues (impact) and consequently they don’t want to work with you (consequence)

But now, according to Daniel Goleman and Davidson, you not only have to master giving feedback effectively, you also have to remember to try to deliver it in as positive, upbeat way as possible.

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