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WNC Business

Understanding Performance Feedback

Apr 19, 2023 10:18AM ● By Beverly Jurenko

It's not unusual to dislike giving or receiving feedback on job performance. The Society for Human Resources Management has reported that as many as 95% of managers are dissatisfied with their performance review systems, and 56% of employees surveyed said they do not typically receive feedback on what to improve. 

Complaints like these may lead companies to consider doing away with performance reviews altogether, but avoiding difficult conversations won't help your company or your employees improve. How can we make giving and receiving feedback easier on everyone involved? Simply being open and authentic are keys to making this exercise easier. 

The risk of avoidance 

Giving feedback on job performance isn't easy, especially when it requires sharing information that an employee may not want to hear. However, when managers don't express what’s on their mind, both sides have missed an opportunity to improve. It's tempting to avoid discomfort by sticking to check-the-box type comments like "good job," but fake accolades can actually cause damage. Hiding your true feelings will eventually act as a barrier within the relationship between the manager and the employee. Until what was left unsaid has been acknowledged, this barrier will interfere with communication flows and jeopardize ease in the relationship. 

Moreover, from the employee's point of view, nothing makes them feel more invisible than hearing "good job" when they know there's more to explore. Being told your work is good when you know there is room for improvement can also lead to a real disconnect when it comes time for promotions and bonuses. It's always better for everyone involved to know exactly where they stand so they have time to adjust, learn, and grow.

Start with compassion 

Let humanity speak first by showing you care about an employee's development and success. It doesn’t have to get too personal - this is not about being best buddies - but do take an interest in what motivates the employee. Focus on shared values, experiences with the work being done, and what the employee has to offer on a professional level. 

Be direct and specific 

Feedback should always be tied to the work, not to the person. It should be specific, related to identified projects and situations, and include examples of what should have been done that was not done. It should also be based on what has been measured and verified, not on assumptions or hearsay. If there are feelings that an employee did not do a good job with something, you must share that with them, but understand that the priority is sharing where the work, not the person, fell short. 

Stay away from brutal honesty and personal insults 

Humiliation is never a good thing for motivation, but being truthful is important. It’s a good idea to combine your need to speak the truth with acknowledgement that you respect the recipient of the feedback as a human being. When feedback becomes too harsh or personal, employees can feel discouraged and may even seek employment elsewhere because an aggressive tone can be interpreted as a lack of care for their professional development. When managers cross the line and discuss personal aspects while giving feedback, the impact can be highly detrimental to morale for everyone since negativity tends to spread. If you notice a conversation moving in this direction, take a pause, redirect, and begin again from a place of compassion. 

The right balance 

Being authentic and compassionate while delivering performance feedback can be tough, but with practice it can be learned. Finding the right balance will foster substantive conversations between managers and employees, and will inspire trust and motivation to improve. By using the heart and the head together, it is possible to leverage our contributions, learn from our shortcomings, and maximize our ability to grow by seeing the opportunity inherent in giving and receiving performance feedback. 

Beverly Jurenko, MBA, certified DEI practitioner, and member of the International Coaching Federation, provides Leadership & Career Coaching and Diversity Equity & Inclusion Consulting through Inside Edge Consulting LLC.

Learn more at or contact her at [email protected].

Beverly's photo by Christina Morillo