For some reason providing valuable performance feedback is hard for most managers. Relegated to the mandatory, and not very effective, annual performance appraisal, managers miss out on opportunities to shape the performance of employees by failing to practice the simple art of drive-by performance feedback.
The important thing about performance feedback is providing timely, specific, and helpful insight that is both encouraging and motivating. The goal in drive-by performance feedback is to take advantage of teachable moments and meaningful praise to reinforce what it is you want to see more of.
The formal feedback process is centered on the annual appraisal, and for motivated managers, regular sessions throughout the year that are used to keep focus on the written goals that you and the employee agreed they would accomplish during the year. Large organizations rely on performance management software to help track progress and to provide templates and forms that help organize the appraisal process. Small businesses find the cost of such systems prohibitive and are usually using paper-based methods.
But drive-by feedback is an informal method of providing ongoing communication to employees about their day-to-day performance. It recognizes opportunities in the moment to provide coaching or accolades. From stopping by an employee’s workspace to coach them on how to handle a difficult customer or complete a report, to praising them the moment you get off the phone with a happy client or they make a sale, drive-by feedback has three main characteristics:
- It’s timely. Don’t wait to provide feedback. Take time while the information is fresh in your mind. The longer you wait, the less detail you will recall, and your message will be diluted.
- It’s specific. General feedback, like saying “good job,” is not nearly as effective as specific feedback. Tell the employee exactly what you noticed that you want to see more of. When coaching for improvement, specific advice and guidance is much more likely to give you the performance you’re looking for.
- It’s helpful. Helpful feedback flows from a helpful attitude toward your employees. A helpful attitude fosters positive expectations (self-fulfilling prophecy). Successful managers understand that one of their primary responsibilities is to help employees succeed.
When you believe people have the skills and abilities for peak performance, you will recognize when they display those behaviors, and naturally provide feedback on a regular basis. Drive-by feedback is powerful because not only does it clarify what it is you value and expect, it gives your employees motivation and encouragement to continue working hard for you. When they see that you are genuinely interested in helping them succeed, they will rise to the occasion and commit themselves to your success as well.
Check out Rule of Thumb: A Small Business Guide to Peak Performance Through People (WriteLife, 2013) for more about managing employee performance.