Giving Performance Feedback After 2020

For many companies, it is performance review time. I have gotten a lot of questions about how the heck to measure performance after such a tough year or how to give feedback remotely if you are used to being in person. Below are some key tips that can help you navigate what is already one of the toughest jobs of being a manager, giving feedback. You can find more advice on giving feedback in my book Setting the Stage and some helpful worksheets on the Coaching page!

Resetting Expectations. It’s very possible that the goals of your team members changed throughout 2020. While I hope you shared that clearly during the year as the changes were happening, if you didn’t, make sure you take the time before sharing feedback to realign on how you are reviewing their performance. While it’s not ideal to do after the fact, it’s better than having any surprises during the actual feedback conversation. Hopefully you did have those conversations during the year, so now as you evaluate how they did against their goals, make sure to focus on their ability to achieve the adjusted goals in the time they were assigned to them. If something only changed three months ago, make sure you are fairly evaluating what was possible to achieve in those three months.

Environmental Factors Impacting Performance. While it is not an excuse, it is very possible that environmental factors impacted someone’s ability to perform as they normally do in 2020. All of us were struggling with balancing family and work, health concerns, a tough home set-up without any real space to focus, worries about injustice and politics or struggle with mental health last year. And because we are all humans, it impacts our work. Hopefully you have had conversations throughout the year about how best to support your team and their individual needs, it’s important to keep that in mind as you evaluate their performance. If you agreed to adjust their work schedule to allow them to help with remote learning, and they still hit their goals, you shouldn’t then bring that up as an issue on their review. I’m not saying that they aren’t accountable for their work, but remember the extenuating circumstances we all navigated this year and how that understandably affected our performance.

Lead with Empathy & Support. Since feedback should be routed in helping your team member be the best in their role, you shouldn’t hold back just because it’s a tough year. We should still respect our teams enough to be honest with them, but you can adjust your tone and how you approach the feedback (specifically if it’s critical). At the start of the conversation, do a check in. How are they doing at this moment? Is this still a good time for your feedback conversation? While they can’t avoid the conversation forever, if they say “actually it’s been a really tough day, the kids are running around me right now”. It may not be the best time for the conversation. As much as possible, try to have both people keep their videos on so you can make eye contact and look for social cues. As always, make sure you have data to support your feedback so it’s objective. And follow up with questions to get their perspective on the feedback. Acknowledge it has been a trying year and you know they are balancing a lot. If appropriate (and genuine), share your own struggles so they know they are not alone. Ask how you can help them and support them moving forward, including what you can be doing differently.

Moving forward with a clear plan and commitment. At the end of the conversation, make sure you take time to thank them for the conversation, reiterate that you are in it with them and are here to help, and finally a timeline to follow up on any action items. Make a commitment to carve out time in your 1:1’s to check in on how they are doing and what they need outside of work. Align on the best way to communicate any changes to their work, goals or just general business updates. Finally, for any areas where someone is struggling, make sure you have a mutually agreed upon plan for improvement. Especially when you are remote, over communication on all of the above will only help your relationship and set up your team for success.

2020 was unlike any year we have seen. Teams showed resilience and came together as a community in ways that made us proud. Companies had to adjust their business models to address the economic impact of the pandemic and hopefully survive…or found themselves in the epicenter of supporting the country and had skyrocket growth while the world was crumbling around them. And as humans, we had stresses put on us that we could never have imagined. We need to remember all of this as we go into performance feedback conversations. We still had goals to meet and performance expectations still exist. But hopefully the above helps you approach those conversations in a way that puts humans first and lets your team know that you acknowledge the year that was 2020 and together we will power through to a new year.