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Performance Feedback for Project Team Members: In a Nutshell

Performance Feedback for Project Team Members

As a project manager, you are not just responsible for your project. You are also responsible for the people on your project. And there is nothing that develops people more reliably than good quality performance feedback.

Often, we get our own performance feedback by simply observing what we do and the results it has. But it’s too easy to miss the details. That’s why we need others to give us their feedback. So, you need to develop the skills for giving good performance feedback to your project team members.

In this article, we’ll summarize the skills, techniques, and tips you’ll need.

Why Bother with Performance Feedback?

Performance Feedback is one of the principal ways we learn at work.

No less a figure than Ken Blanchard described feedback as ‘the breakfast of champions’:

Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions

Ken Blanchard

Whilst I can envisage an effective project manager taking little or no interest in their team’s learning over a short project, this is far from ideal. For longer projects, or where you have long-term relationships with your team, helping them develop is vital. It supports your long-term success, as well as theirs.

Your team will improve their performance. And, the gift of feedback can earn you loyalty and commitment. If you aspire to step beyond a pure Project Manager role, and become a Project Leader, this is a skill you’ll need.

Why not take a look at our article: Get Better Project Results with Personal Leadership.

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What is Performance Feedback…
And what is it not?

Performance Feedback for Project Team Members

Performance Feedback for Project Team Members

The clue to the nature of performance feedback is in the name. It is feedback on performance. This means that it is based on what your team member has done and the results they’ve achieved. It is not about your predictions for them, or your suppositions about what they can and can’t do well.

Good performance feedback is always based on evidence. Its value is as the start of a process. By describing what you have observed, you are sharpening my awareness. The value arises when that feedback becomes the basis for a discussion about the future. You want to encourage your team member to take responsibility for choices and actions that will lead to better performance.

On the other hand, performance feedback is not:

  • personal feedback around factors that do not affect performance
  • a chance to reprimand or criticize – its purpose is to aid learning
  • a formal end-of-project or annual or semi-annual process – it should be a regular and frequent aspect of your leadership

How can You Create the Right Culture for Effective Performance Feedback?

Performance feedback works best in an open culture, where understanding is important, and blame is irrelevant.

Blame is for God and Small Children

Blame is for God and Small Children

This allows your team to trust you and become receptive to an honest assessment of their performance.

To support this, you need to become skilled at:

  • Observing
  • Recognizing achievement
  • Asking questions
  • Listening

In a constructive feedback conversation, you need to facilitate an open exploration of issues, ideas, and options.

Who Should You Offer Performance Feedback to?

You should certainly offer performance feedback to anyone for whom you have some form of managerial, supervisory, leadership, or developmental responsibility. And it does not hurt to also offer it to others who have an involvement in your project.

Where it gets tricky on a large project is feedback to members of discrete sub-teams. In their case, performance feedback os the responsibility of their immediate team leader. As a project manager, you need to be mindful about the risks of cutting across their authority and relationships.

I still think it can be helpful for a project manager to give feedback to people within the teams, but I’d counsel caution:

  • Be clear about the basis under which you are giving the feedback
  • Keep it informal
  • Let the team leader know what you have done, and share your feedback with them

A special case is project staff who work for other organizations to your own. Here too, you need to exercise care. In these cases, I’d be more likely to pass on my feedback via their own team leader. However, for recognition of successes and expressing my gratitude for good work, I’d still want to do it directly

When Should You Give Performance Feedback?

Often.

If feedback really does boost project team motivation and lift performance – and it does – then why would you not make as much use of it as you can. Consider part of your role as a project leader to be about catching people doing a good job, and pointing it out to them.

Part of your role as a #project #leader is to catch people doing a good job, and point it out to them. Click To Tweet

And as soon as possible after any significant performance event.

Events are often quick to fade in our memories. So it is ideal to give your feedback as near to the event as possible; while it is fresh.

Of course, practicalities intrude on our ideal. There may be other things going on, or the presence of other people may inhibit a frank discussion. The simple rule is:

Congratulate in public; criticize in private

If your feedback must address performance shortcomings, then you need to find a suitable time and place. But do be on the alert for your first chance to do this.

How Do You Give Effective Performance Feedback?

There’s always the same Step 1: Preparation. For simple performance feedback, this is not a big task. But do think through:

  • What is the most important feedback you can give?
  • How will you approach the conversation?
  • What is the evidence you will share?
  • Is there a specific outcome you’d like to see from the conversation?
  • What responses can you anticipate? And…
  • How could you handle them?

BOOST

Performance feedback should give your colleague a BOOST. That is, it should be:

  • Balanced
  • Observed
  • Objective
  • Specific
  • Timely

Balanced

This does not mean ‘one good thing and one bad’.

It means you should determine the right balance of positive endorsement and challenge or concern that reflects the message you want to deliver. There is absolutely no need to find minor criticisms to balance recognition of a major success. You don’t need to prove yourself by showing you can spot timy details, and nor do you need to bring them down a peg.

On the other hand, if you must give critical feedback that your colleague needs to learn from, then do balance it out. But not with some flimsy ‘but this other thing was good’. At best they will see it as condescending or cowardly. At worst, they will latch onto the good news and ignore your serious concerns.

Instead, balance your concerns about their performance with support and endorsement for them as a person, colleague, and professional. Express your confidence in them and offer whatever help they need.

Observed

Always base performance feedback on observations and solid evidence. Ideally you should be the one who is making the observations. If you get reports second-hand, then you must work hard to validate them. Always test yourself against the typical challenges you might get if your evidence is weak:

  • how do you know?
  • who told you?
  • it wasn’t like that
  • that’s not what happened
  • it wasn’t me

Objective

It’s also important to distinguish between:

  1. The Subjective
    This is feedback about the person, their attitudes, capabilities, and style. It is not part of performance feedback.
  2. The Objective
    This is feedback about what they do and the impact it has on the results they get. This is what you need to deliver.

Specific

The specific you can be about what you observed of their performance and what happened, the more valuable it will be to them. With detail comes the ability to tune behaviors more precisely. If your feedback is purely around generalities, there will be little for them to work on, in knowing what to keep doing, what to stop doing, and what to change.

Timely

We’ve already addressed timing, so I shan’t repeat it here.

Where Should You Give Your Performance Feedback?

If you are able to give your feedback immediately, your location will e where they did the work. The Japanese term for this is ‘the Gemba’ – the place where work happens. And this is the ideal place for your performance feedback, even after the event.

You ma not have much choice of location. But, if you do, your considerations will include:

  • How formal or informal you want the conversation to be?
  • Where will they feel comfortable to receive the message you will give?
  • What is convenient for both of you and will result in least disruption?

What if Your Performance Feedback Doesn’t Go to Plan?

Let’s look at four familiar scenarios. What if your colleague:

  • doesn’t want to listen to your feedback?
  • won’t accept your observations?
  • rejects responsibility?
  • gets upset?

Your colleague doesn’t want to listen to your feedback?

By the time you need to give your performance feedback, it’s too late. You need to be establishing the right culture in your team from day one. Each person needs to trust that your judgement is sound, your feedback well-meaning, and their career is safe with as their leader.

If they won;’t listen to your feedback, then you have a bigger problem. You need to start to play a long game in winning their trust and confidence.

Your colleague won’t accept your observations?

Did you prepare properly and test the evidence you wanted to present? If you did not, then you are as much at fault and it may be best to listen to their response, accept it, and commit to observing more carefully.

If, however, you are confident in your observations, there are three common reasons:

  1. Reason 1: You Did not Establish Rapport
    Don’t dive in cold water without acclimatizing. Warm up the conversation with a little rapport building. And the best thing is to pick up on a positive observation that will win their confidence that you can spot something they are likely to be proud of.
  2. Reason 2: You weren’t Specific enough
    Often a sound observation becomes diluted when expressed in general terms. They may not be able to fully recognize what you are saying, or it may simply come across as a low-value generalization.
  3. Reason 3: They Don’t trust your Observations or Motivations
    Really, this is a longer-term issue. But a combination of positive attitude, and re-iterating the evidence, along with specifics that they can recognize for themselves, is likely to cut through for you.

Your colleague rejects responsibility?

This is a tough one. Some people don’t want to take responsibility for the outcomes they get:

  • It was her or his fault
  • I didn’t have time, resources, experience
  • Events were out of my control

Help them to understand the causal links between what they did and the results they got. Be open about the role of chance, of others, and of genuine constraints. But show them how alternative choices could have had different outcomes.

Your colleague gets upset?

This will sometimes happen. Be respectful of their emotional response. Listen to their worries. Offer your support.

Above all, avoid easy responses like:

  • ‘Don’t get upset…’
  • ‘It’s not your fault…’
  • ‘Don’t worry, it won’t happen again…’

If you ask them to explain what’s making them upset, you can get two big advantages:

  1. First, by talking about our emotions, and being listened to, we develop trust, but also start to replace our emotional state with a more resourceful analytical mindset
  2. Second, when they tel you what’s making them upset, you’ll learn more about what you can do that will help them to perform better.

If you Need to Give Performance Feedback
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What is Your Advice for Giving Great Performance Feedback?

Here at OnlinePMCourses, we value good performance feedback highly. What are your experiences, tips, and advice?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. And we’ll respond to every contribution.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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