It’s time for performance reviews. And, if we’re honest, the internal dialogue in our heads goes something like this:
“The system is broken. The ratings are either forced or all fives. Reviews require a whole bunch of time we don’t have, and stress and anxiety we don’t need. And for what? We’re still not getting the information we need to know how we’re doing, or what to work on next.”
It seems as if every organization is redesigning or reimagining their performance management system. If we can fix the system, or fix the managers, then we’ll have fixed performance—then you’ll get better, more meaningful feedback.
But what if the power to get better feedback, and to drive your own learning and your career actually sat with you?
We believe it does.
Whatever the official system and structure, whoever your manager may be, you have the ability to manage your own performance. How might you figure out what is working well—what you should continue to do? What do others secretly (or not so secretly) wish you would do differently? How are you tracking against goals and expectations? And what are those expectations?
Manage your performance by managing your feedback diet.
Any athlete knows that to function at peak performance they need to feed their body the nutrients it needs. A healthy diet builds muscle, extends stamina and aids recovery time.
The same is true for our professional performance. A healthy variety of feedback can fuel our learning and growth. So often we hear individuals and teams complain that they want more feedback—they are hungry for it.
If we’re going to accelerate our learning, we actually need three different kinds of feedback. Each serves different purposes, so thinking about what you need right now—this week or in the midst of this new project—is critical.
Appreciation lets us know that our efforts are seen. That they matter to someone. It also helps us understand what we are doing that is working well. Appreciation impacts motivation and engagement—it is a hedge against burnout, and helps us go that extra mile. If you are feeling short on appreciation, letting others know is actually helpful: “It’s a rough week for me, guys. If there’s anything I’m doing right, I could use the encouragement.” Or “What’s one thing I’m doing that’s working well, that you want to be sure I keep doing?”
Coaching is the engine for learning, and includes anything that helps you improve—suggestions, ideas, requests, correction, even role modeling. People can be hesitant to offer coaching—they don’t want you to feel criticized. But if you are looking to drive your own performance, there’s no more powerful tool than requesting coaching from those around you: your peers, your team members, even your clients or customers. Invite others’ thoughts by asking, “What’s one thing I could change that would make a difference to you?”
Evaluation lets us know how we’re tracking against goals and expectations. Whether it’s a new project or our career, we’re wondering whether we are “on track.” Get a regular pulse on how others think you’re doing by asking, “On a scale of 1-5, how do you think this is going?” Or “How does this compare to what you were hoping for?” Or “Can you give me a quick sense of how I’m doing?” The conversation that follows could give you the opportunity to figure out ways to course correct. It can also provide a sense of security, so you don’t need to worry or wonder.
It’s up to you.
Instead of waiting for others—or the always-imperfect performance system—to manage your career, grab the opportunity to drive your own career and learning. Here are three questions that can help you assess your feedback diet, figure out what kind of feedback you need more of right now and who you might reach out to for input:
1) Which kind of feedback (appreciation, coaching, evaluation) do I need more of right now?
2) Who might be able to provide that type of feedback? Hint: it’s not always your direct supervisor. Others you work with regularly are a rich source of ideas for what you could change to make it easier for them to work with you.
3) How might I ask them, and let them know which kind of feedback I’m looking for? Whether it’s sending a quick email, adding it to the agenda for your next 1:1, or going for a walk with that other person, asking for the type of feedback you want is the first step to managing your own performance.
The good news is you don’t need to wait around for the perfect mentor to show up or the perfect performance management system to be put in place. If you are determined to learn, nobody can stop you.
Sheila Heen (GLS 2015) has spent two decades at the Harvard Negotiation Project, specializing in our most difficult conversations—where disagreements are strong, emotions run high and relationships become strained. Her firm, Triad Consulting Group, works with executive teams to strengthen their working relationships, work through tough conversations and making sound decisions together. She has written two New York Times bestsellers, including her most recent, Thanks for the Feedback, which helps leaders improve their ability to receive feedback.
Elaine Lin Hering is a consultant with Triad Consulting Group, where she works with clients to diagnose challenges, design solutions and deliver programs to build management capacity in negotiations, influence and conflict management skills. Prior to joining Triad, Elaine taught negotiation at Monash Law School in Melbourne, Australia and was a senior consultant for Conflict Management Australaisa, helping them expand their practice into the region. Along with Sheila Heen, she is the co-author of the companion group discussion guide Thank God for the Feedback.