Imagine for a moment being an naval explorer from antiquity. You set sail from the Old World, plotting a course that will take you across the vast and deep sea toward your foreign destination. The trip will be long and wrought with dangers. Head winds will hinder your progress. Cross winds will blow you off course. Storms will rise, tossing the vessel in unpredictable ways. Winds will cease, leaving your ship adrift.
The journey would difficult at best. Yet now let’s throw in one more twist, a restriction that no seafaring traveler from old would agree to. Let’s say that you could only take one bearing during the trip. You could only consult the stars with your sextant but once, only at the very beginning. You cannot check your progress. You have no way to determine what adjustments must be made to your course to successfully complete your journey. You are, in effect, sailing without any feedback.
How do you think you’d do? Would you reach your destination? Or would the imprecise reading at the onset of the journey leave you hundreds of miles off course? Would you sail safely into the New World? Or would the unpredictable events during the year long adventure affect your ability to succeed?
Of course, the likelihood of actually arriving your destination, of achieving your goal, would be near zero.
Yet, as leaders and managers, this is what we frequently do to our teams. We set their destinations (performance goals for the year) and expect them to accomplish them without any feedback from us throughout the year.
We withhold the frequent feedback that will help them to do their jobs better, that will help them to make the micro adjustments along the way to improve. Then once a year we unleash a barrage of shortcomings during their annual review. And they never see it coming.
If anything you say during an annual review is a surprise to a member of your team, the failing is not theirs. It’s yours. You didn’t give them feedback, important feedback, during the year to help them do their jobs. You didn’t help them to make the adjustments required.
Were they habitually late to meetings? You didn’t tell them that was unsatisfactory. Were they consistently blaming others when they missed deadlines? You didn’t help them to own all aspects of their projects. Were they having interpersonal issues with other departments? You didn’t provide the feedback so they could adjust.
If the feedback is important, if it’s worth dinging them on an annual review, why would you withhold it until the annual review? Why not give them the gift of feedback regularly?
Learn to give feedback. It’s not hard. It doesn’t have to be stressful. And your team will appreciate it.