Beyond the stress of performance appraisals: How critical feedback affects even your best employees and what you can do

April 9, 2024
Beyond the stress of performance appraisals: How critical feedback affects even your best employees and what you can do

Feedback given during appraisal conversations can have negative effects even in ‘ideal’ circumstances. Why is that? And, how can you enable your managers to give effective feedback during appraisals?

We all know about annual performance appraisals being stressful for both, your employees and managers in your organization who have to conduct them. There are many nuances that make or break performance appraisal conversations. But, what happens in an ideal circumstance?

Let’s imagine a conversation between one of your high-performing, learning-oriented employees, and a manager who does not intend to be critical. What happens then?

In the above example, the employee is already one of the top performers. If there is any critical feedback then that employee would be willing to take it onboard and apply it to their work since they are inclined to learn new skills. At least, that would be the assumption. Additionally, the manager does not intend to be critical.

This must be one of the easier appraisal conversations to navigate through, right?

Think again...

Summarizing the research by psychologists at Kansas State University, Eastern Kentucky University, and Texas A&M University, Jena McGregor writes in the Washington Post, "Those who like to learn — presumably some of the best employees — were significantly bothered by the negative feedback they received."

Employees had negative reactions to even those parts of the appraisal meeting in which the manager did not intend to be critical. "If negative feedback has the potential to discourage even the best performers and the most industrious employees, then managers need to be especially careful that what's intended as praise doesn't get misconstrued as criticism."

From this, it is pretty clear that there is a lot riding on how managers give and receive feedback. It is unnecessary to say, how well your managers give feedback affects your organization in the coming financial year.

Negative Effects of Performance Appraisal Issues:

Many managers may know what to do but the prospect of having one-on-one conversations can be stressful for anyone. It is important to go from knowing what to do, to being able to harness insights and apply them.

  1. High emotional labour for both managers and employees
  2. Drop in productivity
  3. Retention of top talent

The Challenges with Giving Feedback

While your managers may not intend to be critical, one-on-one conversations where they have to evaluate performance can be challenging for most people. Giving effective feedback comes down to behavioural training. We turn to traditonal classroom sessions or role-playing scenarios. But, behavioural learning is particularly difficult because, the presence of an audience changes our behaviour. This is particularly true when we know our choices and actions are being judged.

From other side of the lens, behavioural learning is often thought of as moving mountains. It is because, the popular opinion is that behavioural learning requires changes at a fundamental level in an individual. Most people see affecting behavioural change as a complicated, long-term task.  While this is true, is there a shift in approach that can help us enable people to do their best work in a particular role?

Making the Shift to Role-Based, Experiential Behavioural Training

While both the points mentioned in the previous section are true, not every effort to affect behaviour needs to address all these needs at once. What if you could identify the most important behavioural dimensions required for an individual to be successful in their role and then particularly target those competencies? In this case,

  • What if your managers could practice difficult conversations such as appraisal discussions?
  • What if they could they choose between different approaches at each step of the conversation?
  • What if they could receive immediate feedback, and apply it to their practice?
  • What if you could enable them with such an environment in a virtual platform?

You will agree, theses changes can be particularly powerful for behavioural learning and course-correction. What better impetus to modify behaviour than the one that comes from within an individual? But, how do we achieve this

This brings us to the point where we have to explore new ways of behavioural learning and understand why they may be effective when other methods fall short.

How Advanced Behavioural Simulations are Helping Managers Give Effective Feedback

Making behavioural learning an experiential process has many advantages, not the least of which being that the individual can actually engage, act, and reflect in their real-life context. Since they begin by engaging in the simulation and control all the decisions, the individual 'initiates the learning process', thereby increasing the possibility of behavioural change.

Behavioural simulations offer a safe, virtual environment for your managers to practice such difficult conversations. They can choose between different approaches at each step of the conversation and get immediate feedback. They can try different approaches without hesitation and ‘see’ the effect of these different approaches in a learning simulation. This process allows employees to reflect on their choices, course correct, and learn in a safe environment without fear of judgement, or exposure.  

This process builds a cause for behavioural change in the immediate context. Learners have the opportunity to reflect on the process and the outcomes without any external impetus or judgement; the push comes from within in such a case.

The Final Word

Of course, beyond skills, such conversations are bound to get strenuous on your managers and employees if they are held infrequently. Performance reviews must happen often through, both, formal and informal channels. Josh Bersin, in his Forbes article 'Time to Scrap Performance Appraisals?' writes, "Set and reset goals frequently. Companies that set performance goals quarterly generate 31% greater returns from their performance process than those who do it annually, and those who do it monthly get even better results."

This will offset the 'shock' of finding out what 'my manager thinks of my work' at the end of the year. Set consistent expectations and make employees more oriented towards achieving those goals.



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