Performance Feedback Should Never Be A Surprise

Steve Williamson, VP Digital Marketing and Content Creation, eRep, Inc.
Monday, May 30, 2022
Performance Feedback Should Never Be A Surprise

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Adam Grant said on Twitter, "If you're surprised by the feedback you get at a performance review, your boss has failed. Good managers don't wait for formal meetings to help you grow. They make it a daily priority. The sooner you get feedback, the sooner you can break bad habits and learn better ones." Source: Twitter @AdamMGrant1

Annual Performance Reviews

We've written before that annual performance reviews must die. It's as simple as that.

However, some of our readers have pointed out that they can still serve a purpose, and that is true with one huge caveat: annual performance reviews can be useful as a summary of long-term goals set and met as long as the employee has had regular and interactive feedback with their supervisor throughout the entire year.

If the annual review is an employee's only review, fuhgetaboutit. If you don't communicate with your employees at all, how are you still in business?

Now that we have the wrong way to do things out in the open, let's talk about the right way.

Steering the Ship

Let's start with an analogy.

You are the captain of a massive cargo ship. You are leaving the docks and must navigate your huge vessel out of the harbor, past the jetty, and into the open ocean. Can you do this by looking out over the bow once per day, making a correction on the wheel, and then waiting another 24 hours before you look and steer again?

Probably not.

People don't run on GPS-guided navigation systems with pre-programmed courses set on day one and then forgotten under the assumption they will successfully reach their destination. People work best with regular guidance and likely some small corrections along the way as needed.

Guidance is not the same as micro-management, though. You hired the individual because they have the skills, training and experience to do their job. Why not give them clear directions, then step back and let them do it?

You don't hire a chess grandmaster and then tell them how to move their pawns.

A Guidance Formula

Follow the Performance Fuel formula (an eRep original):

Clarity + Purpose + Feedback = Performance


→ Clarity means knowing what is to be accomplished without ambiguity.

We have written before about what happens when an employee fails to meet un-expressed expectations. "If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you" won't cut it. Let the employee know what their objectives are, the constraints within which they must operate, and communicate these things without ambiguity.

Eliminate ambiguity by using interactive communication. Ensure the employee accurately and fully hears and understands their assigned objectives by working interactively with them.

Clarity also means the employee has the tools and resources they need to adequately complete their objectives. Figuratively speaking, if you expect $100 worth of performance out of your team member but they only have $80 worth of the resources and tools they need, you'll come up $20 short.

Sweat alone can't make up the difference. Demanding your employees work harder to make up the shortfall will just cause increased turnover and that will cost you a lot more than the $20 would have in the first place.


→ Purpose means the employee knows that what they do matters and will be genuinely appreciated.

Astute readers will see there are three parts to this maxim.

The first is what the employee knows. The value you place upon their work and their contribution to the overall effort must be effectively communicated. Don't assume they feel appreciated simply because their paycheck arrives on time and clears the bank. Follow the lesson of clarity by conveying your appreciation and the value of their contribution clearly and without ambiguity.

The second part of purpose is making sure the employee knows their contribution matters. How does it fit into their role's long-term objectives? How does their role fit into the team's success? How does their team's contribution help the organization fulfill its mission? Tie it all together and convey it — again, don't assume they know.

Finally, the value of their contribution and your appreciation for it must be genuine. Don't let some mass-produced motivational poster hanging on the break room wall do it for you. Say it in person, say it honestly, and say it without qualification. Leave out "if" and "but" from your statements of appreciation.

Recommended article: Secrets to Giving Effective Praise and Apologies


→ Feedback is getting the helpful and honest information the employee needs in a timely manner.

Tie the employee's clarity and purpose together through a pattern of regular feedback.

The underlying theme of everything we're talking about here relies on effective communication. Don't pass your clarity and purpose down onto the person from on high. Interact interactively.

Listen as much as you speak, and do it in that order. Let the employee convey their ideas and concerns and never spank them for saying something that might go against the grain or is somewhat painful to hear. Digest what they say, think about your response, and do your best to answer in the most constructive and honest way possible.

Some of the best ideas come from front-line workers, and many tried and true maxims of the workplace are based on the premise that those who directly do the work are the most qualified to identify ways the work can be done better. Place value in that and encourage observation and innovation in your team.

Even if a team member's ideas never get implemented, they are spending time and energy thinking about ways to make improvements, and that is like gold to your long-term success.

Feedback should also be an ongoing process, not a conversation you have once a year. The frequency will depend on the individual and the nature of their work, so plan to adjust your schedule and check-in routine accordingly. Communicate with your team members as often as needed, and let them initiate communication with you as often as they feel the need.

The Performance Recipe

Follow this recipe to take your team's performance to the next level:

  • Give them clarity without ambiguity about their objectives and constraints;
  • Provide the resources they need based on the work to be done;
  • Convey genuine appreciation and a sense for the value of their work, and;
  • Do it all with interactive and honest feedback as often as needed.
Don't let your team's performance be a surprise.


[1], May 2, 2022 12:05 PM

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Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson

Innovator/Banker - VP Digital Marketing and Content Creation, eRep, Inc.

Steve has a career in project management, software development and technical team leadership spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (, and when he isn't writing, he enjoys cycling, old-school table-top role-playing games, and buzzing around the virtual skies in his home-built flight simulator.

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