Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

Mary’s Weekly Articles and Valuable Tools

Subscribe below and get Dr. Mary Kelly’s
weekly newsletter in your inbox.


How to Lead For Helpful Feedback

Are poor performance evaluations killing your teams? Are your people giving and accepting feedback effectively? Is your productivity suffering because of it?

One of the executives I coach recently lamented:

“We want better teamwork, happier employees, and more effort in the workplace.”

“We’ve been using the same performance forms for 10 years. We have a low turnover rate. We pay bonuses twice a year. What else can we do?”

GREAT question from a company that is doing SO many things right.

They are constantly trying to improve. Here is a crazy idea that actually works.

Stop using performance evaluations as a report card and instead treat them as an opportunity to motivate and encourage people who are doing their job with energy, enthusiasm, and effectiveness.

Performance evaluations should be the paperwork that sums up the series (yes, series) of discussions between the leader and the team members. If the ONLY time the leader tells the employee they are making mistakes is at the performance evaluation, then there is a huge communication problem.

Leaders need to be constantly providing feedback, or, as Marshall Goldsmith terms it, feed forward, to their people. Think about it. Are you really going to let someone go for 364 days before you let them know if what they are doing is correct? Doesn’t that seem to be a mammoth waste of their time for those 363 days when they have no idea if they are heading in the right direction?

Why don’t more managers and leaders provide effective and frequent feedback?

  1. They think it has to be a formal process every time they talk with employees..
  2. They are afraid of saying something wrong and possibly being sued. HR and a team of lawyers have them so scared that if they correct someone, they feel they need a team of witnesses.
  3. They don’t know how to provide feedback in a helpful, not confrontational, manner, so they expect the employee to respond defensively and angrily.
  4. They have never been taught how to use feedback to coalesce a team.
  5. They don’t take feedback well themselves so they expect others not to accept it either.
  6. Some (insecure and poor) leaders use feedback as a means of blaming others for team failures.

Managers need to be more involved in what is going on at work.

A few years ago managers dismissed the MBWA – Management By Walking Around idea. However, with the surge on online capabilities, I find more managers holed up in their offices. It is easier than ever for leaders to sequester themselves, only emerging to lead the mandatory meetings where no one participates.

 What can a manager do?

1. Walk around. Get out from behind the desk and assess the mood of the team. There is no substitute for “boots on the ground” and talking with people face to face. Yes, I love technology for communication, but that should augment in-person conversations, not completely replace them.

2. Ask questions and wait for the answers. Questions like, “ How are you?” and “How are things going?” elicit one word answers. “Fine.” “Good.”

Ask open ended questions such as,

“What are you doing that is wasting your time?”

“Is there anything we are doing that we don’t need to do?”

“How can we improve this project or production?”

“What would help you do your job better?”

The premise is that the employee wants to do a good job, knows their job, and wants to be even better.

3. Be accessible. Yes, you have a lot of meetings. One of my Marine friends was enlisted and then got commissioned. He was increasingly frustrated in his new role because, “The troops are all out there doing what I love doing – training, conducting military exercises, and doing what we do to be effective Marines. I’m stuck inside at meetings and in the office for 10 hours a day doing all of the budgets, personnel processing, and reports that make it all happen. So I’m not doing what I love to do, AND my troops now view me as distant and cold and arrogant because I am not out where they are.”

Yes.  Welcome to leadership. One challenge is making sure your team knows that your job has shifted, but that you are still accessible.

Employees need to know the boss understands what they do, and is around if there is a problem.

4. Stay informed. If you aren’t around, your people won’t share information with you. If you aren’t around, how can they tell you what’s really going on?

5. Show up to show you care. Employees who feel that you are not around generally believe that you don’t care about them or the job they are doing. Some will be relieved that you aren’t around to conduct the informal quality assurance checks that happen naturally when you are present.  Others will throw in the towel and resort to doing the minimal job necessary. They believe that if you aren’t around, you simply don’t care. That is translated as, “If the boss doesn’t care, why should I care?”

So get up, walk around, ask questions, listen to the answers, and be accessible.


  1. Sodet

    Very nice! I agree! I’ll practice it!

  2. Kevin McNulty

    One of the best articles I’ve read relating to performance feedback. To say “Performance evaluations should be the paperwork that sums up the series (yes, series) of discussions between the leader and the team members” is brilliant. It really puts into context what annual evals should be about. As someone who coaches managers and leaders…and have a workshop on “Straight-Talk Performance Counseling”…this will be one of my go to recommended articles. Terrific Mary…thank you for sharing your great ideas!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *