Feedback is one of the most valuable gifts our colleagues can give us. To find someone who has the tact, courage and skill to tell you honestly how you are doing is a very rare thing indeed. In 36 years of full time work I had seven good appraisals.
We need to recognise that the first responsibility is ours. It is easy to blame bosses, colleagues or the system for the failure to provide feedback. If we send out the signal that we do not want feedback or even that we think we are so fantastic that no improvement is possible, we should not be surprised if people let us ride all the way to failure.
We need to send out the signal that we will welcome feedback and that despite our general brilliance, we have retained at the back of our minds the possibility that we might not be perfect and that there might be scope for improvement.
If our boss is incapable or unwilling to provide feedback we can get and give a lot of very good advice from and to our peers and indeed from those who work for us. Feedback is not just the boss’s job.
Then we come to the issue of how to do it. The best approach is to give the advice on an ongoing basis and not to wait for an annual event. There are five key steps.
First, give time to the process, whether it is a discussion of a single event or the annual appraisal itself. Do not arrange it close to other meetings, do not allow the discussion to be interrupted by phone calls or people wandering in. If you do not give it time you demonstrate a lack of respect for the person and the process.
Second, prepare for the discussion. Think carefully about what you are going to say - do not make it up as you go along. Once again it is a matter of respect and it is also very easy to be blown off course if you have not prepared.
Third, have evidence to back up what you have to say. Do not just tell people that they are brilliant or a walking disaster, tell them why. People need to understand what you are telling them and nothing is more powerful than detailed evidence of success or failure.
Fourth, remember to give praise as well as constructive criticism. The picture needs to be balanced. Few of us are without some redeeming feature.
Fifth and last, have the courage to do it. There is no substitute for courage. The people we should value are the people who have the courage to tell us how it is.
Sometimes we use reorganisations as a substitute for appraisal. Unable to give feedback, we wait for the day when posts are reduced and we are able to push aside the weakest people with the perfect excuse that, of course, nothing would have given us greater pleasure than to appoint them if only there had been sufficient posts - job done, without the terrible necessity to tell the truth or the awful possibility they might improve.
Giving feedback is a duty and a privilege. It needs to be done and done well.