Rethinking Performance Reviews: Q&A with Margie Mauldin, Author of ‘Feedback Revolution’

Mary Lorenz


‘Tis the season for yearly performance reviews. But should it be? According to Margie Mauldin, author of the new book, “Feedback Revolution: Building Relationships & Boosting Results,” the annual performance review is dead. And she would know: As the president and founder of Executive Forum, a leadership training firm that services over 2,000 clients each year, Mauldin knows a thing or two about giving effective feedback. (She even has her own definition for it.) Mauldin recently spoke with CareerBuilder to discuss the importance of positive feedback, why some of us avoid it and how to get better at giving it.

What made you choose feedback as the topic of your book, “Feedback Revolution”?

I think the performance appraisal process as we’ve done it for past 40 or 50 years is over. I also wanted to have a viral idea about giving feedback from the positive sense. Feedback is – and this is my definition – information shared with an individual or a group for the express purpose of improvement. It’s not about venting, blaming or shaming. And there are things you can do to get yourself in the appropriate mindset for giving feedback in that way.

What are some of those ways?

The first approach is to find your zone. By that I mean, [figuring out] your optimal energy, attitude and environment for giving feedback. Are you a morning person or an afternoon person? Are you still worked up about some event, and does that affect your attitude? Do you need to examine that a little more before you launch into feedback with someone? And as for environment, where is the appropriate place to have this feedback conversation?

You also probably need to take into consideration the person getting the feedback, right?

Oh, absolutely. In the book, we talk about “getting smart” –  that is, really researching some facts and background, and understanding a little more about the person you’re going to be speaking with. Whether it’s a coworker or direct report, it’s important to have facts together before you give someone feedback.

You said you think the performance appraisal is over. What do you think needs to change about the annual performance review as we know it?

I’d recommend a quarterly review with weekly check-ins. Of course, managers and leaders will say, “Are you kidding me? I can’t even do my yearly review, so how am I going to have a weekly meeting with someone?” But if you think of a professional football team – imagine if all of those players only got feedback once a year. How would they be able to perform at the extremely high level for which they’re being compensated? If, even in this interview, something is not going quite right or you’re not getting the information you want, I’d want you to tell me right now – not 20 minutes from now. So it’s that ability to be in the moment and give feedback that’s intended for improvement.

I think another place where we get confused in business is, individuals will take the information very personally – either as an assault to their character or their expertise – when really, it’s a comment about improvement. Who wouldn’t want that information, though? If I can [learn something to help me] be better the next time, why wouldn’t I want to know that?

Do you have any tips on how to give better feedback?

One thing is to ask permission. You don’t have to say, “May I have your permission to give you feedback?” Instead, you can say something like, “I noticed something in the meeting this morning. Can I share that with you?” Just asking for permission really sets an even tone that it’s not about attacking or belittling. We have another phrase when we talk about how to frame feedback, and it’s “What’s in it for them?” or WIIFT, for short. The information and the comments you give to the other person should be about helping them improve, not about you pointing something out as a “gotcha” or blaming. It’s just a different way to think about giving feedback.

Why are some people so reluctant to give feedback?

There are a few reasons. They don’t want the encounter to go badly, so they put it off. The other thing people will say to me is, “I don’t know how.” If you don’t have a skill, you’re not going to practice it, so you’re never going to get better. It’s a vicious cycle. I tell people to practice at the dry cleaner. Or practice at the grocery store, practice with your sister. Have a level of safety where, once you get a new set of skills, you have to try them out.

If there’s one concept you’d want people to take away from your book, what would it be?

Asking yourself, “What’s in it for them?” [before giving feedback] and really understanding why you’re giving them this information. And asking permission.

Want more feedback advice? Find out how to get more out of your employee performance reviews.



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