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The Secret of Feedback: Frequent Teaspoonfuls

Most managers dread performance assessment season. The thought of stepping away from the day-to-day demands to painfully recap each direct report’s actions and impact over the last 365 days pains many; many dread the ominous black cloud of actually delivering that feedback to the employee and managing their reactions.

The result? Typically, performance feedback is both limited – in frequency (annually), volume, candor and time allotted – and delayed until the last minute/deadline to further shorten the time invested and period of exposure for the manager for whatever ensues.

The consequences of this to the business are significant – it represents a missed opportunity to get the most of your talent and yourself as a manager.

The Feedback Secret: Frequent Teaspoonfuls

Effective leaders think about performance feedback completely differently. Performance assessment is not a “season” – but rather is longitudinal over time. That is, great leaders assess and deliver candid performance feedback often, if not every day:

  1. WHEN? Frequently: Feedback is delivered frequently. It is timely relative to a recent observation.

  2. WHAT?

  • Teaspoonfuls: The feedback is specific, relevant and concise. It is a feedback “teaspoonful” with real-time context and which can readily be consumed and applied (vs. a tome spanning 365 days of performance).

  • Objective: The feedback is objective, candid and honest. It may be constructive or congratulatory – but each is delivered only when warranted. The clarification here is that praising mediocre performance devalues the praise altogether vs. being something employees strive to achieve. Great leaders set clear expectations for excellence and then make time and are conscious to recognize that strong performance when it occurs.

  1. HOW? Tailored Tone: How feedback is delivered – the tone, style and timing – is tailored to the recipient and delivered in a way to which the recipient will be receptive.

  2. WHY? Big Picture: Frequent teaspoonfuls of feedback over time piece together a pattern that defines an employee’s style and highlights both strengths and potential derailing behaviors. This "big picture" of performance serves as the basis for ongoing coaching and presents a leader the opportunity to recognize improvements as they occur and to continue to coach employees on refinements throughout the year.

Benefits to Manager and Employee Alike

When leaders embrace the secret of feedback, their effort can dramatically impact performance, change the overall relationship between manager and employee and make it far easier to give feedback.

With this approach:

  • Since observations are current, it becomes relatively easy to assess how an employee is performing,

  • Communicating teaspoonfuls of specific feedback is much easier than delivering a bolus of feedback reflecting 365 days of performance,

  • By the end of the year, teaspoonfuls of feedback add up to paint a complete picture of employee performance,

  • An employee values knowing where he/she stands throughout the year and having the opportunity to adjust their performance. He/she tends to appreciate that the manager is providing feedback and is receptive to making adjustments, and

  • Providing feedback to an employee represents an investment by the leader towards the employee's success and thus helps to strengthen the trusting relationship between them.

Ancillary Benefit: “No Surprises”

The best part of this approach? With the secret of feedback, when the performance assessment “season” arrives – the formal process with defined milestones led by Human Resources – there should be no surprises for the employee. The employee should recognize the feedback captured in the formal performance review from feedback (compliments and development opportunities) discussed throughout the year. And ideally, the performance assessment captures course corrections or improvements made by the employee throughout the year on the basis of the real-time feedback and ongoing coaching leaders routinely provide to help the employee develop and succeed.

Leadership Habit of Feedback

If your approach sounds more like the start of this post than the end, then try applying the secret of feedback; try making performance feedback an ongoing leadership habit. As a start, allocate time weekly from your schedule to think through performance of your staff and make sure to carve out time in your one-on-one meetings to talk about employee performance.

Trust me, both leaders and employees will benefit from approaching performance feedback longitudinally versus as a single moment in time. Your employees will appreciate not having surprises in their formal performance reviews, will value your investment in their development and success, and benefit from the real-time feedback as the year progresses.

And for you? Adopting frequent feedback lifts the anxiety associated with assessing talent, makes feedback a valuable lever in your coaching toolbox and ultimately differentiates great leaders.

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Lisa Andrade is founder and CEO of M33, an executive coaching and leadership development company proven in both the “executive” and “coaching” in executive coaching. M33 leverages the art of leadership and advanced leadership science to create an executive blueprint tailored to you and your organization. For an initial consultation with Lisa, contact M33 at

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