Giving a High Performer Productive Feedback

Giving feedback, particularly constructive feedback, is often a stressful task. And giving feedback to a top performer can be even tougher. 

By Amy Gallo
February 24, 2020

In identifying a top performer’s development needs, you can sometimes feel like you’re nitpicking, or being demanding. In addition, top performers may not be used to hearing constructive feedback and may rankle at the slightest hint that they’re not perfect. Don’t be tempted to bend the feedback rules for top performers: 

  • Gather data and details to support your feedback. 
  • Describe behaviors, not traits. 
  • Don’t dwell on the past; focus on what the employee can change in the future. 
  • Be sure to check for understanding and agree on clear next steps and a fair way to measure progress. You do your stars a disservice if you fail to help them figure out how they can continue to grow.

High performers often have great results; yet it’s important to understand how they achieve those results, and often at what cost. Think carefully about the behaviors that have enabled your stars to succeed — they may be the same behaviors holding them back.

To make the most of your feedback session, focus the discussion on three levels:

  • Their current performance
  • Their next performance frontier
  • Their future goals and aspirations

Start your feedback session by specifically stating what your stars have accomplished. Show gratitude for their contributions and successes. Constructive feedback is more easily received if it is preceded by genuine appreciation for hard work. Given how valuable your stars are to you and your organization, you can’t express enough how much you value them.

Top performers are likely to be committed to self-improvement — that’s one of the ways they became top performers. As their manager, it’s your responsibility to help them determine how to keep improving. Tap into that commitment and engage your high performers in a discussion about how they might achieve the next level of performance. This part of the discussion should include recognition of what might be standing in their way, and how they can overcome those obstacles.

Once you and your stars have agreed on where they are headed, ask about their motivation and values. Ask questions such as: “What do you want to be known for?” or “What matters most to you?” This will give them a chance to reflect on their career path and how this current role and their next performance frontier fit in. It will also allow you to figure out how you can align their motivations with those of the company.

Before you wrap up a feedback session, solicit feedback on how you are doing as a manager. Ask, “How can I continue to support your high performance?” or “What can we do as an organization to keep getting better and supporting your great work?”

In giving feedback to your stars, frequency is crucial. Don’t wait for review time. You and your company depend on retaining top performers, so it’s a wise investment of your time and energy to support and develop them.

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Topics: Leadership Management

Are You Really Listening?
The Blackwell Sisters: Physician Leadership and Courage