Survey: IT Pros Long for More Informal Feedback on Job Performance

    Too many companies fail to address poor performance among their IT staffs and rely too heavily on formal performance evaluations instead of in-the-moment feedback that could help IT pros improve, according to a survey from staffing firm TEKsystems.

    It polled 2,000 IT professionals and 1,500 IT leaders in September on their organizations’ effectiveness in managing performance. Among the findings:

    • Only about 50 percent of IT professionals believe their company’s performance-management systems are effective and driving individual performance and ultimately organizational performance. Thirty percent say it isn’t effective at all.
    • Fifty percent of IT professionals say poor performance goes unaddressed for 3-plus months. And 20 percent say it’s never addressed at all.
    • At the same time, 62 percent of IT leaders think they’re addressing great performance, but only 43 percent of IT pros agree.

    “Performance management isn’t just about coming down and correcting and coaching the performers who need help, but recognizing, motivating, encouraging and praising the great performers in your organization as well,” said Rachel Russell, TEKsystems director of marketing in an interview.

    It seems there’s a real disconnect between what IT bosses say they’re doing and what IT pros perceive. One big area:

    The top way managers thought they should be giving feedback to employees was written.

    “While I get the inclination to make things very clear, people want to be given feedback face to face. They want to have a conversation about how they’re doing — not some written-up document that’s submitted to the HR department then emailed to them. Having face-to-face dialogue is a huge opportunity for organizations,” said Russell, who also emphasized the importance of being prompt in giving feedback and being direct.

    Russell pointed to these areas in need of improvement:

    • Setting expectations: “About a third of IT professionals say that expectations are clear. So two-thirds are saying they’re not as clear as they could be. So if you don’t have expectations around performance, you’re not going to be able to drive performance to business objectives. It also becomes very difficult to set goals, to let employees feel like they’re progressing and making an impact,” she said.
    • Feedback: Most IT professionals say they have semi-annual or annual reviews, which everybody hates. “But they would prefer to have much more frequent informal feedback so they’re not waiting six months or a year to find out what their manager thinks about their job performance. They want to have a relationship with their managers as they’re executing their jobs. Most of them say they want formal feedback on a 30-day cycle and informal feedback as often as their performance deviates from a goal or expectation. They’re not getting that today.”
    • Examples of behavior: “Managers have to be connected enough to their employees to say, ‘Hey Brandon, this is what I saw you do that I thought was absolutely phenomenal. And here’s the impact I see you having on the organization when you do A, B and C,’” said Russell. “Or ‘Brandon, when you did X, it was really a missed opportunity. I think if you had explored doing this differently, next time you’d have a better impact.’ Providing examples of behavior has to be something you don’t sit on for six months then spring on Brandon in his formal review.”

    Managers can feel uncomfortable giving feedback, especially if it’s critical, but failing to address performance hurts not only the employee, but also the company, Russell said.

    “Organizations have to embrace the idea that there’s no such thing as unkind kindness. You don’t want to say, ‘I don’t want to be the bad-guy manager and tell Brandon he could have done something better.’ As Brandon’s manager, I see my honorable responsibility to make sure Brandon is getting the feedback he needs — positive and negative.”

    Informal feedback can take many forms — just a pat on the back or an invitation to go for coffee.

    Poor performance can likewise take many forms — including a worker just having a bad day. Russell recommended acknowledging even that in a caring way.

    “It’s not something you want to publicly flog someone for, but it’s not something you want to ignore either,” she said. “Having a bad day is not an excuse to deviate from what the organization needs you to do. While we want to be understanding and human toward each other, the most human thing to do is to pull them aside privately and say, ‘Hey, I notice you’re not yourself today. What’s going on? How can I help?’

    “Bosses tend to think of addressing poor performance as being very negative and we want to help IT organizations change that. If they only see it in that way, they will shy away from it and employees will not get the coaching and guidance that they need, and the organization will not achieve the level of performance it seeks.”

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