To be a truly feedback-oriented organisation, you need to empower your leaders to see feedback as a human interaction – not just another box to tick. We look at how in the second of our three-part series on getting feedback right.

Despite the best efforts of organisations around the world, performance management still needs significant improvement. In our survey of 900 clients from around the world, 70% said figuring out how to hold managers and employees accountable for effective, quality performance management conversations was a priority.[1]

This will not come as a shock to anyone working in business, as it’s been raised as a concern for decades. To explore it from a new angle, we spoke to 67 high performers outside the corporate world – including elite athletes, musicians, chefs and military members. The resulting research paper Performance Management: A bold new perspective on how individuals, teams and organizations excel sheds new light on how we can improve performance management conversations in the office.

In our first of this three-part series on getting feedback right, we discussed the importance of setting up the right performance management structures. Now, we’ll look at how to equip your leaders to give effective feedback.

While having a solid foundation in place is important, establishing the right environment will only take you so far.

There’s a seesaw relationship between leadership capability and performance management structure. It’s all about finding balance. If leadership capability is high, processes can be less important (in fact, they can get in the way of great conversations). But if there’s a lack of leadership capability, structure is essential to help mitigate issues. Unfortunately, we often see organisations forget to focus on strengthening leader capability in the rush to strip away the process.


3 steps to building performance management capacity in your leaders

1. Build the five traits of effective feedback givers

During our conversations with elite performers, five traits of a good feedback giver consistently emerged. Leaders will need to look inwards to see if they have:

  • Courage to have difficult conversations.
  • Humility to understand your own strengths and weaknesses – and those of others.
  • Credibility that backs up your feedback.
  • Empathy that allows you to tailor your feedback to each person based on their desire to receive feedback, their higher purpose, their career stage and any cultural differences.
  • Honesty to deliver hard truths and be realistic about what your people can and can’t do.

These five factors combine to form a self-awareness in leaders that will help them connect better. It’s important to note that credibility may be more challenging for younger leaders to show, especially if they need to provide feedback to older colleagues.


2. Learn how to connect at a personal level

Connecting on a more human level is an obvious goal in performance management. But it can be difficult when dealing with a range of experiences, attitudes and cultures within various teams. That’s why training managers to recognise human behaviour and connect on a more personal level is important.

For example, a large Australian financial services business realised it needed to enable its leaders to use its performance management structure. Korn Ferry’s six-step internal dialogue framework was the key:

  1. Observe. Seeing what somebody is doing and translating it into specific notes.
  2. Listen. Being present and conscious of other people.
  3. Diagnose. Clearly determining if somebody’s efforts require praise or correction, taking into account both team and individual performance as well as your own biases.
  4. Evaluate. Figuring out if the feedback will actually shift performance or if it’s just an opinion better kept to yourself.
  5. Guage. Finding the best time to give feedback so that it has maximum impact and doesn’t hinder performance.
  6. Tailor. Learning the best way to deliver feedback to each person.


How do effective feedback givers think and act?

This process can work like muscle memory – the more your leaders use it, the more likely these habits will become second nature to them. So this business incorporates these six concepts into onboarding and ongoing leadership management training. It even frames their recruitment interview questions.


3. Give and take notes

Does everyone in your company believe they are working in a feedback-oriented organisation? One way to do this is by normalising the taking and giving of ‘notes’.

Whether they work in the military, international sport or the arts, high-performing people said notes from coaches, directors, generals are the key to quality and timely feedback.

For example, a mining organisation might set specific KPIs for each person, outlining clear goals and priorities such as maximising truck availability, or optimising the cost of labour. With clear performance criteria, it’s simpler to take and share notes on an individual’s performance through a more collaborative feedback conversation. Managers can ask what can be done to empower team members to reach their targets. Or they might check in with frontline staff about what did and did not work. And employees can communicate where bottlenecks and issues are. Sometimes we even see third-party coaches come in and walk leaders and team members through these conversations.

Normalising (and even institutionalising) note-taking and feedback giving goes a long way toward making sure your people are held accountable. And that’s an important aspect of building feedback-hungry individuals, which we’ll look at in more details in the next article in this series.

Once you’ve built the right environment for performance management, you need to help your leadership team continually improve their capability to share that feedback. Finding the balance between structure and humanity is the key – and only a conscious focus on both will make effective performance conversations part of your culture.

It’s not breaking news that many leaders still struggle to provide effective feedback. But by venturing outside the office and looking at performance management through a different lens, we can define the measurable traits of high-performing leaders. Then we can create a simple – highly teachable – mental model to equip leaders with the thought process to optimise the feedback they provide. From that framework comes a radically human performance management model – one that delivers improved results across entire organisations.


To learn more, download our report Performance Management: A bold new perspective on how individuals, teams and organisations excel.

[1] Performance Management: A bold new perspective on how individuals, teams and organizations excel, Korn Ferry, 2021

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About the contributors

Murray is an organisational strategy specialist with deep in-house expertise in senior talent and HR leadership roles, coupled with strong global experience in consulting, working with C-suite across diverse sectors and geographies. He is an Associate Client Partner in Korn Ferry’s Sydney office.

Mithran is a Senior Client Partner in Korn Ferry’s Melbourne office and leads the Organisational Strategy and Transformation practice in the Asia Pacific region.

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