Even exempt employees value feedback that comes with performance review

Dear Joan:

I bought your CD on Coaching & Feedback and it’s quite good.  Like the tapes I used to study for the CPA exam, to get the most out of it I have to listen to it over and over. I want to ask you about one of the comments you made during one of your ‘staged’ parts where the male is speaking.   You said something to the effect of “not waiting until a performance review.”   

I know there are several schools of thought about reviews and I do think they are useful.  We are not doing them here because some of our management group does not want to have to review salaried exempts (administrative personnel).   

As controller, most of the people, with the exception of one who report to me, are hourly.  What is your philosophy about reviews?  I do agree it’s much better to address the issues head on and not collect them.  One thing I do, whether the action is good or bad, I will write it down on a slip of paper and place it in their personnel file.  For instance, “Did a great job keying all the journal entries,” or “Gave me a great idea on…..” And sometimes, “He stepped up without my asking.” 

I always try to tell them to their face as well, when they’ve done a great job on a specific project or task. And I have no hesitation to pull them in and discuss with them a problem with their performance.  But I still feel like I am abdicating part of my responsibility to give them positive feedback in a review setting.  I’d love to know where you stand on this.  


Why would an hourly person need or want feedback but not an exempt, administrative person? Why would the management group feel compelled to only do a performance review on hourly personnel? My guess is that:  

A. They don’t want to take the time away from technical work.

B. They see it as an administrative task, rather than a motivational tool.

C. They aren’t comfortable giving feedback.

D. They see the main purpose of the performance review as a paper trail that’s required to document problems and fire people.  

If your management group feels that exempt employees “are professionals who know what they should be doing,” and therefore, don’t need performance reviews, I vigorously disagree. In my work with leaders, I can point to hundreds of situations where a lack of feedback—and performance reviews—creates unclear expectations, as well as underperforming and unmotivated employees. 

I think your strategy is the smart one. Good leaders take the time to tell people when they are doing things well, or when they need to get back on track. It’s a simple fact of human nature—we like to hear praise and we want to hear directly if we are messing up. We don’t like to be surprised nine months later in a performance review…or worse, never told at all.  

If you ask your employees if they want an annual review, they may tell you what my employee told me, “Yes, I would. Even though you give me feedback all the time and we work closely together, I’d still like to know how you view my performance ‘all together.’”  

Why not ask your exempt employees if they would like to sit down once a year and talk about what they accomplished during the past year, as well as make plans for their development in the year ahead? It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting.  I suspect they will welcome the opportunity to talk about their most important subject—themselves. 

You could start by asking them what accomplishments they felt they had achieved. You could also ask them what they felt they could do better. Use your notes to review examples of the work you want to discuss. Be sure to ask them what they would like to learn in the coming year. And finally, ask how you can help them. A boss who cares enough to help their employees grow and achieve their goals is a boss everyone wants to work for.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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