|Paul G. Young, Ph. D.|
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
Mention the words “performance review”, and they often conjure up anxious memories of uncomfortable conversations with our bosses. For many of us, those painful experiences ranked close to going to the dentist for a root canal. We’d do anything to avoid them. The documentation and feedback processes that were used often had little meaning. Little good ever came from the experience.
The reality is, unfortunately, that many of us don’t conduct performance reviews with our staffs any better than our bosses. Most of us have never been trained in how to give supportive feedback. It's not a performance task in our long list of work responsibilities that typically gets perfected. We stress and worry about how to deliver unpleasant messages and respond to recipients’ reactions. So we tend to ignore or procrastinate until, quite often, pressure points build. When that happens, change often becomes unattainable.
In contrast, we all respond favorably to positive feedback. It has many benefits. It helps us all focus our attention and behavior. Giving it shows that we care and notice what others do. Since one of our primary responsibilities is to increase and enhance the skills of our professional staffs, providing feedback (positive or negative) is one of the most powerful tools we have as leaders. We need to learn to do it well.
We can learn a lot about giving feedback by observing what the great athletic coaches do. They train and mentor their players to improve, overcome mistakes, become a cohesive team, and achieve success. Great coaches let their players know they care whether their feedback is positive or critical. They share strong interpersonal relationships. Expectations are clear. Feedback and ideas are communicated and exchanged in highly personalized ways. All players are given proper attention and training with opportunities to grow.
Our coaching work with afterschool professionals, hopefully under a lot less stress of most high profile coaches, is just as important. We can learn by observing them in order to improve our processes for giving feedback to our staffs. No matter our level of experience, we all have room for improvement.
We must focus more on observable work behaviors, less on attitude or personality traits. We must provide feedback in the moment, everyday, not days after the fact. It should be delivered in a short, informal, and mostly positive manner. We must encourage our staff members to provide peer feedback to each other, and just as in sports, to teach peer support processes to their students.
Furthermore, I encourage you to give feedback to your afterschool staff in this way. “Motivate on Monday” and give “Feedback on Friday”. When your staff reports on Mondays, spend a few minutes outlining major goals and expectations for the week. Allow time for questions. Provide encouragement. Highlight successes. Individualize as needed for each person. Be motivational. Set the tone for the week. Then, before everyone leaves on Friday, provide summary feedback that you haven’t otherwise shared throughout the week. Show people you care and how you will support them going forward.
Relationships are the key. Communication must be effective. Giving feedback, as challenging as it sometimes may be, is essential to grow and develop our staffs. Get involved with NAA where you will have many opportunities to listen and learn and further develop your leadership skills as an afterschool professional.