In this Speak Previews®, ECG's CEO Frank Carillo reviews the best strategies for the oft-dreaded but immensely useful performance review.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions—but it must taste awful given how few people seek it out, much less how just the term causes eyes to roll!

ECG is always monitoring shifts in executive development to harvest insights that will make our clients more effective. The research overwhelmingly points to the critical role feedback plays in pursuing peak performance.

But, just like breakfast, feedback can come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors. Some is definitely better than others. And if you have been the one serving up the feedback, you know it often isn’t easy to prepare.


The biggest strategic mistake in feedback conversations is too much one-way communication—typically from the critiquer to the recipient. The biggest derailer of feedback communication is criticism of a sensitive nature that blindsides the listener.

All of us know what we believe about ourselves, both the good and the bad. If asked to verbally share that knowledge, the feedback recipient could actually lead the conversation in terms of discussing his or her strengths and improvement opportunities. The coach or reviewer should amplify or tone down the self-assessment based upon their experiences with that person.

Of course, it is easier to amplify strengths (“Your work was even better than you think”) or tone down improvement assessments (“That wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t a big problem for the team”) than it is to amplify criticism and tone down self-praise (“While you did do a good job, are there areas you feel could still improve?”). Because the person has already vocalized their assessment, they have opened the door for this feedback interaction to be a safe area to explore more detailed feedback.


What about what the feedback target does not know about themselves? There are strengths about this person that they are not aware of, at least not well enough to articulate unprompted. This is a time when the coach can go beyond the employee’s self-assessment, raising awareness and boosting confidence. The coach should introduce awareness to strengths that are underutilized and should be brought to bear more often in the future. Feedback about how you may do something better in the future is more important for peak performance than recriminations about the past.

What’s left is the blind spot, fraught with vulnerability, at best, and impossible to believe, at worst.

As a person discusses aspects of adjusting future behavior, it increases the likelihood that they will attempt the change. A good coach must therefore always balance the immediate need for change with the demotivation risks of blindsiding that person. ECG’s advice is to give the feedback process time to work and remain silent on the blind spot, as long as the blind spot does not put the health and safety of this person or others at risk.

You will be surprised how working towards peak performance unmasks behaviors that hold back success. This process will unearth new opportunities, as self-awareness expands for the recipient. The awkward blind spot will either recede or become self-evident and future reviews will be safer and stronger.

Don’t look at performance reviews and coaching conversations as a check-box exercise. Turn the obligatory discussion into a meal fit for a champion.