Posted by Jesse • October 4, 2016 (Last modified January 29, 2021) • 6 min read
Writer’s block always strikes at the worst possible moment, doesn’t it? When your performance review system calls for you to leave notes or comments on your employees, you can bet it will make an appearance. No matter how many different ways you Google synonyms for “good job,” the task of leaving those comments becomes much more daunting than it should be. Suddenly, writing a genuine sentence or two for everyone on your team takes the whole day. And both you and your employees aren’t impressed with the final result. Surely there is a better way!
Are you familiar with SMART goals? It’s an easy-to-remember template that takes the guesswork out of setting effective goals. By following the SMART approach (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely), you’ll arrive at goals that are understood by everyone.
There is also a tried-and-true guide for crafting comments called STAR feedback. Let’s take a look at the STAR method and how it can jump-start your performance review system.
STAR feedback helps managers provide relevant and actionable feedback by considering the following three factors:
STAR feedback is an excellent way to cut through the noise and come up with feedback that will resonate with the employee. Let’s explore each part of the STAR feedback model in more depth.
It helps to narrow things down a little bit when coming up with feedback. “Great job last month!” or “way to go!” aren’t helpful to your employees because they aren’t very exact.
The first thing to establish when giving STAR feedback is a precise situation your employee faced or task they were given. “We were about to miss our monthly sales goal” or “the network went down in the middle of rush hour” are examples of challenges an employee may face. Specific tasks an employee could take on include “build a new website” or “increase monthly leads by 10 percent.”
We’re starting our feedback process by considering the major objectives the employee took on. The more specific the situation/task is, the more personalized your feedback will be.
What exactly did your employee do to respond to the situation or task at hand? This could be positive or negative. Try to avoid generic phrases like “handled it,” “got things done,” or “dropped the ball”—of course they did, but how?
This is key to reinforce ideal behaviors or best practices with the employee. Did they consider all options and take the most logical approach to the problem? Did they remain level-headed and focused on their objectives? Your goal is to ensure the employee would know exactly what to do if the same situation occurred again.
What was the direct result of the employee’s action? Did they successfully solve the problem or complete their task? First, determine whether or not the outcome was successful, then consider how the employee’s action impacted the result.
Instead of a simple pat on the back, the STAR feedback model gives managers a simple-yet-effective process for delivering relevant feedback. It gives employees the confidence to act on their good ideas again. Or in the case of negative feedback, the employee learns exactly what they should have done instead.
STAR feedback is especially useful when completing employee performance reviews. Appraisal forms can be lengthy and managers can consider situation/task, action, and result every time they hit a roadblock. It’s a great mental exercise for recalling past examples of an employee’s performance. And managers will have plenty to reference if they’ve been documenting the employee’s performance milestones.
Seems easy, right? It is and it makes a tremendous difference. Let’s explore examples of how comments can look before and after the STAR feedback method:
“Steve helped us hit our monthly sales goal. Great work, Steve!”
“Maria fixed the internet. Good job!”
“Morgan created a beautiful new website!”
“Sarah has increased our lead volume. Woo hoo!”
The examples above are certainly nice compliments your employees will appreciate receiving. However, let’s stop for a second and consider the negative version of these comments:
“Steve failed to help us hit our monthly sales goal.”
“The internet was down all day because Maria couldn’t figure out what was wrong.”
“The new website isn’t what we had in mind, Morgan.”
“Sarah came up short in her monthly lead target.”
Everyone likely gave their best effort but are being told they simply failed. They don’t learn where they can improve next time so they may start questioning their skills or thinking about moving on to another career opportunity.
The goal of performance feedback isn’t just to acknowledge successes or failures. You should instead consider why results were positive or negative. Let’s look at examples of how you can do so with STAR feedback.
“We were about to miss our monthly sales goal. Steve spent some extra time calling potential clients and ended up landing two more deals for us. Great work, Steve!”
“We lost our network connection at the busiest time of day. Maria kept cool under pressure, followed the troubleshooting procedures, and we were back up and running in no time! Good job!”
“Morgan was tasked with project managing the design and development of our new website. She created multiple mock-ups and collected feedback from organizational leadership. She also worked with the front-end developer to ensure the website functioned as intended. Amazing work, Morgan!”
“Sarah was given the ambitious goal of increasing monthly lead volume by 10 percent. She experimented with different channels and identified the most cost-effective sources. Lead volume gradually increased and Sarah hit the mark today!”
The example above reinforce positive behaviors and acts. Here are a couple examples of negative-yet-effective examples of STAR feedback.
“We identified that we were likely going to fall short of our monthly sales target but Steve didn’t make any extra effort to help us get back on track.”
“Internet outages happen but our network was down for too long. Maria got stressed out and failed to follow the troubleshooting procedures which are designed to resolve this type of issue.”
“The new website lacks content and has some functionality issues. Next time, please keep us updated as you progress so we can share feedback and ask for help taking on tasks beyond your skillset.”
“Sarah was resistant to her new monthly lead volume target. She didn’t think outside-the-box and continued to use the same channels and sources.”
By focusing on the specific situation/task, pinpointing the action taken, and directly tying efforts to results, your employees will know exactly what they did right or wrong. Don’t overlook how valuable this type of performance coaching can be. Cambridge University describes feedback as the most important part of communication—and communication is the key to bringing out the best in your team!
Your performance review system is only as good as what you put into it. Say goodbye to generic comments that don’t tell your employees anything they don’t already know and get past that writer’s block by digging into the specifics with STAR feedback!