Performance reviews: making the most of feedback


All-too-often, mid-year performance reviews are treated as merely box-ticking. However, there is value in genuinely listening to evaluation from all directions. How can we improve the manner in which we give and receive feedback?


Have you had a mid-year performance review? Or given them to your staff?

Sometimes, we can fall into the trap of treating performance appraisals as a necessary but boring aspect of our job. Something to get out of the way before a potential pay rise.

However, I really believe there’s a lot to be gained from giving quality feedback, as well as acting on feedback from all quarters, whether that be from your boss, your peers, your staff or clients.

The value of feedback

One huge benefit of working with horses is that you gain feedback in the moment. They do not know or care about office politics – they simply provide honest, immediate and unbiased responses to your energy, intention, actions and body language. 

If you do not make your horsey team member feel comfortable –  for example too being overbearing, not assertive enough, or too vague in your communication – then he or she will respond right away. It’s literally impossible to move forward with the exercise unless you listen to both positive and negative feedback and respond accordingly.

I recall one time, a group of three people from a small business, including the manager, David, were working with our horse, Kylie. David thought the activity was running seamlessly as the team was completing each task – that is until it was time to work with Kylie without her lead rope attached. You certainly notice when the 500kg team member decides to leave the group. David had no idea why this happened, however his other human team members were quick to interpret. They helped him realise that he had been too task oriented and not checking in and listening to all team members. A huge lightbulb moment for David.

As your coaches, we guide you through the program ensuring that you understand the interactions and how they apply to your leadership style when paralleled back to the office environment.  

When should we give feedback?

You’ve probably heard that annual or semi-annual performance reviews are sometimes considered problematic (although many continue to use them). Research from McKinsey conducted a couple of years ago shows that most CEOs find performance management doesn’t help them identify top performers and half of individuals don’t feel their manager gets it right. At their worst, they can actually demoralise employees; this article from HRD Magazine says it is as “stressful for managers as it is for teams” and a percentage of employees cry or even quit afterwards.

McKinsey has suggested that the way forward could be regular coaching instead of feedback at set times, or if formal performance reviews are kept in place they can be turned on their head “into a positive moment where employees feel empowered to learn and grow”.

I agree that in an ideal world, feedback should be constant in a working environment. However, the reality is without a half tonne animal to remind us, we can get so caught up in what we’re doing day to day we don’t always think to step outside the box. Plus, many of us have to work within the formal structure that our company provides.

Way to maximise the benefit  

Whatever method we use to provide feedback, we should be aiming towards giving and receiving it in a manner that is genuinely advantageous.

I think there are a few basic ways we can all improve how we deliver and receive feedback:

  • Learn to listen. As a whole, humans are terrible at active listening. We listen to respond, not to really hear what people are saying. It is important for the receiver of feedback to actively listen to ensure they improve, but also for the giver in order to gauge whether the feedback has been well-received or not. We actually run a program that focuses on active listening. It is challenging and fun and we witness many ‘aha’ moments such as mentioned above in the Kylie and David story.

  • Put thought into how you deliver feedback. As I’ve written before, humans have different communication styles. Try to recognise that some people might respond to performance reviews differently to others. Remember there is no right or wrong, and accepting and working with these differences is a sign of a good leader.
  • Realise that feedback doesn’t always come from the top down. A great leader will listen to their superiors but also their juniors, their peers, as well as clients and other external sources (whether you have a formal 360 degree feedback structure or not). And don’t forget regular self-evaluation – perhaps the hardest of all!


  • Be authentic. Anyone who spends time around me knows how much I believe in being your authentic self at work. In fact, our whole business is built on authenticity! This flows through to giving and receiving feedback, as otherwise people – and horses – will see straight through you, which will likely derail everything.


How do you give/receive feedback? How can we improve? Let me know in the comments. And for more information on Leading Edge Life Skills email