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Evaluative vs. Developmental Feedback — Why Sales Leaders Must Understand the Difference

Sales performance improvement

developmental feedback

lrichardson12 December 2012Blog

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Most people dread feedback. They often react negatively, both physically (heart pounding, dry throat) and mentally (fearful, nervous, defencive), when they hear they are going to give (or worse, get) feedback.

They anticipate criticism, and they feel under attack. Ego goes up and receptivity goes down. This is because people look at feedback as evaluative, not developmental — probably because that is how they have experienced it. Although these two kinds of feedback are interrelated, they are very different.

Evaluative Feedback

Evaluative feedback is what most people think of when they hear the word feedback. Evaluative feedback, often in the form of the annual performance review, is a key element of sales management. It is based on a familiar model of grading found in schools: A through F, a quartile, a ranking of 1 to 5. It allows for comparisons, and it is usually related to compensation.

Evaluative feedback is an essential part of management and comprises the bulk of feedback given during an annual performance review or performance assessment. Some organisations include other evaluations to create what they call 360-degree feedback in which the sales rep gets feedback from people over, under and next to him or her as well as for clients. The primary goal of the performance review where evaluative feedback is given is to make sure the person being evaluated clearly understands (not necessarily agrees with) what the grade/rating/picture is for the past.

Developmental Feedback

Developmental feedback is very different from evaluative feedback. It looks forward to what “we” (coach and person being coached) can do to improve and create a better picture for the future.

Developmental feedback answers the questions, “What can we do better to meet/exceed plan?” or “How can we fix …?” Another key difference is that these developmental questions are not asked only once or twice a year, but daily. The time for developmental feedback is always — in a coaching session or in a corridor.

Development happens with developmental sales coaching. Moreover, empowerment happens with developmental coaching, not evaluative. Developmental feedback empowers because it helps people identify obstacles they face and reinforces their role in removing the obstacles each day. Developmental coaching helps people live and thrive in a Stretch Zone.

The Balance

Both evaluative and developmental feedback are essential to development. In an evaluative session, 90% of the feedback should be evaluative, and in a developmental coaching session, 90%-plus of the feedback should be developmental. The evaluative session and the developmental session are different, and it is important to separate them. However, the two are clearly linked. The evaluation (grades) should be used as a platform for development: The grade is X and the action plan is Y. The grade is the evaluative piece, and the action plan is the developmental one.

Performance review feedback can be emotionally charged because it often is tied to pay and involves assessment. People often get disappointed or upset during a “negative” performance review and are relieved or elated during a positive one. Neither range of emotions is helpful to a developmental session. Since evaluation feedback can overwhelm the developmental part, it is better to separate the two kinds of feedback into different sessions. However, if a person is open to it, the evaluative feedback session can end with a bridge to a developmental session right there and then or, if not, with a plan for a developmental meeting a few days later.

Without ongoing developmental coaching, performance reviews are traumatic — filled with surprises, disagreements and/or bad feelings. Developmental feedback can change this. Because it is ongoing, the developmental approach takes the sting, anguish, aggravation and, most importantly, the surprise out of a performance evaluation by making it a summary of what has been communicated all along. Most importantly, developmental coaching sessions make the evaluative feedback more positive.

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