I watched in horror as the supervisor attempted to explain how it wasn’t “that bad.” “You really are doing a good job, and this piece of paper isn’t everything.”

The guy to whom he was speaking wasn’t buying it.

The supervisor was holding a feedback session with this technician as part of his annual performance review. I was—fortunately, for me—only a bystander as a minor player in the administrative process within the department at the time.

This was while I was on active duty in the U.S. Navy, and the supervisor was giving providing some less-than-glowing feedback to a 2nd class petty officer in his division, who happened to be one of our better gas turbine systems technicians. Despite his performance, he was being rated lower than he expected on the form that would become part of his permanent record.

As you can imagine, this was not a good surprise for the petty officer. He was confused, hurt, and angry. And for a few months after this meeting, his performance suffered as his motivation went down the toilet.

Could you blame him?

It was that moment in 2005 that I realized the precarious nature of leadership and management within the context of the performance review meeting.

Three Key Management Moments

And since then, I’ve come to realize that leading people often comes down to how we handle specific interactions and even momentary exchanges with each other. I’ve also come to realize that managers can do a great deal of good by keeping in mind three key management moments. These three don’t encompass everything that’s important, but if you knock these three out of the park, you’ll be well-poised for success.

  • First, take care of people when they first join your organization or team. (Read more.) 

  • Second, make your meetings matter. (

  • Third, coach your people with high-quality feedback and never surprise them with bad news during an official performance review meeting.

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When it comes to giving feedback, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s hard. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula or silver bullet for this one. No app, no form will (or should) relieve you as a supervisor of your duty to deliver consistent performance feedback.

And the “feedback sandwich?”

This is where a supervisor delivers negative feedback in between two pieces of positive feedback. Some supervisors love it. I say it’s a copout designed to make the situation more comfortable for the supervisor, not more helpful for the employee.

Delivering feedback is both art and science, and based on what I’ve experienced and some best practices, below are some tips to follow so you don’t mess up feedback opportunities.

Tips for Feedback Opportunities

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