Year End Reviews: Managers Need To Be Specific

“You’ll never get to the next level in this company,” an exec told one his managers, “because you can’t take an abstract idea and turn it into a business model.”

Did you ever get feedback like this? Or worse, give it? It’s time for the annual performance review. Bosses and employees are about to say and hear a lot of crazy stuff.

The manager above was baffled. A year later, when I ran into him, he was still baffled. “What do you think that feedback means?” he asked me.

“It means that your boss talks in code,” I said. “It could also mean, ‘Stop asking me so many questions every time I give you a project. I’d rather be abstract and not spell out every detail.’”

Another boss might have said, “I need you to take the ball and run with it.” But that’s not so clear either: What ball? Run where? What if you don’t know where you’re going? What if you’re so out of shape you can barely make it up a flight of stairs?

Feedback is no time for abstraction. We need clarity:

For example, which feedback is better?

a) Melanie is unprofessional.

b) Melanie spits on customers.

Either way, Melanie will probably not be getting to the next level. But “A” is too vague – it could mean a thousand different things. “B” hits the mark.

Tip: When you give feedback, talk in specifics. And when you receive feedback, ask for specifics. And if you’re spitting on customers, please stop.


Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (, Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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