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performance review feedback
5 Min Read

Subjective vs. Objective Performance Review Feedback: Which Works Better?

Claire Beveridge

Managing employees is more than a quick conversation and vague goal setting.

To maximize individual and team performance, you need to learn how to deliver performance review feedback that helps people clearly understand their strengths, weaknesses, areas for improvement, and, most importantly, how they can succeed in their job roles. 

There are two types of feedback in the workplace: objective and subjective. Each has a purpose for delivering effective employee feedback during a performance review, but the type of feedback you share will depend on the subject matter and the employee. 

Objective feedback helps employees clearly see their performance in relation to metrics, while subjective feedback acknowledges soft skills and unique contributions that can’t be measured by numbers or metrics.

For example, a data scientist is more likely to receive objective feedback, whereas a creative copywriter is more likely to hear subjective feedback.

Understanding the differences: subjective vs. objective feedback

Objective feedback

Objective feedback is based on observable and measurable facts. It aims to be unbiased, impartial, and free of personal feelings and opinions while using quantitative statistics and data to form the basis of the feedback.

The goal of objective feedback is to provide insights that are:

  • Clear
  • Specific
  • Actionable
  • Fair
  • Measurable

By ensuring that feedback is clear and specific, there’s no “gray area,” and employees should understand exactly what they’re doing well and areas that need improvement.

Measurable objective feedback also promotes consistency and fairness while helping minimize biases because employees are all measured on the same criteria.

However, objective feedback sometimes overlooks performance management’s personal or emotional aspects. It can also come across as too structured by neglecting creativity or interpersonal skills.

Relying too heavily on data can also lead to missing situational context, which can impact employee happiness because individuals whose contributions aren’t easily measured by numbers may feel unrecognized for their efforts.

Subjective feedback

Subjective feedback is based on opinions, interpretations, and feelings. It reflects a personal viewpoint or experience and is driven by emotions, reactions, and perception.

The goal of objective feedback is to provide insights that are:

  • Holistic
  • Developmental
  • Relationship building
  • Motivational
  • Reflective

Subjective feedback is less data-driven than objective feedback. It relies on assessing behaviors and attitudes rather than numbers or metrics. For example, focusing on creativity, interpersonal skills, communication skills, and leadership qualities.

However, because subjective feedback lacks data and facts, it’s more variable and can differ depending on who provides it and the context in which it’s shared. 

Subjective feedback can also be influenced by biases (conscious or unconscious), leading to inconsistent and potentially unfair assessments. For example, a male leader could be prejudiced toward women and deliver more critical feedback to that group.

Because subjective feedback is based on emotion or feeling, there’s a risk that people’s perceptions will vary. For example, leader A might think X and leader B might think Y. But without hard data or facts to back up claims, it’s easy for conflicting, unclear feedback to arise, which damages employee morale.

How to deliver objective feedback in performance reviews

When writing an employee performance review and wanting to deliver objective feedback, use evidence-based statements. Avoid general statements that are vague, and be specific about examples and instances.

For example, “In the past quarter, you hit the sales target 95% of the time,” or “The six-month social media campaign you managed generated a 30% increase in audience engagement”. 

Keep your language neutral and professional. Don’t use emotionally charged words or phrases that can be interpreted as biased or judgmental. Instead, focus on actionable outcomes.

A good template to use is “You [did this] by [doing this].”

For instance, “You improved the web development workflow by reorganizing the way we manage JIRA tasks,” or “You improved employee engagement by holding well-structured one-to-ones.”

How to deliver subjective feedback in performance reviews

Subjective feedback is often open to interpretation, which means you need to be even more cautious when writing performance reviews.

Always use specific examples and add context to explain your feedback, which will help your employees understand more about your opinion. 

Incorporate “I” statements in the feedback to share perspectives without placing blame. For example, “I feel like there’s been a drop in team morale recently, and I want to discuss how we can improve dynamics together.” 

Encourage employees to share their thoughts and perspectives on the feedback. It’s okay if you don’t agree. What’s important is that you encourage self-reflection, deliver the feedback in a calm, respectful manner, and ensure that it’s not confrontational.

How to avoid bias in performance reviews

Writing performance review feedback opens you up to the concept of bias, which is when you hold a conscious or unconscious prejudice toward an individual or group. 

In the context of performance reviews, bias can lead to unfair evaluations based on personal characteristics or irrelevant factors rather than actual job performance.

Here’s how to avoid bias during the performance review feedback process:

  • Establish and use clear metrics: Define specific performance metrics for evaluating employee performance and focus on quantifiable numbers where possible. 
  • Standardize performance appraisals: Use the same performance management software to ensure consistency across different teams and departments.
  • Gather feedback from multiple sources: Collect 360-feedback for a detailed overview of employee performance. 
  • Connect regularly with employees: Don’t wait for annual appraisals. Hold regular check-ins, one-to-ones, and meetings with employees to help understand them better.
  • Focus on behaviors and outcomes: Look beyond personality traits and concentrate on performance. Always back up performance review feedback with robust examples that contain context or use data and numbers.
  • Learn and reflect: Become aware of your biases and consider how they manifest in the workplace. Aim to minimize and eradicate any bias you might have during the performance review process.

Easily manage performance review feedback

Objective and subjective feedback play a critical role in performance review feedback. They provide a balanced and fair assessment that focuses on measurable performance and personal attributes while highlighting achievements, strengths, and unique contributions to improve employee performance and morale.

Make managing performance review feedback easy. Try 15Five today.