Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Ten Dos and Doníts for Giving and Taking Feedback

CPAs sound off about performance reviews. Next question: How hard are you working? Join the survey. Get the results.

July 27, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

I’ve been hearing a lot lately from accountants and finance manager about annual performance reviews the good, the bad, and the ugly.

After I wrote about what accountants need to know about performance reviews, I received a ton of email with real-life stories and some solid recommendations.

For instance, a CPA in Hunt Valley, Md., wrote, in part:

Your article on performance reviews hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, performance reviews are nothing more than a political tool for upper-level staff to execute their revenge on staffers under them that they dislike and to push ahead those that they like, regardless of their actual performance. Iím glad to know Iím not the only one who suffers!

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And a CPA in Lexington, Ky.: wrote:

I 100% agree that performance should be praised as often as it is criticized. I also agree that performance is not evaluated often enough and should not only be completed at the end of each engagement but during each engagement. The worst thing that can occur is for you to not suggest an improvement to someone and then have them make that mistake a dozen more times before their annual evaluation. That has probably caused many hours of inefficiencies and thousands of dollars. In public accounting — time is money.

However — on the flip side — I think the annual performance evaluation is important to ensure that the person is continuing on their goals. I believe it is each individual personís role to own their career. These annual evaluations should not necessarily focus on developmental points regarding engagement performance but should focus on how each person is progressing within the firm and what they are doing to move up that ladder. It should have information on what their annual marketing plan is and what they need to do to meet annual goals. It is important to set annual goals and evaluate performance related to those goals.

In my research, I’ve found that half the professionals surveyed say their offices handle performance-related communications well and half don’t. Ouch! Whoever’s doing the feedback could use a little feedback themselves.

It’s clear that a little do-and-don’t advice seems in order for some of the nation’s accounting firms and finance departments.


  1. Good managers do offer feedback based on facts.
  2. Good managers do offer feedback with a bona fide intent to improve performance.
  3. Good managers do offer feedback on issues the employee can control.
  4. Good managers darn well better offer feedback in private.
  5. Good managers do use feedback to reward good behavior and correct the unacceptable.

If the Dos list doesn’t work for you, we have a Don’ts list too:


  1. Good managers don’t let feedback get personal.
  2. Good managers don’t let feedback get generalized beyond the specifics of the problem.
  3. Good managers don’t let the situation get out of hand before they offer corrective feedback.
  4. Good managers don’t give comments on issues the employee can’t control.
  5. Good managers don’t make feedback feel like a verbal attack.

Feedback on behavior is more than a management tool. It’s the fundamental way people learn to participate and cooperate in society, and that includes such micro-societies as accounting firms and finance departments.

So, please, do give your feedback some thought, and don’t get it wrong.

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Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.