Improving Employee Performance through Feedback

During the workshops I conduct for organization executives, managers and supervisors, a major concern is frequently how to become more effective in raising the quality of the performance of the people they supervise.

In addressing the concerns of the workshop participants, one of the things I point out is that employees are not mind readers.  If they are not performing as their supervisor expects, then they must be provided with appropriate feedback.

An effective organization functions like a team in which the organization’s executives, managers and supervisors must coach their employees to increasingly higher levels of performance.

With tongue in cheek, I tell workshop participants, “A good coach knows that, regardless of what Wheaties tells you, feedback is the breakfast of champions!”

Good coaches also know that in order to have a winning team, the players need to know what their job is, (job descriptions, policies and procedures and new employee orientation), non-performance or poor performance is addressed, and feedback is not limited to addressing only non-performance or poor performance.  Good performance also needs to be recognized and rewarded.

The term “feedback” is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation.  However, these actions may or may not include feedback.  Feedback is actually communication to a person or a team of people regarding the effect their behavior is having on another person, the organization, the customer, or the team.

Positive feedback involves telling someone about good performance and should be given frequently.

Corrective feedback alerts an individual to an area in which his/her performance could improve. Corrective feedback is not criticism; it is descriptive and should always be directed to the action, not the person. Its purpose is to help people understand where they stand in relation to expected and/or productive job behavior.

Effective feedback contains six key ingredients.  Those ingredients are timeliness, specificity, a focus on behavior rather than personality, honesty, helpfulness and consistency.

Timeliness: Whether the feedback is positive or corrective, the information provided should be as closely tied to the event as possible. Effective feedback is well timed so that the employee can easily connect the feedback with his/her actions.

A football coach – whether at high school, college or the professional ranks – does not wait until the end of the season to provide feedback to a player whose performance is subpar.  However, in many non-sports related organizations supervisors wait until annual performance appraisal time to address issues which should have been addressed in a timely manner.  If an employee’s performance appraisal contains something of which the employee is unaware, the supervisor is not doing a good job. An annual performance appraisal should be a summary of what the employee and the supervisor have been discussing all year and a goal setting session for future performance.

The closer feedback – positive or constructive – is to the event the more impactful it is.

Specificity: Effective feedback is specific, not general.  In giving positive feedback on a report someone submitted, don’t say, “Good job.”  Point out why you think it was a good report (e.g. the report that you turned in yesterday was well-written, easily understood and made your points on the matter very effectively”).

Focus on behavior, not personality – To be useful, feedback must focus on specific behavior, not on a person or his/her intentions (e.g. During the meeting you were holding a side conversation while Jane was trying to explain the new policy and that  made it difficult for others in the room to hear what she was saying).

Honesty – Be straightforward and honest.  With corrective feedback, don’t beat around the bush.  Don’t minimize what the employees has done or failed to do.  Let the employee precisely how the behavior does not measure up to your expectations and/or those of the organization.  With positive feedback, be equally straightforward and honest, don’t minimize your praise, but also don’t exaggerate it.

Helpfulness – The goal of corrective feedback is to help employees improve their performance.  So make sure you include helpful coaching, and when needed, suggestions for how to act differently next time.

The goal of positive feedback is to encourage employees to continue to the display the type performance that resulted in the positive feedback provided.

Consistency – Don’t reserve your feedback for annual performance appraisals or other formal settings. Make it an ongoing occurrence. Encourage desirable behaviors and actions and be persistent yet patient while trying to redirect poor performance.

In addition to making feedback  an on-going occurrence with individual employees, also ensure that if one employee is provided with corrective feedback for a behavior or for not performing up to par, other employees who display the same type behavior  also  receive corrective feedback  and  be equally generous in providing positive feedback to all employees who perform well.

Many executives, managers and supervisors do not give their employees ongoing feedback because they do not feel comfortable doing so.

Here are some tips that can prove beneficial to those who want to learn how give more effective feedback.

  • There are a number of good books, workshops, articles and other resources on giving effective feedback. Search for them and create a development plan to increase your skill and comfort in providing feedback.
  • Ask your supervisor or a mentor to coach you in how to give better feedback or observe and try to mimic another supervisor who’s great at giving feedback.
  • Schedule one hour each week to make notes on your employees’ performance over the past week. You can use these notes as guidance to give your employees verbal or written feedback.
  • Hold frequent regular meetings with your employees to discuss performance, check in on goals and development plans, provide coaching, etc.
  • Set up some form of automatic task reminder to give your employees feedback.

Providing effective feedback to employees on a regular basis rather than once per year not only encourages high performance, it also increases employee engagement and retention. Providing accurate feedback should be one of the primary tools in the toolkit of everyone who supervises employees.



MBA Newsletter 06/2015

Improving Employee Performance through Feedback