People are constantly getting and giving feedback in their daily lives – whether it is explicit through words or writing, or implicit through tone of voice or gestures. Feedback is an observation and evaluation of a particular action and can be highly effective for reinforcing or developing behavior, particularly when it comes to developing employee performance. The term feedback is defined as a ‘reaction’; however, we encourage organizations to think of employee feedback as carefully thought out mini-evaluations that take place continually – not just once a year.
Structured, ongoing, and proper feedback is a powerful tool for managing and improving employee performance. Unfortunately for managers and leaders, giving timely feedback is not always easy or welcomed and giving proper feedback is somewhat of a mystery. One of the key pieces of employee performance management advice that we offer clients is that annual appraisals should not contain any new information. Employees should already be aware of appraisal content because feedback has been provided throughout the year in ‘mini-evaluations’.
A T&D poll showed that of 3600 employees surveyed:
• 66% said they have too little interaction with their bosses;
• 53% said that when their bosses praised them they received too little information to repeat their performance
• 65% said that when their bosses criticized them they were not given sufficient information to correct the problem
These numbers clearly demonstrate that overall, employees are starving for PROPER feedback from their managers. Managers aren’t the only ones to blame – often time management avoids giving feedback because they do not want to upset or alarm an employee or they are scared of what an employee’s reaction will be. Clearly managers should brush up on giving feedback and employees should be given the tools necessary to effectively receive feedback. Think about it – many roles require that an individual do both on a regular basis.
Fear not – below are some great tips offered by the University of Waterloo’s Center for Teaching Excellence for effectively GIVING and RECEIVING feedback.
GIVING EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK
Prioritize your ideas. Limit your feedback to the most important issues. Consider the feedback’s potential value to the receiver and how you would respond – could you act on the feedback? As well, too much feedback provided at a single time can be overwhelming to the recipient.
Concentrate on the behavior, not the person One strategy is to open by stating the behavior in question, then describing how you feel about it, and ending with what you want. This model enables you to avoid sounding accusatory by using “I” and focusing on behaviors, instead of assumed interpretations. Example: “I have noticed that you have been late for several meetings this month. I am worried that you are missing important information and delaying others in their work. Can we meet soon to discuss it?” Instead of: “You obviously don’t care about meetings!”
Balance the content. Use the “sandwich approach.” Begin by providing comments on specific strengths. This provides reinforcement and identifies the things the recipient should keep doing. Then identify specific areas of improvement and ways to make changes. Conclude with a positive comment. This model helps to bolster confidence and keep the weak areas in perspective. Example: “Your presentation was great. You made good eye contact, and were well prepared. You were a little hard to hear at the back of the room, but with some practice you can overcome this. Keep up the good work!” Instead of: “You didn’t speak loudly enough. However, the presentation went well.”
Be specific. Avoid general comments that may be of limited use to the receiver. Try to include examples to illustrate your statement. As well, offering alternatives rather than just giving advice allows the receiver to decide what to do with your feedback.
Be realistic. Feedback should focus on what can be changed. It is useless and frustrating for recipients to get comments on something over which they have no control. Also, remember to avoid using the words “always” and “never.” People’s behavior is rarely that consistent.
Own the feedback. When offering evaluative comments, use the pronoun “I” rather than “they” or “one,” which would imply that your opinion is universally agreed on. Remember that feedback is merely your opinion.
Be timely. Seek an appropriate time to communicate your feedback. Being prompt is key since feedback loses its impact if delayed too long. Delayed feedback can also cause feelings of guilt and resentment in the recipient if the opportunity for improvement has passed. As well, if your feedback is primarily negative, take time to prepare what you will say or write.
Offer continuing support. Feedback should be a continuous process, not a one-time event. After offering feedback, make a conscious effort to follow up. Let recipients know you are available if they have questions, and, if appropriate, ask for another opportunity to provide more feedback in the future.
Document feedback: Because feedback should be ongoing and followed up on, it is useful to document the feedback and any development initiatives that result. Automated employee performance management solutions, such as emPerform, offer the ability to attach files year round that relate to feedback and performance and also offer the ability to create and monitor development and training initiatives. When shopping for a performance management system, make sure it comes standard with a social feedback tool like emPerform tag, that has the ability to collect, share, and archive year-round organization-wide performance feedback.
RECEIVING FEEDBACK EFFECTIVELY
Listen to the feedback given. This means not interrupting. Hear the person out, and listen to what they are really saying, not what you assume they will say. You can absorb more information if you are concentrating on listening and understanding rather than being defensive and focusing on your response.
Be aware of your responses. Your body language and tone of voice often speak louder than words. Try to avoid putting up barriers. If you look distracted and bored, that sends a negative message as well. Attentiveness, on the other hand, indicates that you value what someone has to say and puts both of you at ease.
Be open. This means being receptive to new ideas and different opinions. Often, there is more than one way of doing something and others may have a completely different viewpoint on a given topic. You may learn something worthwhile.
Understand the message. Make sure you understand what is being said to you, especially before responding to the feedback. Ask questions for clarification if necessary. Listen actively by repeating key points so that you know you have interpreted the feedback correctly. In a group environment, ask for others’ feedback before responding. As well, when possible, be explicit as to what kind of feedback you are seeking beforehand so you are not taken by surprise.
Reflect and decide what to do. Assess the value of the feedback, the consequences of using it or ignoring it, and then decide what to do because of it. Your response is your choice. If you disagree with the feedback, consider asking for a second opinion from someone else.
Follow up. There are many ways to follow up on feedback. Sometimes, your follow-up will simply involve implementing the suggestions given to you. In other situations, you might want to set up another meeting to discuss the feedback or to re-submit the revised work.
Overall, leaders everywhere should harness the power of timely and effective feedback for not only engaging employees, but to also reinforce or modify performance. Once-a-year meetings are simply not enough to properly develop employee behavior. Knowing how to properly deliver and receive feedback is vital for ensuring that the lines of communication between employees and managers is kept open and that employees receive the continual evaluations and support necessary to excel in their current and future roles.
Dempsey, J.V. and G.C. Sales (Eds.). (1993) Interactive Instruction and Feedback. Educational Technology Publication. NJ: Englewood Cliffs
London, M. (1997) Job Feedback: Giving, Seeking, and Using Feedback for Performance Improvement. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
McGill, I. and L. Beaty (1995) Action Learning. 2nd Ed. London: Kogan Page Ltd. Prepared for the TRACE Workshop, “Receiving and Giving Feedback,” February 10, 2003.