How to give effective feedback to improve employee performance
Have you ever been in a position where a boss yelled at you and said something like…“How many times do I have to tell you to turn off the computer at night!”
What the boss is really saying is …… “I’m feeling fragile and nervous” possibly because of the stresses of running a small business. The problem is, the employee interprets the bosses feedback as “He thinks I’m a loser.” If the employee felt like that, imagine how they will treat the next customer who walks in the door! Perhaps they are saying to themselves, “I don’t care anymore, why should I go out of my way to be nice to the customer if the boss can’t be nice to me.”
Hummmm… how you give feedback to your employees definitely has an impact on their performance.
Do your employees hate you?
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who was looking for another job. When I asked her why, she told me because she hated her boss. Not only did she hate her boss, the rest of the staff did as well. He never said thank you, he never said a kind word to anyone, he was intimidating and would yell at employees and constantly tell them they were useless and never did anything right. If they did do a good job, it was never acknowledged.
He was an incredibly negative person who always criticized, condemned and complained and was nothing short of being a bully. He had no leadership or management skills whatsoever.
Two things happened. He consistently experienced a high turnover of employees as good people would resign (not surprising). This resulted in a lack of continuity and service as he constantly needed to recruit and train new people. Others who felt trapped stayed, but would deliberately and covertly sabotage his business anyway they could because of the way they were treated.
One of the problems was that her boss did not know how to give effective feedback.
Most people’s experience with feedback is being yelled at or disciplined for what they said or did was wrong so this naturally causes anxiety in employees. When employees feel anxious, they don’t perform at their best and are far more likely to make mistakes.
What is meant by feedback
When you give advice, praise or evaluate employees, many people think this is feedback which it’s not. Feedback differs from praise and criticism. Praise and criticism is focused on a person and is a one way dialogue which doesn’t encourage discussion. Feedback on the other hand is used to correct or improve performance. It’s based on two-way communication and usually leads to an action plan or follow up of some description. There are two types of feedback, redirection and reinforcement.
Redirection feedback is designed to correct poor performance, highlight areas for improvement that either adds value to the individual or the organization.
Reinforcement feedback is designed to reinforce good practices and behaviors that also adds value to an individual or the organization.
Principles of reinforcement
When the consequence of doing something well is positive (positive reinforcement), employees have a tendency to want to do it again.
When the consequence of doing something is negative (negative reinforcement) employees tend not to want to do it again depending on how the feedback was delivered.
Giving feedback for effort is far more powerful than giving feedback for successes. The reason being, is that if you only give feedback for successes, it puts added pressure on the employee and sets them up for fear of failure. If the employee understands that you are recognizing them for trying to do the right thing, they will continue to try.
Give feedback, rewards and recognition for the little things along the way, not just big achievements. Also base this on their social skills not just learning and performance skills.
When employees are learning a new skill, they usually don’t feel very confident therefore are far more likely to respond to encouraging and positive feedback. As employees become far more skilled and an expert at what they do, then they may be open to receiving more negative feedback. They may even ask you, “Tell me what I did wrong?”
How to give effective feedback?
Consider the following.
Three men started a new job the same day working for a brick making company. They arrived on site at 7.30 am and the boss came along and said to them, “See those bricks, I want you to stack those bricks over there.”
So the men got to work and started stacking the bricks. The first man started stacking his bricks 8 x 30 high. The second man started stacking his bricks 14 x 24 wide and the third man started stacking his bricks in a round pile.
Just before 12 noon, the boss came back and started yelling at the men. “You idiots, I told you to stack those bricks and you’ve done it all wrong. I have a truck arriving here in 10 minutes and they won’t be able to be loaded on the truck because you haven’t stacked them on the wooden pallets!”
The feedback the men received was negative. The problem was not with their performance, they did what they were told to do and they stacked the bricks. The problem was with the boss, he should have told the men in far more detail what he needed done. He should have said, “See those bricks over there, I need you to stack the bricks 12 x 12 x 12 on these wooden pallets. They need to be ready by 11.45 am because I have a truck coming to pick up the pallets at noon to deliver to a very important customer.”
Feedback needs to be goal orientated
There are times when you have to give feedback to employees to improve their performance.
In order to give feedback effectively, employees need to have a specific goal to work towards. They also need to know what performance standards they need to achieve. In the example above, the goal was to stack the bricks onto pallets so they could be delivered to a customer on time. The bricks needed to be stacked 12 across, 12 wide and 12 high on wooden pallets and this needed to be completed by 11.45 am (performance standards).
Had the men stacked the bricks as per those performance standards and completed the task in time, they would have received positive feedback. Had they not achieved the goal and completed the task on time, they would have received negative feedback along with an action plan on how to improve their performance.
Performance standards can either be documented in the employee’s position description (PD), key performance indicators (KPIs) or performance result descriptions (PRDs) where tasks and duties are clearly articulated along with performance standards and measurements. When employees know and understand what the goals and standards are, they know what they need to do to achieve the goal at the standard required. Only then are you in a position to provide effective feedback by measuring their performance against clearly articulated standards.
Feedback needs to be specific
To give feedback effectively, you need to be very specific about how you need the employee to improve. Focus the feedback on their performance and not on them as a person. Be sincere, honest, fair and accurate about your observations.
It’s not enough to say to someone, you did a good job or your work needs to improve. Good job at what? Exactly what needs improving? Feedback needs to be specific as possible.
“You did a good job dealing with that difficult customer today by offering them an alternative solution.”
“You need to improve how quickly you deal with customer orders or you will miss the delivery deadline.”
As you can see by these two simple examples, the employee knows very specifically what they did right and what needs improving.
Feedback needs to be one-on-one
Unless you are giving the same feedback to a group of employees you are training, always make it one-on-one. Don’t give feedback or criticize employees in front of others. This can be humiliating and destroy any trust and confidence between you and the employee. If you do, it’s likely the employee will resent you and not take your feedback on board.
The very words, “Can I give you some feedback” tends to generate fear in employees and they will naturally expect the worst putting them on the defensive. It’s far better to say this in private so other employees also don’t jump to conclusions and expect the worst.
Feedback needs to focus on the performance not the person
Focus feedback on the employee’s actions and behaviors (what they do) rather than on their personality traits (their social style).
Let’s say an employee speaks out of turn in a meeting. If you said to them, “You were rude and arrogant by speaking out of turn” not only are you focused on their personality traits (being assertive) chances are feedback given in this manner, particularly if given in front of others would not be well received.
However, if you said “When you don’t stick to the meeting agenda, it causes me a problem because it means the meeting runs over time” you are giving constructive feedback which is focused on the behavior (stick to the meeting agenda) and the consequences of their actions (the meeting time runs over) it makes the feedback more palatable.
For feedback to have real meaning, it needs to be supported by evidence and not solely based on opinion. Focus on a tangible act and not on a person’s attitude or their personality. Attitude is an opinion and should be handled differently through the coaching or mentoring process.
Feedback needs to be timely
In order for feedback to be effective, it needs to be timely. Always give feedback as soon as possible after you have observed the behavior that needs correcting and it also needs to be supported with an agreed follow up plan, again with timelines. When you wait too long to give feedback, chances are the employee won’t remember what they did or why and they will be left bewildered.
The only exception to this is if emotions are running high. All parties need to be in a calm state before giving or receiving feedback otherwise the communication channels will close down and resentment will build.
How to give feedback that isn’t positive
Sometimes you have to give feedback that isn’t going to be positive especially when it relates to an employee’s performance. It’s about being tough not mean. Here are a few tips on how to give feedback about negative performance.
- Outline the performance that needs attention
- Explain how the existing level of performance is causing concern and how it is impacting the business
- Ask questions to find out if there are any mitigating circumstances for the current performance (there may be personal issues you are unaware of)
- Ask them if they have any suggestions as to how they could improve performance
- Ask if they need help, training or resources to improve performance
- Ask what else you can do to help
- Agree on an action plan with a date to follow up
A simple acronym for remembering how to give effective feedback is BEER.
|B||Behavior||Focus on the behavior you are trying to reinforce or correct. Be specific and don’t use sweeping statements like “you always…”|
|E||Effect||Explain the effect their performance or actions had on executing the task or the goals and objectives of your organization|
|E||Expectations||Explain what your expectations are and have them reinforce their understanding of your expectations|
|R||Result||Explain what results you expect. You may have to revisit their position description or performance results description (PRD) outlining key performance indicators (KPIs)|
Giving effective feedback not only improves the performance of your people, it builds self confidence and self-esteem.
On a final note
When you give effective feedback, you not only build the self-confidence and self-esteem of employees, you also improve the overall performance of your business.
In a Nutshell
Effective feedback should:
- Be supported by evidence and not based solely on opinion
- Focus on a tangible act not attitude – attitude is an opinion and should be handled through the coaching process
- Be specific and not use phrases like…… “You never…” or “You always…”
- Be goal oriented
- Be future based
- Take place as soon as possible after you have observed the behavior that needs correcting
- Not be given in front of others unless they too are learning a new skill
- Be supported by a follow up action plan
- A two way conversation
- Be a positive experience