Feedback matters. It can make an employee feel good or bad, worthwhile or worthless, motivated or demoralized. That it matters, however, does not mean it makes a positive difference to the employee or to the team.
Feedback makes a difference when it helps the employee to think:
- “That will help me do a better job.”
- “I didn’t know I was seen that way. I’m glad to know that.”
- “I can do that!”
In less than one second, Google showed me more than 1 billion results for the phrase “manager feedback.” I stopped after viewing five screens that showed “how to” information: how to structure the conversation, how to prepare the message and how to ready the employee for the session. Those skills are good and practical — but will they make feedback make a difference?
I recommend you base your approach on four practices that, applied consistently, can generate improved performance and increased morale — both of which make a difference.
Practice 1: Distinguish Among Feedback’s Intentions
Feedback frequently offers a mishmash of evaluation, criticism, correction, recommendation, approval and encouragement. That mishmash can leave the employee wondering, if not confused.
Instead, sculpt all feedback from these three intentions:
Appreciate an employee’s performance in order to have that performance continue. Appreciating performance motivates performance for individuals and teams. Appreciate both specific actions and overall performance. Recognize the value provided, and express gratitude for the contributions made.
Evaluate performance in light of desired standards. Your evaluative feedback should include examples of surpassing the standard and examples of falling below the standard, as necessary. The positive evaluation motivates continuation, while the negative evaluation motivates correction and improvement.
Coach toward improvement as add-on feedback. Coaching helps employees apply the feedback to improve their performance; in this way, it complements appreciative and evaluative feedback. Relating coaching to one specific feedback point will ensure the greatest success.
A single feedback session may include all three of these intentions. Be sure to distinguish among them when you prepare and when you present the feedback. The employees who recognize that the feedback appreciates their work, evaluates their performance and coaches for improvement will more readily put it to work.
Practice 2: Target Specific Types of Action With Feedback
Feedback should clearly target every element of the worker’s job performance. Every job includes three components — tasks, skills and behaviors — and feedback has more merit when it is focused on how the employee has performed tasks, applied skills and expressed behavior on the job.
Task-based feedback targets how well an employee’s tasks achieve outcomes. Successful task completion ensures his or her success. Examples of tasks including fulfilling a monthly training quota, compiling customer satisfaction reports, and achieving sales quota or service productivity scores.
Skills-based feedback targets how well an employee applies his or her skills and abilities to tasks. Both innate and learned skills make one proficient and efficient. Examples are skills applied to delivering presentations, writing reports, building the team, managing time and using software applications.
Behavior-based feedback targets employees’ expression of their attitude and personality, including how well they interact with others. Examples of behaviors range from willingness to help to comfort in requesting support to listening to team members and much, much more.
Each of these types of feedback works best when it’s clearly structured and conveyed. You may select one job component and give feedback for the tasks, the skills and the behavior demonstrated in that component. To offer a more all-inclusive structure, on the other hand, you can present the three types of feedback across all job performance: discussing tasks, then skills and, finally, behavior.
Practice 3: Vary Feedback Frequency
A year’s performance deserves more than an hour’s feedback. Receiving feedback once per year may shortchange the employee’s performance improvement. A worker seeking to fire up his or her performance deserves sufficient feedback fuel. You can offer feedback in three frequencies:
Cadenced feedback occurs regularly: quarterly, monthly or bi-weekly. Cadence is key to building expectations and improving the benefits of feedback sessions. The type of work performed and the improvement desired determine how often you hold these sessions. They enhance your and your team member’s skills in sharing, receiving and applying feedback.
Situation-specific feedback occurs immediately after you view an employee’s work effort. It may follow the employee’s delivering a presentation, facilitating a meeting, calling on a customer or analyzing data, for example. Immediate feedback makes feedback part of the work culture.
Spontaneous feedback occurs in the moment. Effective spontaneous feedback fits the context of the moment and is not out of the blue. This feedback should be specific and concise. Examples might involve an employee’s input at a meeting, response to customer’s concerns in a conference call or suggestion for overcoming team anxiety due to COVID-19.
Here, your greatest investment will be the time and energy it takes to build the habit of the various feedback frequencies. However, once they are habitual, you will see a return on your investment (ROI) in terms of improved performance, more effective communication and greater job appreciation.
Practice 4: Encourage Feedback in Both Directions
Most feedback sessions are one-way: The manager delivers feedback to employee, and then the conversation is over. You may argue that the employee can respond with thoughts, feelings, opinions or disagreements — but that makes it a two-way conversation, not two-way feedback.
Two-way feedback involves each participant’s giving and receiving feedback. Although it may initially cause discomfort, its benefits are proven and include:
- The employee better understands the full feedback process and, therefore, takes more value from it.
- The manager hears the employee’s perceptions and, therefore, builds a stronger basis for communications.
- The employee appreciates the manager’s desire to receive feedback and, therefore, respects the manager personally and professionally.
- The manager gains insights of a one-on-one relationship and, therefore, enhances his or her ability to set expectations and motivate employees.
- The overall relationship benefits from increased transparency and trust and, therefore, is streamlined and empowered.
Here are considerations for incorporating two-way feedback into your process:
- Not every feedback session needs a two-way component.
- At any time, ask, “Is there any feedback you’d like to give me?” It will then become familiar and comfortable.
- Initiate two-way feedback with a structure, such as including it as part of a cadenced monthly meeting.
- Guide the process by suggesting a specific topic, event or behavior as the focus of the feedback.
Two-way feedback generates transparency, trust and respect from both parties in the feedback process. Both the employee who shares his or her perceptions and the manager who listens to them demonstrate a commitment that truly makes a difference.
It pays to integrate all four practices into your feedback process. Alone, each practice will make a difference to employees. Combined, they make that difference bigger and better.