September 9, 2018

Building strategy for effective employee feedback

By Ryan Ashton

By Ryan Ashton


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Giving employee feedback is an important component of personal and professional development.
It can have a dramatic impact on not only how employees perform in their role, but also how engaged and satisfied they are in the workplace.

Despite this, many employers limit feedback to a once-annual ‘performance review’ that both employees and managers dread. This leads to many employees feeling undervalued at work. Even Tom Brady, arguably the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, feels underappreciated by his bosses, from time to time.

But the impact of ineffective or untimely feedback can be drastic. According to the 2011 Workforce Mood Tracker from HR management software Globoforce:

A third of employees reported feeling as though their manager didn’t give them constructive feedback or appropriate praise throughout the year.

39% of employees felt underappreciated at work.

69% of employees said they’d be motivated to work harder if their efforts were better-recognized.

Gallup poll found that employees classified as ‘engaged’ were 17% more productive, experienced 41% less absenteeism and were 21% more profitable compared to employees in the bottom quartile for engagement.

Tying it with employee feedback, Seven in 10 employees (67%) who said that their manager focused on their strengths were classified as engaged. When employees strongly disagreed with this statement, the percentage of engaged workers dropped to just 2%.

Engaged employees can be the difference between a record-setting quarter and employees searching through online job websites while on shift. Engagement is important, and an organization needs to utilize employee feedback to boost their employee retention rate and motivation levels.

So, where do you start? As with most organizational improvements, it starts with the culture.

Building a culture of feedback

In order to truly build a feedback-powered company, today’s HR departments need to champion a culture built on four factors: transparency, safety, balance and normalcy.

Transparency: Everyone at the organization, from the top down, should be operating on the understanding that improving employee feedback is a priority.

Safety: When Google’s HR department started digging into the characteristics that their highest performing teams shared, they surprisingly found that psychological safety—the ability to speak your mind without fear of punishment—factored the highest. Let your employees be comfortable speaking up while providing feedback, and listen to their concerns.

Balance: Many managers feel that feedback is only reserved for correction or coaching. However, feedback should be consistently balanced with positive reinforcement (and not just the kind used to soften the blow of criticism, but honest reinforcement on a job well done or a positive habit).

Normalcy: Lastly, frequent feedback has to be seen as normal at your organization—which means breaking the boundaries of the annual performance review and ensuring both giving and receiving feedback is expected on a regular basis.

Be candid and sincere

In performance coach Kim Scott’s leadership book Radical Candor, she states that the true purpose of feedback is to help employees achieve success—managers need to keep this in mind to be truly effective with their feedback.

The philosophy of Radical Candor is built on two fundamental beliefs for managers to help employees perform at their peak: they need to both care personally about their employee’s wellness and feel open to challenging the employee directly and honestly—without couching their feedback in insincere language.

By focusing on building a sincere relationship with employees, and by setting the expectation for open and honest two-way communication, managers can deliver feedback that will help raise employee performance to new heights.

Have feedback from different angles

Many leaders won’t admit it, but they don’t have all the answers—which is where peer feedback processes like 360-degree feedback can be helpful.

360-degree feedback breaks the mold of the traditional manager-employee feedback loop and encourages peers and even customers or partners to give feedback intended to help improve performance.

By embracing 360-degree feedback, employees can identify blind spots in their own performance, improve their self-awareness, and grow a more balanced view, compared to simply relying on feedback from a manager. It’s a great approach to furthering a business’ commitment to a feedback-friendly culture—letting employees know they’re able to provide open, honest and helpful feedback to anyone in the organization.

Feedback is a gift: how are you receiving it?

It’s easy to forget, but how you receive feedback is just as important as how you give it.

Regardless of how feedback is delivered, it has to be received appropriately for it to be effective. Otherwise, the feedback is stopped dead in its tracks and improvement becomes difficult to achieve.

Bestselling author Kevin Kruse said it best: “Feedback is a gift.” Someone who puts in the time and effort to deliver possibly uncomfortable, but still thoughtful and thorough, feedback cares about your success—so why is feedback sometimes met with resistance or defensiveness?

For feedback to be received effectively, recipients need to be aware of their ‘hard-coded’ tendencies, biases and responses go learn to set them aside when appropriate.  It can also be very useful to allow some time to unpack the feedback received before accepting, rejecting or challenging it.

In a feedback-driven culture, everyone needs to trust that feedback should only be delivered with good intent—the intent to help the recipient grow and find success. Ensuring members of your organization keep these beliefs in mind will yield positive results.

Interpersonal relationships can be complex and messy—workplace power dynamics and perceptions can have its negative effect on employee engagement and wellbeing. But by championing a feedback-driven organization, and by allowing for open, honest and timely feedback with good intent, today’s businesses can continue to achieve new levels of employee engagement, productivity and success.

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