Feedback That Feeds Employee Growth

“When we make progress and get better at something, it is inherently motivating. In order for people to make progress, they have to get feedback and information on how they're doing.” –Daniel H. Pink

Every business owner knows that providing feedback to their employees is an essential part of their operations, and every one of them reading this article most likely holds annual or semiannual performance reviews to talk about employee performance. But are these reviews really substantive discussions that provide team members with actionable information so they can grow and develop, or are they just formalities in which you run through a list of standard questions and metrics? Are they the only real discussions based on feedback that team members receive?

Regardless of your answers to these questions, the fact of the matter is that most business owners and managers could do a much better job providing regular, relevant critique to their staff. A Foundation IQ survey asked more than 30,000 employees to respond to the statement “I know whether my performance is where it should be.” Only 29 percent answered, “always,” 14 percent said, “frequently,” 21 percent said, “occasionally,” 15 percent said, “rarely,” and 21 percent said, “never.” That adds up to more than half of the workforce not knowing if they’re doing a good job most of the time.

It’s up to business owners and leadership teams to correct these alarming numbers. If your feedback is deficient, follow these tips for better methods of reinforcing positive behaviors and reversing negative ones.

Feedback Should Be Constant

The first thing you can do to improve your feedback system is to make it an ever-present initiative. If you let an employee make a mistake without correcting it, you may think you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. But what happens if they make the same mistake again, or a third time? Suddenly, a small but correctable problem is driving coworkers and management up the wall. What could’ve been remedied quickly and without fuss is now a serious issue.

Scheduled, formal reviews must be supplemented with regular feedback. If an employee has project-based work, it’s helpful to debrief at the completion of each project to discuss what went well and what could be improved upon. These sessions can be held in groups or in one-on-one environments. What matters is that you don’t wait until a specific date on the calendar to discuss issues or celebrate good work.

It Should Be Detailed

It’s always nice to hear, “Good work,” but it’s not super helpful. Sure, it’s an affirmation of effort and dedication, and it’s decidedly better than nothing, but it also doesn’t tell an employee very much. Instead, point out exactly how the employee excelled. Consider these two brief statements:

“Bernice, you are a scheduling rock star.”

“Bernice, we really appreciate the way you schedule things with an eye toward both patient satisfaction and a work schedule that allows us to perform efficiently. The fact that you balance both is amazing and makes our lives so much easier.”

Not only is the second statement going to make Bernice feel better, but it also lets her know just what she is doing that makes her valuable. You can bet that reinforcing this specific behavior will enable it to continue.

But It Should Never Be Personal

Feedback, first and foremost, is about the work. It should never stoop to petty snipes at somebody who rubs you the wrong way. Now, that’s not to say you can’t critique the way an employee presented something or suggest a different communication style with their coworkers. You should discuss these topics, but you have to be tactful and empathetic about it.

Let’s say you have an employee who brings up relevant issues but does so in a way that tends to leave people feeling upset. You should not take the employee to task for their personality, but instead, point out the results of their “pedal to the metal” style. Giving them tools to be more delicate will make them more effective, which is what they’re after in the first place.

And It Should Lead to Improvement

If somebody’s attitude is so noxious (or their performance is so inadequate) that you can’t think of anything constructive to say, perhaps you need to consider having a different conversation with them. However, in the vast majority of cases, honest, measured feedback will help an employee improve and make them feel more secure in their role. Whether it’s positive or negative, employees want to know how they’re doing. It’s up to you to start telling them.