Giving performance feedback

manager smiling at employee

Performance reviews, and employee feedback in general, can be fraught with anxiety, misunderstanding, and poor communication. With so many opportunities to go wrong, managers and supervisors need clear direction to get it right.

A recent Harvard Business Review interview with Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, experts in leadership development, offers guidance for offering constructive criticism that leads to positive change rather than resentment or discouragement.

“Which has been most helpful in your career – praise and recognition, or corrective feedback?” They’ve queried many of their clients, and learned these intriguing results:

  • 47% of respondents state that corrective feedback has helped them the most
  • 53% cite praise and recognition as most helpful

Ideally, managers can employ both types of feedback to make the greatest impact on employee performance, while also providing support and encouragement. Their experience indicates that most people strongly prefer ongoing communication about their performance.

However, the prospect of giving, or receiving, critical feedback can still produce anxiety. Framing is one technique these leadership consultants use: by using the term corrective, or redirective, feedback, they emphasize its usefulness for a positive future direction.

Managers should consider a simple framework for comments, such as: what should the employee keep doing, stop doing, start doing, or do differently. People often want to know what they are doing wrong, but in a way that won’t leave them ashamed and insecure

Consider these ideas to improve the results of your performance feedback:

  • What do you hope to achieve? Use your objectives to create a plan for the conversation. Practice to be sure that what you say has the intended impact.
  • Use data. What observations do you have that support your points? Be sure your feedback is not based on an emotional reaction, but relates to observable action that the employee can change.
  • Stay in contact. Providing ongoing feedback in small doses, both positive and redirective, establishes trust and improves retention.
  • Good feedback is specific, referencing what the employee did and the impact it made. Generic praise is likely to be perceived as empty, and be discounted. It may not be a negative, but it’s unlikely to be a positive either.
  • When corrective feedback is needed, ask the employee what needs to change, and how they would like to improve. It’s empowering and yields better results than a lecture.
  • Go public? Positive reinforcement in a group can be effective, but public criticism – virtually never. A group review of project performance to identify lessons learned can be very effective.
  • People at every level want and benefit from feedback. Even top leaders who have many years of experience want to know how they are doing, and where they can improve. In fact, they are often the most open and motivated to get feedback.

Take a giant step forward for employee morale and potentially, retention, by providing clear, specific behavioral feedback that provides a positive direction for employees to improve their performance.

To learn about more employee retention strategies, check out CareerOneStop’s Business Center.

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