Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback

Leadership involves many interpersonal skills and for some of us the ability to deliver effective feedback can be the most challenging.

Everyone who supervises other people is expected to provide feedback—both positive and negative—and yet it is often put off until annual performance reviews, which makes it even more stressful to both because of the context it’s given in.

For some reason the workplace is a difficult place for many people to regularly speak openly and honestly about the work that’s being performed. Perhaps the formality of many places makes a genuine compliment or complaint much more difficult to convey. Or maybe it’s simply the emotions it can stir up.

Whenever you say something nice or not so nice to someone, it is likely to be met with an emotional response. This can make you and the other person feel awkward, uncomfortable, or embarrassed in the workplace setting. And that alone can be reason enough to make you avoid saying anything at all.

But the more you exercise giving genuine feedback to others, the more comfortable you will become with it and this can benefit both you and your organization.

That’s because we all seek recognition and acknowledgement for what we are doing, whether we are willing to admit it or not. We want to know that what we do matters and that others are aware of it. Additionally, if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.

When you deliver effective feedback to others, you are also seen as someone who is observant and concerned. Others see and feel this, which enables them to respond to it either by basking in the glow of recognition of a job well done or by taking corrective action to improve their performance.

If you find yourself avoiding giving face-to-face feedback to those you supervise, these six suggestions may provide a more comfortable approach.

  1. Deliver feedback (good & bad) all the time. Catch people doing things well and make a point to notice and compliment them right then and there. By the same token, when someone is doing something not particularly well, let them know it immediately. Don’t wait until an annual performance review to tell an employee they did something wrong nine months earlier.
  2. Make it specific and focused on behavior. Meaningful feedback needs to be about something specific in order for a change to result. This is also why it is so important to give it when you see it. And keep feedback about the behavior or the work. Remember to attack the problem not the person.
  3. Be direct and use a measured tone. Speak to him or her in a straight-forward manner so there can be no ambiguity. Keep your voice poised and calm. Give the listener an opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification. Maintain eye contact but don’t glare. Be patient and look for genuine understanding.
  4. Praise publicly and criticize privately. When you want to give someone a compliment on something done well, be sure and do this in a public forum whenever possible. Be sensitive to those who may be uncomfortable with this, however. And when you need to admonish someone, do this in a private meeting so you don’t humiliate or create resentment in the person.
  5. Offer support with constructive feedback. Don’t simply tell the individual what they did wrong and demand it gets fixed. Instead, offer a genuine desire to help through your support. This might be recommending a class or training, a mentor (including yourself), or a perhaps a leadership coach. Sometimes it could just mean providing an open door for them in the future.
  6. Make clear your expectations. If you expect to see more of the same from the person you are complimenting, go ahead and say “keep up the good work.” By the same token, if you expect a change from someone you are criticizing, ensure that you make it clear that this is unacceptable and you expect to see what specific change and by when.

Providing meaningful feedback is not necessarily difficult, but it is a skill and like any other skill it needs practice to master. Start out small by offering compliments to one or two individuals for a couple of weeks. Then expand your feedback beyond them.

Make all your feedback constructive rather than destructive. Remember that the reason for feedback is for continual performance improvement. Focusing on this will ensure that others see the value of all your comments and respond accordingly.

The more regularly you can give feedback the more it will foster greater trust and strengthen overall employee engagement. And that’s important for everyone.

Engaged Employees Make all the Difference

Is employee engagement really important or is it just nice to have and something to think about once economic times improve?

The fact is companies with a high percentage of engaged employees are more profitable than those with fewer engaged workers. High engagement can improve employee retention and raise customer perceptions that directly lead to better financial performance.

Overall, most companies have about one-third of their employees fully engaged in their work. Yet recent surveys suggest that as many as four out of five workers would leave their current job if they could, but most think they would have trouble finding another one right now.

Engaged employees are those who are involved in and enthusiastic about their work. Those who are not engaged are satisfied but are not emotionally connected to their workplace and are less likely to put in extra effort. Those who are actively disengaged are emotionally disconnected from the work and workplace and jeopardize the performance of their teams. Their physical health may also be at risk.

A recent Gallup survey found that in the average big company only 33% of employees describe themselves as fully engaged in their work, 49% say they are not engaged and 18% say they are actively disengaged.

Gallup’s research found there is a strong relationship between engagement and high-performance outcomes which include customer loyalty, profitability, productivity, turnover, safety incidents, shrinkage, absenteeism, patient safety incidents, and quality (defects). They also learned that organizations with a high percentage of engaged employees have nearly four times the earnings per share growth rate compared to organizations in the same industry with lower enagement.

In what Gallup calls world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged workers to actively disengaged workers is about 10:1. Whereas in average organizations, the ratio of engaged workers to actively disengaged workers is about 2:1.

All too often, employee engagement is viewed as an HR initiative to improve morale among employees when things aren’t going so well. These intiatives do little to raise the level of employee engagement, and sometimes they even undermine it. That’s because employee engagement is distinctively different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organizational culture.

In the best companies employee engagement is a strategic approach for driving improvement that is directly linked to achieving corporate goals and organizational change. It can lead to employees who are more emotionally attached, involved and fully commited to their organizations. And it can profoundly increase productivity.

Employee engagement should be an organization-wide effort, and so much of its execution is dependent on good managers. As I wrote about in a previous post, employees join an organization based on the reputation of the company or the quality of its products or service. But they most often leave because of their manager.

In a down economy when hiring is stagnant and organizations are trying to get the most out of the people they already have, managers can engage employees in many ways. This includes clarifying expectations, providing adequate resources, giving recognition, encouraging their professional development, helping them connect to the organization’s purpose, and measuring and discussing progress more often than once each year.

Managers who do these as part of an overall employee engagement strategy are more likely to produce high-quality work and retain employees.

At a time with high unemployment, stagnant wages and workers staying in their jobs only because they fear they cannot find something better, it is the perfect time to execute an employee engagement strategy to energize your people.

In most organizations employees are the biggest expense and, far and away, the greatest asset. Now is the time to invest in a strategy that will raise the number of fully engaged employees and increase your profitability. You’ll be glad you did both now and when the economy improves.

Managing Accountability

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” — Stephen R. Covey.

Many of the organizations I see today reflect our society’s tendency to blame other people, act like a victim, and generally not take responsibility for our own actions. This lack of accountability is a problem in the workplace because it is unproductive, it negatively impacts employee engagement and it leads to poor results.

A productive workplace requires every employee to be held accountable for his or her actions. This begins with the leader and it needs to be modeled and practiced in all employee supervision.

In Denny F. Strigl’s new book “Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? Hard Hitting Lessons on How to Get Real Results,” the former CEO and president of Verizon Wireless offers many lessons on how managers fail and how they can improve.

Specifically, Strigl sees nine reasons managers struggle:

  1. They fail to build trust and integrity
  2. They have the wrong focus
  3. They don’t model or build accountability
  4. The fail to consistently reinforce what’s important
  5. They overrely on concensus
  6. They focus on being popular
  7. They get caught up in their self-importance
  8. They put their heads in the sand
  9. They fix problems, no causes

What I see common in all of these is that they are about specific behaviors. It’s no wonder research has shown that the single most important factor in success is not education, intelligence, experience and technical expertise. It is behavior.

Exceptional managers create positive results by specific behaviors that are consistently repeated day in and day out until they become a habit.

Accountability is the specific behavior that stands out for me and Strigl has what he calls eight accountability techniques that can be helpful.

1.      The Surprise Visit – Hopefully this will catch employees doing something well and provides an opportunity to commend them. However, it also helps managers identify what’s not being done well and rectify it right then and there before it can be covered up.

2.      The Unexpected Follow-Up Phone Call – When someone on your staff tells you something they are working on, don’t let it slide until the next time he or she brings it up. Make an unscheduled call and ask them about the progress to show you listened and are holding them accountable for it

3.      Coaching – As a manager, there is a coaching opportunity in every interaction with your staff that can have accountability attached to it. Practice coaching with accountability included until it becomes an instinctive management habit and is a part of every interaction.

4.      The 5:15 Report – This is a simple reporting system should take no more than 5 minutes for you to read and 15 minutes for an employee to prepare. Examples of what to include in such a report are: progress on goals, plans and pojects; emerging long-term issues; emerging short-term problems; improvement ideas; accomplishments achieved; business opportunities; unexpected events.

5.      The Performance Agreement – This is essentially a method for documenting what a manager and direct report agree the employee will accomplish over a specific period of time. To be effective, it should be simple and leave no room for misunderstanding. This can help directly measure one’s accountability.

6.      The Operations Review – This enables senior level managers the ability to review all functions within an organization, the performances of specific managers of those functions, the results managers have achieved, and the plans they have to reach future goals. It demonstrates accountability organization-wide.

7.      The Performance Appraisal – Often dreaded by both managers and employees, this should be a fine opportunity to review 1) the goals the employee met or exceeded; 2) the goals the employee has not met; 3) the manager’s recommendations concerning what the employee should do to meet his or her goals. It should be a helpful conversation that encourages accountability.

8.      The Performance Improvement Plan – This plan clarifies issues the employee is encountering or goals that he or she is missing and sets up a course of action for improvement. For the employee this can be a wake up call. The manager must be helpful, set a clear deadline, make it measurable, and support the employee through the process.

Exceptional managers are able to delegate accountability to their staff and remain accountable themselves. This accountability must be modeled continually in word, attitude and action.

In the same way children will ignore parents’ words when their behavior does not match, employees constantly monitor their manager’s behaviors to find congruence.

“When a manager is not accountable, commitments slide,” writes Strigl. “Decisions don’t get made. Responsibilities are not fulfilled. Worst of all, results are not delivered.”

And accountability is the tool that enables managers to deliver results, says Strigl.

What about you and your organization? Are you and the people who report to you held accountable? Is accountability a core value in your workplace?

Performance Previews: Linking Each Other to Our Success

The current turmoil over union rights in Wisconsin as well as the overall economic challenges facing both public and private organizations should provide a springboard for altering the way we do business.

While I am not suggesting abolishing unions, I believe there is an opportunity for significant change in employee relations at this pivotal time. This change could have wide spread implications leading to increased fiscal accountability, higher productivity and greater employee engagement.

In a recent New York Times editorial titled, “Why Your Boss is Wrong About You,” Samuel Culbert argues that one way to do this is by doing away with performance reviews because they are entirely unfair. Performance reviews are too focused on pleasing the boss rather than achieving results, he says.

“They are an intimidating tool that makes employees too scared to speak their minds, lest their criticism come back to haunt them in their annual evaluations,” writes Culbert. “They almost guarantee that the owners — whether they be taxpayers or shareholders — will get less bang for their buck.”

Culbert is a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of “Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters.”

As I wrote in a previous post, performance reviews are all too often an HR necessity rather than an opportunity to improve performance and strengthen relationships between managers and employees. New methods such as Results Only Work Environment or ROWE can be helpful in holding the employee more responsible for achieving results.

Culbert suggests taking this ROWE methodology a bit further in what he sites as performance previews, which are a way to hold both boss and his subordinate accountable for setting goals and achieving results. A true partnership can then exist between supervisor and employee to reach goals that are based on shared interests and responsibility.

Once goals are established, the decision regarding how the work gets done can be made between the two people most responsible for it and independent from the organization. This relationship is based on mutual respect and can capitalize on the unique strengths and knowledge available rather than from some objective standard found in boilerplate review paperwork.

I once held a position where, despite my success in achieving the financial-based, project targets in the management by objectives (MBOs) agreed to in my employment agreement, I was not given my annual bonus because my supervisor decided I had achieved these only through his intervention. Though I disagreed with his assessment, I had little recourse.

What if instead we had worked as a team and his success was also determined by the achievement of these goals? Rather than he as my supervisor determining my compensation based on his own subjective interpretation of who did what and how the work got done, he judged this purely on results?

All too often in competitive workplace environments, there is too much office politics, jockeying for position, and silo mentality that is in the way of getting the work done. Performance previews may provide a viable alternative to performance reviews, especially if they lead to increased communication, teamwork and achieving the organization’s goals.

The current economic crisis provides us with a great opportunity to revamp the way we do business and implement a win-win solution such as performance previews.

I welcome comments on how your organization would benefit or suffer from such a change in the way to evaluate employees.

Performance Management Process as a Model for Better Employee Management

[Guest Columnist: Today’s post is written by Sean Conrad, a senior product analyst at Halogen Software.]

As managers, we sometimes get caught up in the formality of our performance management process. We focus on the questions in the forms, the ratings, the meetings, the approvals. We forget that performance management is really just about good employee management.

If you peel back all the trappings, you realize that performance management is really about communicating expectations, giving clear direction and context for work, and supporting employee development. Ideally, these are things a manager should be doing every day, not just at performance appraisal time. They are the basics of good employee management, and the performance management process should really just be a way to periodically formalize and document these activities.

Communicating Expectations
To succeed, our employees need to know what we expect of them. This should also include how we expect them to do it. Assessing performance of competencies as part of your performance appraisal process is one way to do this.

You should also have an ongoing discussion with each employee about the competencies that are important to the company and those that are important to their specific role. You should talk about how each competency applies to the employee’s role and talk about when, where, and how they can practice the specific behaviors. Instead of leaving it to annual performance appraisal time, weave discussions about competencies into your day to day dialogue about performance.

Coach your employees to further develop key competencies. Where warranted, assign employees development activities to help cultivate specific competencies. And don’t forget the importance of modeling. Lead by example.

Giving Clear Direction and Context for Work
Performance management processes typically focus on the evaluation of performance on past goals, and the establishment of new goals. As a manager, you should also clearly link each of your employees’ goals to the organization’s high level goals. This helps them understand how their daily work contributes to the organization’s success, and gives them a sense of their value and importance.

But a once a year “set and forget” approach rarely works to direct employees and encourage high performance. As a manager, you should check in with employees on a regular basis to see how they’re progressing.

  • Make sure their goals are still relevant and adjust them if necessary.
  • Discuss challenges and offer help.
  • Review priorities.
  • Answer questions.
  • Explain how their work is contributing to larger organizational initiatives or priorities and update them on organizational progress.

This regular dialogue communicates the importance and value of goals to your employees. It also communicates your commitment to your employees and to their success.

Support Employee Development
As you work with your employees and dialogue about competencies and goals, stay alert to “teachable moments” and “learning opportunities”. Your ultimate goal should be to help your employees improve and succeed.

While your annual performance appraisal meeting is a great time to discuss learning needs and put formal development plans in place, you should really keep the focus on learning all year long.

Look for opportunities to coach your employees or teach them more about the larger organization, its mission, purpose, challenges, industry, etc. Model the skills or behaviors they need to further develop and give them tangible — in the moment feedback — on their performance. Offer a variety of learning opportunities, including books, articles, seminars/webinars, job shadowing, workplace buddying, post-mortems, etc. Make it okay to make mistakes as long as they’re leveraged as learning opportunities. And coach, coach, coach…

Leverage the Power of Performance Management by Making it a Year-Round Activity
Performance management shouldn’t be a once a year formality. The activities it encompasses really form the foundation of good employee management, and should therefore be year-round activities. By communicating expectations, giving clear direction and context, and supporting development, you foster strong performance and ultimately organizational success.

Sean Conrad is a senior product analyst at Halogen Software, one of the leading providers of performance appraisal software.

The Value of 360-Degree Feedback

Like most employee evaluation programs, the 360-degree feedback process can be effective or ineffective depending on the guidelines, training and implementation accompanying it.

Feedback in this process is typically provided by subordinates, peers and supervisors. It also includes a self-assessment and may include feedback from customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Results can be effectively used by the person receiving the feedback to seek training and development for improvement if necessary.

However, there is some controversy regarding whether 360-degree feedback improves employee performance, and it has even been suggested that it may actually decrease shareholder value.

A 2001 Watson Wyatt study found that 360-degree feedback was one of the factors associated with a 10.6 percent decrease in market value of an organization. The study notes that while nothing is inherently wrong with these practices, many organizations implement them in misguided ways.

And a study on the patterns of 360-degree feedback rater accuracy shows that the length of time the rater has known the person being rated has the most significant effect on the accuracy of a 360-degree review. According to the study, the most accurate ratings come from knowing the person long enough to get past first impressions (one to three years), but not so long as to begin to generalize favorably (more than five years).

Organizations having success with 360-degree feedback processes report:

  • Organizational climate fosters individual growth
  • Criticisms are seen as opportunities for improvement
  • Assurance that feedback will be kept confidential
  • Development of feedback tool based on organizational goals and values
  • Feedback tool includes area for comments
  • Brief workers, evaluators and supervisors about purpose, uses of data and methods of survey prior to distribution of tool
  • Train workers in appropriate methods to give and receive feedback
  • Support feedback with back-up services or customized coaching

Organizations using 360-degree feedback without first providing the foundation for success can have negative consequences such as:

  • Feedback too often tied to merit pay or promotions
  • Comments are traced to individuals causing resentment between workers
  • Feedback not linked to organizational goals or values
  • Use of the feedback tool as a stand alone without follow-up
  • Poor implementation of tool negatively affects motivation
  • Excessive number of surveys mean raters provide few tangible results

When a 360-degree feedback process is not properly implemented it can seriously derail its effectiveness. Like any training or development program, this process requires guidelines and oversight to ensure it is implemented properly and fairly throughout the organization.

Since 360-degree feedback processes are typically anonymous, people receiving feedback have no recourse if they want to further understand the feedback. They have no one to ask for clarification of unclear comments or more information about particular ratings and their basis.

Too often the 360-degree feedback process is problem-focused rather than solution-focused. By focusing on the employee’s weaknesses there is less of an opportunity to build on the employee’s strengths. And great leaders are those who build upon employee strengths rather than on their weaknesses.

The best 360-degree feedback provides insight about the skills and behaviors desired to meet the mission, vision and goals of the organization. It enables each individual to understand how his or her effectiveness as an employee is viewed by others. The feedback is based on behaviors that other employees can see. And the process includes a follow-up plan or coaching in order to improve.

As with any performance feedback process, it can be a profoundly supportive, organization-affirming method for promoting employee growth and development. Or the process can reduce morale and motivation, and make things much worse for the individual and the entire organization.

Employee Feedback: Is There Ever Enough?

One of the challenges I encountered in my previous career was getting too little time with my boss and receiving too little feedback on my performance. Not getting regular accolades for what I did especially well and constructive feedback for how I could improve, left me at a loss for how to best provide my boss and the company with what they needed from me.

I am not in the minority. According to a recent study by Leadership IQ, 66% of employees say they have too little interaction with their boss. This number is up from 53% in May 2008, the last time this study was conducted, and could indicate that the recent recession played a part in the results.

And while 67% of employees say they get too little positive feedback, 51% also said they get too little constructive criticism from their boss. On top of this, employees who say they didn’t get enough feedback were 43% less likely to recommend their company to others as a great organization to work for. The survey included 3,611 workers from 291 business and healthcare organizations in the U.S. and Canada.

Too often organizations view opportunities for interaction with the boss and feedback as part of an annual review. In my experience, annual reviews are seen as an HR necessity rather than an opportunity to improve performance and strengthen relationships between managers and employees. These reviews typically focus too heavily on past performance, salary increases and potential promotions. The fact that they are done only once a year and often viewed as a burden to many supervisors, annual reviews are not fully appreciated for what they can deliver.

Employee feedback needs to be provided more frequently and needs to be effective so appropriate action can be taken immediately. Looking at it from an appreciative standpoint, feedback can open the door to constructive dialogue between a worker and his or her supervisor. Constructive feedback can help build upon and spread what is working well and it can minimize or remove what is not working so well. And the best feedback should not be one way in nature, but allow for true give and take so there is an opportunity for better understanding and to strengthen the relationship.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, employees may join a company because of its prestige and reputation, but they leave a company primarily due to their relationship with their immediate supervisor. Strengthening this relationship through regular dialogue can lead to greater employee engagement, increased productivity and potentially long term retention.

Organizations should demand that managers increase the amount and quality of feedback they give employees because it makes good business sense. This feedback needs to occur more than once a year and should include praise for positive performances as well as detailed constructive comments so that immediate corrective action can be taken if necessary. This is important not only because employees will feel better about doing their jobs, but because it can directly impact overall productivity as well as employee retention and recruitment.

Mark Craemer                           www.craemerconsulting.com

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