Employee feedback is a widely recognized way for managers to develop their direct reports, and no event provides a better opportunity for candid feedback than performance reviews. Giving your managers and leaders extra training on reviews is a good way to help them overcome the discomfort that often follows formal feedback situations.
Indeed, soft skills like “coaching and providing feedback” are precisely the ones that many of today’s managers lack. The first step to mastering this skill is to understand the goal of formal feedback, and why it is a benefit to organizations...when done correctly.
Feedback is a Critical Step in Development
Think back to the first time you tried to do something new. You probably were not that good at it, nor confident in your abilities. How did that change? Most likely, you learned what you were doing wrong and what you were doing right, and as your skill grew, so did your confidence.
Every job is, in essence, something “new” an employee is trying to do. Even though the job description might be something he or she is comfortable with, there are plenty of other small details—internal processes, team dynamics, company culture, and so on—to learn and to become acclimated to.
Formal feedback is a chance to step back and assess what an employee is doing correctly and what can be improved. When providing it in a formal performance review setting, managers have the opportunity to guide employees in an environment free from distraction, painting a broader picture of the employee’s performance. Over time, the confidence of your employees will grow as they have proof that they are mastering their roles.
Positive Feedback Encourages Positive Performance
Positive reinforcement is a powerful way to encourage proper behavior. Psychologists discovered this decades ago when working with animal models of learning. While “correction” and punishment can discourage certain behaviors, such methods fail to show what positive behaviors to perform in their place. (This is why bad habits are often hard to break—people know they are bad but relapse for lack of a more positive behavior to replace them with.)
The same is true in the workplace: Correction goes only so far. To ensure that employees are living up to their job description, expectations, and company culture, leaders should praise employees when they get these things right. This will encourage them to do “more of the same.”
Feedback Can Inspire, Motivate, and Engage
The right kind of feedback can inspire, motivate, and engage your employees too.
Positive reinforcement not only teaches employees the proper ways to do their job, it also gives them recognition for all the things they have done right. That “feel good” aspect of feedback pays dividends throughout the workweek and beyond.
On the other hand, constructive criticism signals to employees that you are concerned with their performance and want to see them succeed. This can be inspiring, too, if handled well. Once you have laid out the positive steps they can take to improve, employees will be motivated to take on the new challenge. (If they aren’t, then this is a sign that there isn’t a good fit with your organization to begin with.)
Formal Feedback "Keeps It Real"
Even as you emphasize the positive, be sure to keep things objective. Formal feedback works only if employees feel there is something at stake—maybe not their jobs per se, but certainly their opportunities for promotion, choice of projects, etc.
In other words, performance review feedback should be candid, not candied. It’s impossible for every employee to give 100% of themselves, perfectly, every month and every quarter. If your reviews paint that picture, employees will start to take them less seriously.
On the other hand, feedback that sets explicit expectations, recommends concrete actions, and then measures employees’ achievement against these benchmarks sets the groundwork for enhancing performance and growing productivity.
There are, of course, many other ways to perfect the performance review process. Doing so, however, should be more than a matter of policy. Managers need to be adequately trained to provide the right kinds of feedback to develop their direct reports. They themselves will need feedback about their feedback.
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