Employee feedback: 4 basic rules for sustainable employee performance reviews
Whether Scrum, Kaizen, Lean, Pomodoro or CIP: All successful management models require effective employee feedback and continuous coaching. The following four rules are the cornerstone for sustainable and effective performance reviews.
Humans need a reaction after their action. This need is nature of humanity. Neuroscientifically, our brain needs either a mistake or a success in order to learn. Whenever we succeed, we release hormones which give us a real rush of happiness, solidifying the preceding behavior in the brain. With the prospect of this rush of happiness, we are motivated and better able to cope with failure. At the same time, failed behavior is saved in order to avoid repetition.
In earlier eras of our time, feedback on our behavior was usually immediate and easily perceived. In today’s society, especially in the workplace, it is increasingly difficult for employees to evaluate actions as successes or failures. Home offices, little social contact and tighter schedules reinforce this development. The result: unmotivated employees who hardly develop.
Feedback as a cornerstone for high performance teams
Unfortunately, the feedback-situation in companies is often the opposite. A large-scale study by the Gallup Institute showed that 74 % of all respondents receive poor to no actionable feedback from their manager.
But why? Unfortunately, feedback discussions often produce the opposite of the desired result. Employees basically want honest feedback and hope for confirmation of their behavior. But if the discussion partners are neither trained nor have a basis of trust, the first spark of criticism leads to a defense of the discussed behavior. A constructive feedback discussion then quickly turns into a discussion about the question of blame. Instead of further development, the focus is on admitting mistakes, which makes both parties uncomfortable (error culture).
Yet feedback is significant to both our professional and personal growth. While bad leaders often resist it, they themselves would benefit just as much as their employees. Let’s dive into why a good feedback culture is not only important but essential to the business and what impact it may have.
An effective feedback culture improves performance
Employees being assigned as high priority is the key to success, automatically! A daring theory. But according to the Gallup study, companies that invest in employees and encourage engaged interactions, perform better than those that don’t. 24 % higher profits and revenue increases by up to 20 %. “It’s important to remember that a high-performance culture can’t exist without effective feedback and ongoing coaching,” says Chris Musser from Gallup.
Difference between feedback, coaching and consulting
The combination of feedback, coaching and consulting lays the foundation for development. While feedback focuses on mirroring past actions, coaching goes a step further and promotes self-reflection and self-perception, awareness and responsibility. Through that they try to improve future actions. In coaching, the improved action is recommended and a clear evaluation given.
- Evaluated information: This is good/bad
- Transfer expert knowledge
- Simple communication
- Teaching methods (coachee learns, HOW to improve)
- Does not provide direct solution, suggestions, or advice
- Helps with reflection and setting goals
- Free of evaluations
- May initiate independent reflection
- Mirror (transmits information back to the sender)
A strong feedback culture needs a clear commitment from the management as well as the entire workforce. Instead of focusing on past mistakes, an environment which fully exploits strengths and future potential, has to be create. A feedback conversation is designed to focus on this process. For that, we have four basic rules for you:
Four basic feedback rules for more effectiveness
Rule no. 1: Personalized feedback
How are employees supposed to know where to improve if feedback is only expressed in blanket terms or in larger groups. Use one-on-one conversations and specific, near-term examples to increase the impact. Take your time and leave enough space for feedback, repetition, and also breaks for reflection. Create a positive atmosphere based on performance, improvement and growth. Always make sure that when giving examples, the feedback relates 100 % to the employee’s area of responsibility and work.
The whole story and no assumptions
Presumptions won’t get you anywhere. You need to make the effort to know the whole story. Imagine you’re the head of the sales team, and last week you received a customer complaint. As you read the complaint, you wonder why the customer was upset. Because the particular salesperson dumped the customer or, because there was an incident with the product? The former should be part of the feedback and is the responsibility of the employee. If the incident is not part of the employee’s responsibilities, you should support them and show them tactics on how to deal with angry customers and find possible solutions for the problem together. This is where coaching gets important.
In these conversations, however, keep in mind the employee’s individual learning style, personality and team role. Some employees need direct criticism while others want to be confronted with criticism more gently. Learn to understand your employees and adjust the conversations accordingly.
Use these three methods for customized feedback:
- Show appreciation: as long as it the truth and employees are happy about it, there’s no upper limit to positive feedback. Always remember: With each “rush of happiness” from the recipient, the previous behavior is strengthened in the brain. So if you praise your employees for a desired behavior, they will repeat it more and more often.
- Direct coaching: Ask your employee to engage in the conversation. Try to fathom together the motivations for certain behaviors and lead your coachee to a mindset of continuous improvement.
- Evaluate objectively: sometimes employees want to know their worth in the company. Therefore, an objective and honest evaluation should not be omitted. Wherever possible, evaluate performance against standards and metrics. However, many things are not measurable. Here you need to develop a sense and create clarity in the behavior of the particular at the workplace. If you’re not sure whether an assessment is objective enough, it’s better to skip it.
- Feedback²: For a feedback culture to grow, feedback must be allowed in every direction. Ideally, you ask the employee to prepare feedback as well. Before the interview, ask for the expectations of the employee with whom he or she is going into the interview. This can help you to be even more individual with each employee. After the interview, ask for feedback on the feedback session to improve your leadership skills.
Rule no. 2: Use data to make behavior tangible
Which measures values were directly pursuable for your employees and how did they do this week? What were the numbers this month or quarter? Include historical and current data in the one-on-one conversation. Try to understand these numbers together to draw conclusions. Beware of the “status update trap” – where data is only presented and neither interpreted nor learned from. Therefore, don’t focus on the numbers, but how they can actually be improved.
If there are facts or measurable numbers, the performance discussion is based on a constructive foundation. Employees are then accountable for their actions and talk about concrete results. This is where you have to work together to cut out difficulties and directly address authentic praise and opportunities for improvement. Use KPIs and standard metrics as a starting point for the conversation. Now coach and set realistic benchmarks for the next one-on-one meeting.
Often, however, such numbers are not available in the conversation. If that’s the case you need to coach more task- or team-related. What is the employee’s team role? How are tasks completed? How does he or she perform in contact with customers or external parties?
Rule no. 3: The right ratio of praise and constructive feedback
According to research by academics Emily Heaphy and Marical Losada, the ideal ratio of praise to criticism is 5:1. For every negative feedback, it takes five positive comments. Keep the ratio in mind because it affects the employee’s performance. If you are always mindful of positive action, your awareness will also change in a positive way, which generally leads to more joy in managing employees.
Whenever employees are overwhelmed with constructive feedback, it quickly leads to dissatisfaction and loss of motivation. No matter what efforts are made, nothing is appreciated. Employees with great ambition will keep pushing for a while to somehow keep you satisfied. However, most employees will lose motivation and keep their eyes open for new companies. After all, according to another study, negative feedback is still better than no feedback at all.
The added value that engaged employees generate for companies is shown by another Gallup study:
- 25 % lower fluctuation in companies with high fluctuation
- 65 % lesser fluctuation in companies with less fluctuation
- 37 % lower absenteeism
- 10 % higher customer metrics
- 21 % higher productivity
- 22 % higher profitability.
Constructive feedback is important to make improvement potential visible to the employee. However, recognition of performance should never be questioned.
Rule no. 4: Remind yourself about the basics
If only it was that simple. These challenges – some of which you may know yourself – cause managers problems in one-on-one meetings.
Preparation is everything
Good employee management takes time and effort. This also applies to one-on-one meetings. For each one-on-one meeting, try to prepare specific examples you want to address and also take the employee to task.
Frequently but short
If you meet weekly/monthly, the examples brought up will be more memorable. At the same time, there is less pressure to make a breakthrough in this one conversation. Remember, it’s the process, not the individual conversation, that adds value.
Time is appreciation
Take enough time for the conversation and also give space for spontaneous or private conversations. However, if after 15 minutes everything has already been said, the conversation can of course be ended early.
If you have the feeling that your counterpart has spoken a little more, the ratio was balanced. Try to explore the motives behind the behavior by asking open-ended questions and always give the employee the chance to recount what happened from his or her own perspective.
Now, it’s your turn! Use your one-on-one meetings to motivate, encourage and challenge your employees. If you see yourself as a coach and mentor to your employees, you will automatically change your one-on-one meetings. It will continuously improve, if you build a template and process for your one-on-one conversations and successively improve them. With authentic, eye-to-eye conversations, you’ll get through the stigma of discomfort and one-on-one meetings will become a source of motivation.
Employee Feedback FAQs
What is employee feedback?
If done properly, an employee feedback is a way to improve an employee’s performance, by giving open and constructive feedback to the successes and failures. It is part of a learning process and should provide actionable measures for the person to improve.
How to give employee feedback?
In short, employee feedback is best given in a one-on-one conversation. Be specific, and keep the feedback personalized. Don’t forget to keep a balance between positive and negative feedback. If possible, provide a data-driven feedback, and meet at a regular interval.
When to give employee feedback?
While it might depend on the setting (project based, task based,…), it has proven to be much more efficient to provide regular feedback on a monthly or even weekly bases. By this, it becomes more of a process to improve.
Why employee feedback is important!
Giving constructive feedback on a regular basis prevents frustrations and helps employees to develop. A well performed employee feedback is part of a positive work culture and improves employees engagement over all.