The best managers provide effective employee feedback to their staff frequently. Not just during performance reviews or before important projects begin, but constantly. Knowing how to give valuable feedback that doesn’t go in one ear and out the other is the key to increasing employee engagement and productivity. (Yes, employees will actually appreciate criticism when given to them the right way. Shocking, I know!) The problem is, many managers can’t seem to give employee feedback correctly all of the time.
Luckily, leaders of all experience levels can learn how to provide useful employee feedback to improve their workforce’s performance and boost productivity. While there are many ways to give effective feedback, understanding just a few techniques can make a significant difference straightaway.
It starts by learning how to listen
Not long ago, I had one of my monthly “lunch lotteries,” where I take a handful of employees out to a local eatery to get to know each other better. After our normal chats about Netflix, pets, kids, hobbies and being professional taxicab drivers for our kids’ after-school activities, the discussion turned to the best bosses some of us had during our careers.
One employee’s story struck me as very powerful as he is a veteran staff member in his 50s, but he talked about his first real boss that he had when he was 17 years old. It’s been nearly 40 years since he worked for this man, but we all could see the effect a good boss had on this person.
His story perfectly illustrates the four fundamentals of giving effective employee feedback:
“My best boss ever was the first one in the building every morning. He would get his early morning duties done before most of us got to work. Then, when we came in, he’d break out his coffee cup, spend the first hour of our day going to each department (including the warehouse), and casually chat with almost everyone. It was a fantastic way for him to know what was going on … I mean, REALLY going on … in the company.”
Giving feedback on how employees can improve performance relies on seeing firsthand what is happening in the workplace. This boss used the “Managing by Wandering Around” (MBWA) method. When done right, an incredibly effective tool that lets staff see you. When done incorrectly, employees may think you’re just spying on them.
Unfortunately, sometimes managers see their own workloads pile high and don’t keep tabs on what’s going on. That leads to them having to rely on what other employees say about a particular worker or project.
It is imperative that managers keep up with what is happening with their staff even when their workload grows. Delegate responsibilities if you must, but stay observant. Providing constructive employee feedback is easier when you have solid notes in front of you.
“The other great thing about my boss was that he was direct, sometimes downright blunt. Because of his morning ‘coffee walks’ he knew how busy we were and he didn’t want to waste our time with chit-chat when work needed to be discussed. But because he’d established a good relationship with us already, he could get straight to the point and we didn’t take it the wrong way.”
Providing employee feedback can sometimes be uncomfortable, and it’s easy to get caught up with fluff that really doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Some managers will try to alleviate the negatives they have to talk about by focusing too much on positives and the message gets lost.
Mixing messages is one of the cardinal sins of feedback to me. When a boss provides a positive compliment as a pre-qualifier before delivering a criticism, it negates any value and reinforcement gained from the positive recognition. Save the criticism for another time.
Another mistake is to go overboard the other way, bringing up every negative thing about the employee and his or her performance. This virtually guarantees the angry and upset worker mentally shuts down. Coaching them on how they can improve is infinitely more beneficial than dwelling on what went wrong. The other key is to focus on performance, not personality. In other words, often it’s the behavior that needs to change, not necessarily a personality trait.
“Every time I talked to my boss, he would always ask if I had questions or concerns about something. It made it easy for me to ask for feedback later because he kept the door open.”
Feedback sessions will be more useful if workers have the chance to discuss their performance. Managers should take note of this and ask workers how they feel they are performing. If they have any concerns, it will make the interaction more fruitful.
Speak about moving forward
“The thing is, even on an occasion when he had to get on me about my performance, I never took it as an attack on me personally. I truly believed he cared for me as a person and just wanted me to be the best I could be. He was always looking to the future for me, the department and the company.”
Helping an employee improve performance is always the #1 goal of effective feedback, and there is a certain systematic way to do it. If something is wrong and needs attention, mention it at the beginning of the conversation. It is important you talk about how the worker can move forward and continue improving.
Depending on the situation, schedule follow-up meetings with the employee. Let the employee know the sessions are meant to monitor their progress, and not that you’re watching them like a hawk. And, above all, keep it positive.
Managing people is both wonderful and maddening—sometimes within the same day! By following the four steps above, you’ll be well on your way to building an engaged, focused and more productive team. This will lead to a happier workplace for everyone.