Make Employee Feedback Believable
This post is part of a series of interviews with experts in business intelligence, sales management, marketing, customer retention, management and strategic planning. Everyday, the CAN team interacts clients, mentors, and friends who are leaders in their fields, and we started this series to share their expertise.
Research shows that employees who focus on improving their strengths consistently out perform employees that focus on their weaknesses (Read a Related Post). According to Gallup, employees that focus on developing their strengths are more productive and are 6 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and 3 times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life. However, it is difficult, demanding, and often counterintuitive to think through who you are and what you do best. Studies on the reliability of performance ratings have repeatedly shown that people struggle to rate their own performance. The most accurate performance ratings come from others. Given this, it shouldn’t be assumed that we truly know our strengths or weaknesses.
One of the simplest ways to encourage employees to identify and focus on developing their strengths is by creating a feedback loop that connects an employee’s behavior with the results of their actions. According to Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Josh Kuehler, when feedback is more detailed and frequent, it creates more self awareness; a primer for performance improvement.
However, employee feedback is most commonly offered as a response to events that are negative, rather than positive, in nature. In other words, it is easy to see the performance gaps and therefore easy to offer employee feedback when performance falls short of expectations. Negative employee feedback also has a tendency to be more frequent and detailed, when compared to positive feedback. When the performance problems occur, it is easy for others to see the specific actions to fix performance problems. It is more difficult to recognize the specific actions taken that led to a successful task or project. According to Josh, this can be attributed to the fact that while employees are expected to do positive things, typical management is focused on correcting poor performance rather than praising good performance.
This type of employee feedback as a response to negative events creates a negative loop of interaction between managers and employees where the employees act to avoid punishment, instead of focusing on developing expertise in their positions. Management by exception is a poor model, yet is too common. To help balance negative and positive feedback, Josh recommends that managers make providing frequent and detailed feedback part of their management routine, rather than solely in response to negative events. Josh is currently developing software that helps managers support the expertise of their team by making detailed and frequent feedback a part of their weekly routine.
Josh recommends that managers provide frequent and detailed feedback to their employees in a way that connects how an employee’s behavior produces specific results. Instead of using feedback only for correcting negative behavior, managers should focus on developing and amplifying the excellence of their employees. This requires that the managers act as a sensor and decision system, monitoring behavior and outcomes, and providing the employee with an understanding of how their actions contribute and create outcomes on a grand scale.