For many, feedback is a word said with dread. Whether you're giving or receiving it, it's a rare person who walks happily into a feedback meeting with no worries whatsoever. While that truth is certainly not ideal, it is a very normal scenario in our current business climate. The problem comes when that anxiety around feedback (particularly performance reviews) devolves into avoidance or procrastination. Because like it or not, feedback is a crucial tactic that you need to have in your HR or management tool kit. Without it, how will your employees know if they're meeting your goals and benchmarks? And how will you know if you're managing your team as effectively as you could be? Feedback is necessary for progression and as we've talked about before, progression is necessary for retention. Not to mention it makes daily life easier when employees are well informed about what they need to do and how well they're doing it. So as much as the word feedback might send a shiver down your spine, let's dive into why you need to cultivate this skill and how to get more effective at it.
Why do we all dread giving feedback?
There is always a certain amount of fear associated with giving feedback. For one, the manager doesn't want to sound like she is criticizing the employee too harshly, resulting in a crushed spirit and the lost trust of an otherwise great employee. Secondly, negative feedback can result in an unwanted emotional response from an employee, which can include extremes such as retaliation. While it’s never intended to be used this way, badly perceived feedback can quickly produce drama, which in turn can create a breeding ground for gossip, complaints, and negative attitudes that can ultimately impact team engagement and company culture.
In most organizations, feedback is meant to help employees grow. But there are those times when feedback includes having difficult conversations. Here’s an example: Jeff, a 34 year old customer service agent, has a personal hygiene problem. His co-workers are growing increasingly aware that he emits an offensive odor every time he returns from his lunch breaks. HR gets the call and needs to deal with it. During the private meeting with Jeff, the HR manager discovers Jeff has been trying to get fit by walking on his lunch breaks. He is unaware and very embarrassed that he has offended others with his body odor. The HR manager commends Jeff for taking control over his health, and suggests that he take advantage of the private staff-only shower following his walks. This is about as awkward as it can get. What if Jeff got so offended he lost his temper? Or he became angry with his co-workers for calling him out? Worse, he could withdraw from his team, creating compounding problems to the original issue. These are exactly the kinds of things that HR and management deal with on a regular basis and it’s no wonder it produces anxiety!
Fear of the unknown is the main reason for being nervous about giving employee feedback but you can't let it hold you back. Because even when it's awkward, it's important.
Why is feedback important in a corporate or team setting?
There are many reasons why feedback is a valuable tool to use in a corporate or team settings. Feedback is meant to provide a non-judgmental space to discuss concerns, successes, or challenges. When done well, giving feedback can improve performance (clearly) by openly talking about what is currently happening and what needs to come next. It also provides employees a gauge on how they're doing and any areas they need to work on. No one likes to be blindsided when they think they're performing well, after all. Personalized feedback also shows that the manager is listening or paying attention which helps employees feel seen and appreciated. It's important to note here that positive feedback is important to give as well. When someone is doing a good job, let them know about it! You don't have to wait till things are negative to have these conversations with your team. When handled well, feedback can even motivate your team by creating a sense of psychological safety. Employees need to know that even when their mistakes are seen, they aren't (for the most part) going to be raked across the coals for it. And once that environment is created, feedback becomes a useful tool to check in with, rather than a stick to punish.
And remember this should never be a one way street. Receiving feedback is equally important and can be from sources such as employee surveys. Asking for team feedback helps underscore that the process is productive, not punitive, and allows employees the opportunity to broach any subject they need their manager to be aware of. Instead of being brushed under the rug, routine feedback allows for issues to come out, be resolved, and move on. And really, isn't that a better way to manage? This approach creates a feedback loop that helps keep issues and communication flowing smoothly rather than hitting a bottleneck anywhere.
A survey conducted by USA TODAY and the Society for Human Resource Management found the top factors that contribute to worker happiness include job security (65 percent), benefits (65 percent), and open communication between employees and management (62 percent). Employees want to hear how they are doing and this need for continual feedback should overshadow any fears about giving it.
How to give employee feedback
Hopefully we've convinced you of the importance of feedback but there's still the problem of how to give it, right? Well, don't worry. It’s not difficult to create a new way of handling employee feedback. In fact, getting more practice can help you overcome any fears you have about it. Here are some of our suggestions for giving employee feedback more effectively:
Schedule regular feedback meetings: Every manager should at minimum be meeting with employees a few times a month, whether in teams or individually. Use this time to talk about and provide feedback on completed tasks, current projects, relationships with customers and colleagues, and setting goals. Keep feedback brief and allow the employee to explain things and share thoughts.
Center feedback on actions, not the employee personally: Anytime feedback is given to employees, make it a point to ensure that the feedback is not “attacking” the employee personally. Focus on actions taken, not on the employee himself. In the above example of Jeff, you will notice that the HR manager focused on his exercise rather than him as a person and then offered him a viable solution that would address the action causing the problem.
Conduct performance reviews on a quarterly basis: It’s a bad habit to leave performance reviews for once a year. Instead, conduct them during each quarter, evaluating the goals set by employees and encouraging employees to talk about challenges and good things that have happened. Provide feedback that includes actionable steps to make things better. This is especially important if performance reviews are tied in any way to compensation. If an employee thinks they're doing well and then gets to the end of the year and is told they could have done better and will receive a lower bonus, that will not be a very happy worker and trust us, others will learn about their experience.
Evaluate your own ability to accept feedback: As a manager, you should also be willing to accept feedback from your subordinates. In fact, good managers actively encourage it. Ask employees to be honest and let you know how you are doing. This helps to improve relationships and communication between you and your employees, making it easier to give feedback as needed.
The benefits of better employee feedback
As you can see, feedback doesn't have to be as anxiety-inducing as you may think. It’s a useful tool for improving employee performance, strengthening team communication, and building trust. Managers who take the time to provide honest feedback are appreciated by their employees. Many times, employees are just asking for validation and direction. Use feedback to promote a positive attitude and a deeper connection to both corporate objectives and to interpersonal relationships within the team.