Employee Feedback: A Short Guide

  • Brace
  • April 25, 2018
  • 16 min

Strong company culture and active engagement begin with the relationship between manager and employee. In this pursuit of the perfect balance, employee feedback is a critical component, and many leaders don’t deliver the right feedback at the right time to produce the desired results. So what is meaningful feedback, and how can you best harness its possibilities for your company? Read on for all the details about productive employee input and company success.

The State of Employee Feedback

How good employee feedback is depends on who you ask. Between management and team there still seems to be a divide. Only 30% of employees feel they receive valuable feedback to help them achieve their potential. In contrast, the same PwC survey shows that nearly 70% of employees express a desire for meaningful feedback and state it would encourage engagement and effort in the workplace. That’s a huge potential to let go to waste.

To get to the bottom of what feedback is and how it should be used, all sides need to listen to each other. This means communication is of new importance, and coincidentally, feedback is, too.

Meaningful Feedback: An Introduction

Meaningful employee feedback is more than an evaluation of performance or attitude; it’s an open conversation between leaders and their team. Both sides give and receive insights, which can improve the performance of all parties involved. Open communication can be difficult, but valuable. When there is an atmosphere of trust and stability, it provides the proper groundwork for creativity and new ideas that create growth and many kinds of profit. One of these profits is in productivity and enthusiasm. In a company with average employee engagement, one can expect the status quo. Many employees will only feel inspired to do what is required of them. Motivated employees, in contrast, who connect with their team and company, naturally go above and beyond. When people are invested and involved, they are more likely to show initiative and bring all their resources to bear on company goals, which have now become something more; they’ve become team goals and achievements.

To make the best of meaningful feedback you have to meet team members where they are and help them reach where they should be. Being active and aware of individuals and their productivity allows you to help them shape their work. Rather than a delayed criticism long after the issue occurred, giving constructive feedback early on allows employees to improve and accomplish their goals, and allows all sides to gain an understanding of each other and their expectations.

How Often Should Feedback Be Given?

In an ideal world, feedback would always be given in real time. The most productive (and efficient) time to address concerns and connect an employee to company goals is during or immediately after their contribution to a goal. However, the best-laid plans of mice and men often falter on the very complexities of reality. Busy schedules, changing priorities, and tight timelines often make it difficult to provide feedback in real time despite the leader’s best intentions. If more frequent check-ins are just not a possibility, then it’s important that leaders schedule weekly or at most monthly one-on-one meetings with their direct reports and approach feedback with intention and purpose.

 

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Growing Together with Performance Evaluations

There is no doubt that recognizing issues and weaknesses is the first step toward growth, change, and improvement. Yet, it’s incredibly hard to identify these things about yourself. We need others, we need their perspectives, in short, we need feedback.

Employee benefits of feedback

Everyone enjoys getting better and this applies even more to the workplace. Employees want to improve and company leaders don’t just make decisions, they motivate and nurture talent. To do this, a pat on the back is sometimes not enough, team members also want direction and constructive feedback to help them reach their potential:

  • 57% of employees prefer corrective feedback over praise alone.
  • 72% believe feedback would improve their work and performance.
  • Employees of all generations benefit from input from their managers.

It takes a certain finesse to speak to employees about where they can grow, and if you avoid it at all costs, you wouldn’t be alone. Even though many employers think they are giving quality input, Fortune found that less than 24% of employees feel they receive constructive feedback. But by holding back, leaders miss a great chance to engage with their employees, improve team satisfaction and productivity, and even more, to retain top talent.

Company benefits of employee feedback

By engaging with your team and providing input and feedback, the team culture can develop in many positive ways.

  • Feedback increases how valued employees feel, reducing voluntary termination.
  • It allows team members to grow personally and together with the company.
  • Input breaks down barriers between leaders and team members

Helping an employee improve is understandably nerve-wracking, as the Harvard Business Review reports that 92% of employees say the impact of input hinges on how they receive constructive feedback. No one wants to be the bad guy. Lucky for us, no one has to be. As difficult as it can be, remember that many can be inspired by feedback done well. As a leader of a team, feedback doesn’t have to be dreaded, but can be embraced as an opportunity to engage with your teammates, to develop as a leader, and to grow together as a team.

A Simple Solution: How Many Degrees of Feedback are Enough?

KISS. No, not the band. Keep it simple. This old adage drives much in business. Sometimes, however, you’ve got to ask, is it always the right one? When it comes to 90 degree or 360 degree feedback for team members and leaders, many factors complicate the decision.
90 degree feedback is the older idea of the two, and also the simpler. 90 degree feedback means providing single direction feedback from leader to employee. The process is straightforward and easy, and requires fewer resources. But in exchange, the results are less productive. Only having one perspective and no team member self-analysis are two pitfalls that complicate the simplicity of 90 degree feedback.

But, if KISS isn’t your favorite motto (or band), then 360 degree feedback may be for you. With 360, the team member gets input from top and bottom, from leaders and fellow employees. This creates a more personal and accurate picture, but also requires more planning and follow-through.

A plan of action always requires an eye on your resources. But like any anything, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out. If you’re willing to invest in the extra effort, then more comprehensive results are your reward.

>> 📖 Recommended reading: How Bottom-Up Feedback and Leadership Drive a Better Workplace <<

The Yin and Yang of 360 Degree Feedback

Is 360 degree feedback worth the effort? Does it help create the strong company culture we are hoping for? These are some of the big questions that leaders consider when choosing the right level of feedback for their team. Let’s break it down to pros and cons, and then we can make the decision a bit easier.
360 degree feedback is when a team member gets input from not only their boss, but peers and direct reports. Giving employees a comprehensive view of themselves and their work can have many advantages:

  • It can confirm strengths or identify less obvious skills and talents.
  • Results can be tailored to the individual employee.
  • An external perspective can help team members recognize weaknesses and improve themselves.
  • Diverse feedback is highly predictive, providing a big sample that creates an accurate picture of a team member’s or leader’s abilities.
  • It provides a groundwork from which to build a plan for improvement.
  • 360 feedback can be an opportunity for leaders to engage with their teams and together shape a positive company culture.

You would be right in thinking “Wow, these are some pretty nice potential outcomes.” But for every yin there is yang. Whether through misapplication or misunderstandings, this potential comes along with possible pitfalls.

  • Employees can feel the results are too personal, rather than constructive.
  • The focus can easily shift to finding weaknesses and not highlighting strengths.
  • Without a plan for improvement, the feedback is less effective.
  • Critical results without open communication can make team members feel less secure in their positions.
  • 360 surveys are hard to balance so that they are not too difficult for employees, but are still empirical enough for accurate results.
  • Like any improvement, 360 follow-up plans require commitment and revisiting in order to show results.

Whether a 360 feedback plan is right for you depends on many factors. It is important to be committed to shaping a detailed and friendly survey, to following through on results, and to have open communication with all team members. 360 feedback is what you make of it, and when properly applied, can open up helpful insights for a vibrant company culture.

Performance Reviews (Uh)! What Are They Good For?

If there is one time of year that causes universal groans and grumbles, it is the yearly review season. Managers and employees alike all have misgivings about the tradition. According to a report by Fortune, alone only 2% of HR people see a value in analyzing performance yearly. What are some of the reasons that these reviews get such a bad rap? Let’s look at 2 perspectives.

For team members:

  1. Yearly performance reviews can cement feelings of hierarchy in the office place. Only 9% of employees feel they are regularly recognized, and yearly reviews do little to improve this gap in engagement between leaders and team members.
  2. Reviews are rigid and impersonal. Companies often have point systems, or other measurements that fail to account for the potential in the individual employee.
  3. Employees see little reason for reviews, as they don’t offer clear guidance for improvement. Yearly reviews often address mistakes or issues that were months in the past, making it difficult for team members to use the reviews to learn and grow.

For companies and leaders:

  1. Yearly reviews are resource intensive and show little results. It takes many hours and much effort to set-up, conduct and review the results, and at the end, there is no clear correlation to an increase in productivity or talent retention.
  2. They have no clear goal. A review doesn’t address a definite area for improvement for the company or accomplish a specific task. Sales or productivity can be addressed and measured through steps and feedback, but there is no direct result a company can expect from a once-yearly review.
  3. Top talent can be neglected through the distance of yearly reviews. As noted in Fortune, 61% of employees wanted more direct and on-the-spot feedback, but this only happened in 24% of the cases. Only relying on a yearly performance review can make good workers feel unappreciated, and a lack of recognition is the largest reason for top talent to look elsewhere.

Sometimes traditions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Many of the things one wants to achieve in the classic performance review can be better accomplished through more direct feedback and interaction with team members. Employees feel more engaged, leaders learn more about what is being produced, and potential issues can be nipped in the bud before they bloom into bigger problems. Taking a moment to consider new methods can create a better solution, and less groans at the end of the year.

The How’s and Why’s of One-On-One Meetings

Feedback and one-on-one meetings are important tools for vibrant and open company culture and should always be a priority. Creating a two-way conversation should always be a focus, as you really want to avoid what Kevin Higgins calls the Seagull Method of feedback: “Fly by, poop, and fly on.”

You can avoid any unenviable avian comparisons by providing space in the meeting for both self-reflection and honest response from the employee and an open ear and genuine support from the side of leadership.

This simple 6-Step structure for two-way feedback can help streamline these meetings and promote engagement from employee and leader:

  1. Ask what the team member thinks they did well. This will open up the chance for employee’s to reflect on their accomplishments and communicate what they are proud of. It will build confidence to boot.
  2. Add where you think they exceeded.  With this step, you can help boost your team members confidence, show appreciation for their efforts, and build a solid respectful basis from which to later offer constructive feedback.
  3. Ask what challenges the employee is facing. Showing interest in where your team member is struggling can open up channels of communication. It also encourages teamwork between leadership and employees, rather than an atmosphere of fear or anxiety.
  4. Offer your support in solving any challenges. Helping employees to address their problems allows you to be involved in and mentor their personal growth. It also will encourage more creativity and decisiveness in the workplace if team members know that their managers are there to help, as well as lead.
  5. Ask your team member what they want to improve going forward. Employees are interested in developing professionally.  Asking their direction helps them achieve this while staying connected with the company, and developing new talents and resources.
  6. Add your suggestions for where and how they can continue to grow. After building a solid basis of confidence and trust, you will be able to illustrate your interest in an employee’s development and offer constructive feedback on where they can improve and address any concerns you may have.

Two-way feedback opens up the workplace to new ideas and interactive communication. The more involved you are in employee growth, the more engaged team members will be. Open channels, clear feedback rules, and authentic company culture open up the doors to innovation, talent retention, and increased productivity.

>> Read here to find more detailed information about one-on-ones and a helpful template and questions. <<

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