Improving staff performance through feedback

18 August 2016

Have you told an employee what a great job they are doing recently, or congratulated them for a decision they’ve made? Or have you had to talk to an employee about their behaviour on the job or manage their performance? 

Feedback can not only help build positive relationships in the workplace but can significantly improve employee and business performance. However many of us often feel ill-equipped to provide it, and some of us just want to avoid it altogether. This can be because we tend to associate providing constructive or negative feedback with conflict or hurting someone’s feelings. 

Feedback will always be a really important part of a business. It can encourage your employees to accomplish goals, help to improve their performance, motivate them, strengthen relationships and boost morale. Giving and receiving feedback also provides continuous learning for both you and your employees. 

You can provide positive insights to your employees, and shift the threat of feedback being overwhelming to meaningful, by following a few simple tips.  

Do it sooner rather than later

Don’t wait until the end of the month or until it’s too late to have feedback discussions. Providing effective feedback, whether it is positive or negative, works best when the behaviour you are trying to reinforce or deter is clear and present. 

However, if a situation is highly emotional, you should wait until everyone involved has had the chance to calm down before engaging in feedback. Providing feedback when you or your employees are emotional often does more harm than good, and results in negative outcomes.

Pick the right location

Giving an employee negative feedback whilst in the company of other staff or even worse, in front of customers, will not have a positive outcome. 

When providing negative feedback to an employee, you should pick a location that is discrete and quiet, and where conversations cannot be overheard. This will help to put your employee at ease, and reduce any feeling of embarrassment, humiliation or isolation. 

It’s particularly important to have the meeting in a private location if the feedback will potentially be difficult, confronting, or come as a shock to your employee. 

Positive feedback on the other hand can be given to employees anywhere and anytime, and should be given regularly to motivate, encourage and boost employee morale! 

Be prepared

Before you meet with an employee to provide feedback, it is a good idea to plan your discussion. Taking the time to gather your thoughts and clarify what you want to get out of the discussion will help you to communicate clearly and effectively.  

If the feedback is about a particular incident or behaviour, it’s important that you have all the relevant, accurate information at hand so you can make the best suggestions or decisions possible. 

No matter how much you prepare, however, you should also keep an open and flexible mind as the employee may reveal new information or facts during the discussion.  

Include positives

If you only focus on the negatives during a general feedback discussion, the employee may feel attacked and become defensive.  Whilst discussing any developmental needs, it is important that you also highlight their strengths, accomplishments and what they are doing well to ensure the conversation is dynamic, open and productive. 

Be specific

Keep your feedback as specific as possible. While a generalised ‘thanks’ conveys general appreciation and makes people feel good, being specific about the behaviours and capabilities you specifically appreciated helps people better understand what it is they did that was of value.

This means they are more likely to repeat and build on the particular capability or behaviour in the future. This can be very powerful when the behaviours being recognised are linked to the core values of your business.   

Similarly, a comment like ‘your work has been so poor lately’ results in uncertainty, decreased motivation or an even further decrease in performance. It is important that you provide specific details and examples when providing negative feedback to employees so they can understand exactly what behaviour or capability needs to be changed. 

Use developmental language

During feedback conversations, closed questions are likely to elicit excuses, frustration, blame, problems and one-word expressions such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’. 

Open questions are likely to elicit a sense of responsibility, accountability and generation of options, possibilities and solutions. Try using some of the open question examples below next time you are providing feedback. 

When preparing to give feedback, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve from the conversation. Why is it important that you are having this conversation? It is helpful to set a positive intention for the conversation—do you want to set a high standard for your staff’s work, improve the current quality of your staff’s work, or maybe to improve work relationships?

During the conversation use phrases like: 

  • I’d like to talk to you about…(i.e. state your positive intention) 
  • I’ve noticed that…(be specific about what you have observed) 
  • I’d like to share with you the impact…(what’s at stake) 
  • What I want is… 
  • I may have contributed by… 
  • What do you suggest? 
  • How can we move forward on this? 

Continue to use open questions until you reach a positive outcome, such as: 

  • What could you? 
  • When will you? 
  • Where could you? 
  • How do you think? 
  • How could you? 
  • How could I? 

Try to avoid using closed questions like the ones below: 

  • Can you? 
  • Do you? 
  • Don’t you? 
  • Could you? 
  • Why don’t you? 
  • Don’t you think? 
  • Have you? 
  • Who could help you? 

 Positive feedback should be personal and authentic

It is important that positive feedback and recognition is delivered by people who have direct knowledge of both the employee and the good things they’ve done for the business. Nothing undermines recognition more than a sense that you are only doing it ‘because you should or have to’.

Handy hint: If a prize or award is used to congratulate employees for their outstanding contributions, matching it to their interests or hobbies is a great way to give it a personal touch. 

Follow-up 

If the feedback discussion was formal, you should document any key points and decisions that you agreed to, and provide a copy to your employee. They should also have the opportunity to change or add to this list. This could be in an email or hard copy letter depending on the situation and it should remain confidential.  

After the initial discussion, you should make a conscious effort to regularly follow-up with your employee. This will give you the opportunity to keep track of their performance, ask questions and provide further feedback.  

Make it regular

Feedback should be a continuous process, not a one-off event. Making feedback a regular and ongoing part of your work ensures that any problems can be addressed quickly and feedback discussions are less likely to worry your employees. 

Don’t forget to provide ongoing positive feedback and encouragement too, as it can help to boost morale and reinforce positive behaviour in your workplace. 

These are just a few tips that you can think about and use when you are next planning to give feedback to your staff.

If you are thinking about hiring someone new, you can also get in touch with a local jobactive providerto help you find the right staff to fit your business.