HR Management, Talent Management

Better Employee Feedback Equals Better Business Results

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It’s hard to get better at something if you receive feedback on your performance just once a year. — Dan Pink

In 25 years of HR work, I’ve met very few executives who didn’t agree that better feedback between a manager and employee drives better employee performance, development, and engagement – and thus, better business results.

Feedback gaps occur when employees need more frequent and/or higher quality feedback than they get. Scores of articles and studies, not to mention common sense, suggest that Corporate America’s performance is being held back by feedback gaps.

One of a manager’s most important duties

If feedback is poor, it doesn’t matter how good your performance management process is. Without meaningful conversations about personal aspirations, performance, potential, and development it is unlikely that sustainable high performance will be achieved.

Feedback is arguably among a manager’s most important duties. Managers who don’t give effective feedback should be trained or redeployed, but not tolerated.

There’s no excuse for a manager to not give feedback – it’s not only their job, it’s one of the few dependable means to significantly improve performance. If a manager isn’t giving effective feedback, then his fit as a manager should be evaluated.

How to develop feedback effectiveness

Before you reclassify any managers as individual contributors (or former employees) consider the following ways to develop feedback effectiveness.

  • On the job practice – Delivering effective employee feedback is a skill that can be improved with practice. Practice builds competence and confidence and this leads to better feedback. Encourage managers to give more frequent feedback and to ask for constructive advice about how to give better feedback in the future.
  • Classroom or online training – Teach managers about feedback concepts, research, and tactics.
  • Simulation – Lead a group of managers through role-play exercises. This option can be expensive, due to travel costs, and disruptive because it pulls people away from running the business. Still, the return on investment (ROI) is high when it’s done well.
  • Blended approach – The best results come from weaving these elements together into a comprehensive management development program.

The feedback problem is exacerbated if promotions are based on technical ability instead of readiness to manage people. I’ve seen highly valued top technical talent crash and burn following a promotion. Some even left in disgrace after struggling as managers.

Better feedback impacts business results

Faulty promotions reduce organizational capability and effectiveness because:

  • A valuable technical expert is lost;
  • An underperforming manager is added;
  • The number of mismanaged workers is increased.

Talent management and organization development practitioners can directly impact business results by increasing feedback effectiveness. But they must use good judgment and time management to add value.

An executive who doesn’t already buy-in to the business case for feedback isn’t likely to change his mind regardless of how much evidence is presented. It’s prudent to make a couple good faith attempts to overcome resistance – but don’t belabor the point.

Your time, energy and influence would be better spent doing things that drive better feedback.

David Jardin is a consultant with the iTM System Group where he works with leaders and teams to make talent management simple, practical, and profitable. He began his career as a CPA and has spent more than 20 years in leadership roles in talent management and organization development with global companies including Citigroup, Coopers & Lybrand, Pfizer, and Tyco Electronics. Contact him at davidjardin@mac.com.
  • Mike Port

    Employees want feedback and expect it. To often an employee only gets negative feed back, don’t forget about positive feed back that is moral booster lie no other, ok, maybe except a raise. David Jardin hits the nail on the head with this article!

    • David Jardin

      Thanks for commenting Mike. You’re right about the need for balanced feedback.

  • rob

    Great reminder, David, of the importance of regular, on-going feeback. How else can people know if they are on the right track–for better or worse? I like the idea that perfromance feedback should just become part of the natural daily conversation: not something special, reserved for special occasions, but part of routine conversation–just “the way we do business.”

    • David Jardin

      Thanks for commenting Rob. Good point about feedback being natural and “the way we do business.”

  • Elliot Levine

    I can’t think of anything more important for a sales manager than providing constructive feedback but it is probably one of the least advanced skill sets. Very good article….thanks.

    • David Jardin

      Thanks for commenting Elliot. Couldn’t agree more.

  • Gay Lynch

    It is refreshing to read what manyemployees think – that the ability to provide meaningful, constructive, effective feedback is as important a quality in a manager as his/her ability to communicate a clear vision. Once considered a “nice-to-have” competency, coaching to performance is a business imperative today. Thank you for putting a fine point on the issue.

    • David Jardin

      Thanks for commenting Gay. I agree that coaching has evolved into a “must-have” as people are now, arguably, the best shot a company has at building sustainable competitive advantage.

  • Joann Roland

    This concept would help managers
    and potential managers to grow and how to become better or realize it isn’t for
    them.

    So many companies/organizations
    push Assessments which focus on the individual with no inclusion of their
    manager/supervisor. This would allow an
    open discussion during Reviews and grow a trusting organization.

    • David Jardin

      Thanks for commenting Joann. It would be great if everyone got a realistic view of what management entails before they’re promoted.

  • http://twitter.com/jennfarrer Jennifer Farrer

    Yes. Thank you David for highlighting the critical importance of frequent, quality feedback. Two important points you raised really resonated with me. 1- Too often, organizations fall into the trap of promoting their best individual contributors in a given function to people management positions. We need to re-wire the perception of “bigger team = career advancement” that is prevalent today. Your top salesperson should continue to thrive as a top salesperson and not be given a sales manager role if they have no people development talents. They will be frustrated as will their direct reports, and then you’ve lost your top salesperson. 2 – Giving quality, frequent developmental feedback needs to be a tenet of organizational culture at all levels of management. Often, someone’s direct manager will tell them “good job” 364 days a year and then give them three bullet points as “developmental opportunities” during a performance review. Then what happens is everyone shows up at the annual all-hands meeting, and the CEO says, “sales were flat this year,” and everyone is shaking their heads going, “I thought I was doing a ‘good job.”

    • David Jardin

      Thanks for commenting Jennifer. Love the notion of rewiring “bigger team = career advancement” thinking.

  • http://twitter.com/Ed_Henkler Ed Henkler

    I am in complete agreement with the need for good feedback but think there is less guidance on the following. There is a natural tendency on the part of an employee to think that if they do address gaps that you identify, that should lead to better evaluations but, in the end, they’re still competing against others, who may also raise their game.

    How do you ensure continued effort if they improve yet see the same rewards a few cycles in a row? One potential answer comes from Matthew Kelly’s marvelous book, “The Dream Manager”.

    • David Jardin

      Thanks for commenting Ed. Good insight about possible loss of motivation if performance improves but rewards stay the same.