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Feb 24, 2014

Providing meaningful, actionable feedback is an important part of managing your people, keeping them motivated, and ensuring they’re aligned with your goals.

Still, far too many companies either skip feedback or only give it annually. This may explain why Gallup recently discovered 70 percent of all employees are disengaged on the job.

Here are five (5) ways to improve your organization’s employee feedback, so workers stay motivated, productive, and aligned with goals:

1. Stop putting it off: Make feedback continuous

You may think your corporate communication is good enough, and I’m sorry to say you’re probably wrong. How Leaders Grow Today, a recent study done in partnership with my organization, ClearCompany, and Dale Carnegie, found less than 6 percent of companies communicate goals on a daily basis.

When I ran a team of more than 1,000 people, I communicated our strategy from a stage or in a video distributed across many countries. In it, I would layout our strategy for success.

When I visited the rank-and-file, I’d hear, “I loved your strategy. It was very inspiring, but I have no idea what it means to my day-to-day work.”

I learned the gap between a high-level strategy and each level of an organization must be bridged by middle management. They must not only break goals into smaller parts, but also provide regular feedback as to how those goals are performing. They must look up for alignment and down for proper cascading and management of work toward company goals.

If your company focuses on proper talent alignment, you can continually ensure workers are tackling the right projects without waiting months to check in. If employees keep track of their progress and how it applies to larger goals, annual or quarterly feedback sessions are no longer necessary. This greater transparency means the feedback loop can occur on a daily basis, keeping communication moving continuously.

2. Tie feedback to day-to-day tasks

Nobody likes a review process that comes at the end of a long year of work, but that approach, however outdated and damaging to culture and productivity, still exists in many companies. A study by WorldatWork found 66 percent of employees feel they don’t communicate enough with upper management.

Your company may make communication a priority, but it’s possible the feedback you’re providing isn’t helpful — in other words, it’s not specific or actionable. Without corporate transparency, it’s all too easy to lose track of what your people are working on and working toward.

The best way to give the great feedback your employees crave is to start from a goal-based perspective. Make sure their goals are properly mapped out and revisited twice a month. Your feedback can then be focused on check-ins around productivity toward those goals.

With this approach, you will very quickly be able to discern between the people who don’t want to put in the time to improve and those who just need your support. Trust your instincts here — they are often right. You can then move to supporting your people who want to improve and forcing a little bit of healthy turnover on those who are not motivated.

If you find your entire team is lacking motivation, however, you may have a different problem entirely, and that is line of sight.

Line of sight comes from enabling all of your employees to understand how their daily efforts feed into the overall goals and strategies of your company. Take two workers in a quarry, for example. They both use the same tools and have the same role. One says he is carving out a stone; the other says he is building a cathedral. Which one do you think is more motivated to improve?

Starting from a goal-based perspective means employees understand the overarching company goals driving their workflow. This way, your workers never question why their work matters or how their efforts contribute to your company’s success.

Easy visualization can also help you “see” day-to-day workflow, so you always understand employees’ contributions. If feedback is to be continuous, it also needs to be something employees can implement in their daily work lives.

3. Provide avenues for improvement

In the WorldatWork study, 65 percent of employees said the feedback given when managers critiqued their performance wasn’t specific enough to help correct the issue. Instead of just giving static feedback, it’s important for managers to offer workers a way to improve their performance and make bigger contributions toward company goals.

If a worker is falling down on the job, give some concrete and actionable tips that align with overall company objectives on how to improve. These objectives can then be tracked and evaluated, so your feedback can pinpoint exact areas of a worker’s performance in need of improvement.

Remember, improvement isn’t just for those behind the curve; even your superstar employees can up their game with improved feedback.

4. Focus on strengths

A Gallup study found managers and employees were more engaged after receiving feedback that focused on how to isolate and play to strengths in the workplace. Employees who received strengths-based feedback were 12.5 percent more productive afterward, showing a few compliments can actually help your bottom line.

By increasing transparency about their performance, improving accountability, and setting measurable goals, you can track not only where employees may be falling short, but also where they’re going above and beyond.

5. Make feedback a two-way street

Good employee feedback will help workers do their job better and engage with the company culture. Great feedback flows in both directions, allowing workers to give feedback to managers and top company executives about the likelihood that their goals are correct and/or reasonable.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen teams agree in a meeting to go all-in on a strategy and then walk away having already decided it won’t work. Management sets goals, but they all need a dose of reality from their people as to whether or not those goals are attainable.

If workers are aware of how their work contributes to goals, they’ll be able to present more informed feedback to leaders and surface obstacles in the way of success. This in turn can help leaders improve processes and company culture, and more importantly, result in a greater likelihood of a successful business outcome.

Getting your workforce’s goals aligned isn’t easy, but improving employee feedback can get your teams focused on the right things while improving business outcomes and engagement.

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