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Jan 17, 2013

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.

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