How and Why to Give Feedback to Employees
Motivating employees is about more than charisma and vision. To help employees perform their best, a great leader will provide feedback — the right kind, at the right time. Feedback is an essential tool for any manager, whether in a small business or a large corporation.
Just as it needs blood, oxygen, and nutrients, the brain needs to receive comments about how it’s doing. Feedback works on the emotional system in the brain. And it activates more than the raw emotional center; it enables the brain to use higher-level thinking skills to decide how to continue doing good work, make the good work better, or make changes to garner more positive responses and work harder toward company goals. Your leadership skills rely heavily on your ability to give and receive feedback.
Feed employees’ brains by trying some of the following:
Be specific and timely. You want to comment while the task is still in the mind of the employee. Doing so is of particular importance if you’re working toward a specific goal and you want to keep the momentum going.
Specific feedback more effectively corrects or reinforces certain behaviors, enabling the brain to focus on something concrete, which it does do not from an “Atta boy!” type of reinforcement. If you decide to congratulate employees as a group, be sure to talk to each one personally as well.
Fit the feedback to the person. Once in a while, you need to provide a “pat on the back” of some sort, or in some cases a “kick in the pants” in a subtle yet supportive way. For such feedback to be truly motivational, provide it in a way that is best suited to the recipient.
For instance, if you know your employee likes to hear praise and be praised in front of others, say something loud and clear. Other employees may prefer that you literally (and quietly) pat them on the back as you pass by. Some employees may even respond best to written feedback.
A swift “kick in the pants” is something you do face-to-face, in private.
Connect your feedback to company goals. Goals help the brain focus. Make your employee feel that her contributions are valued and create a positive emotion with the feedback.
Some employers want to encourage competition, and so they ensure that the entire organization or department sees how everyone is doing. For example, in the customer service department, they post charts with the number of service calls and satisfied customers for each customer service representative. A quick glance at the ongoing status of each representative may inspire those not living up to the goal of service and satisfaction.
Set up a schedule for follow-up conversations. A quick memo or e-mail can easily be misinterpreted, so continued face-to-face feedback is best. Plus, studies have shown that negative feedback may be less stressful to the brain than no feedback at all; fot this reason, follow-ups are especially important for employees who need improvement.
Put your message in writing as well as delivering it verbally. Graphics have impact, and hard data has weight. In an instant, employees can see their progress — or lack thereof. Along with the graphic, include specific suggestions for improvement and acknowledgment of jobs well done.
Build on employees’ strengths when giving negative feedback. By beginning with the strengths, you involve the prefrontal cortex right away. If you begin with negativity, the information may never reach the frontal lobe; it may get stuck in the primitive emotional areas and put the employee in survival mode. Always give suggestions for improvement.
Feedback is a two-way street. Ask for feedback from your employees on your own performance and on company policies.