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How to Provide Constructive Feedback That Improves Performance

For previous generations of workers, employer feedback too often consisted of some variation of “Don’t screw up!” But in today’s workforce, employees need and want a lot more detail. They seek constructive feedback that helps them correct their weaknesses and further prepares them for long-term professional growth.

However, not all feedback is created equal. There are significant differences between destructive and constructive feedback, but they aren’t as apparent as you might think. Some managers believe constructive feedback means sugar-coating while destructive feedback means blunt rudeness — neither of which is correct. It’s difficult to say why this misconception persists, but HR teams need to reframe that line of thinking.

Constructive Feedback and Performance

When you know how to provide useful feedback to employees, you create the conditions for higher engagement, satisfaction levels, and performance. Destructive feedback has the opposite effect; according to one TriNet study, destructive performance reviews cause 1 in 4 Millennials to call in sick — or look for a new job.

Traditionally, consistent feedback occurs when employees and employers meet for annual performance reviews. During those reviews, the two sides discuss everything from the employee’s performance throughout the year to raises, promotions, or even demotions or termination. The employer would then wait another year before giving the employee additional feedback, and the majority of those meetings would focus on critical evaluation.

Today, more routine and consistent feedback loops have become the norm. Employers maintain open lines of communication and set clear expectations for feedback. They also encourage employees to provide feedback freely and confidently, with some managers holding monthly meetings designed specifically for this purpose.

But these measures alone aren’t enough if employees don’t receive constructive feedback from managers throughout the process. A recent Gallup poll found that only 26% of workers strongly agree that manager feedback on employee performance positively impacts future outcomes.

Useless feedback is as bad as destructive feedback, and it can be demoralizing. This takes a toll on the team and the company, causing employees to lose motivation or leave. Constructive feedback builds up employees instead of bringing them down, and it helps them identify performance gaps in a positive way that doesn’t cause them to feel personally attacked.

Feedback is essential, but it matters how you provide and facilitate that feedback.

HR leaders can use the following tips when coaching management on how to give feedback to employees constructively. The goal: To help them grow and become even greater assets to the organization:

1. Put Feedback on the Schedule

Leaders should not isolate opportunities for feedback, and they shouldn’t blindside employees when those opportunities do come. Some employers offer feedback sessions monthly; others hold them every week. By creating a consistent feedback schedule, you can ensure your team understands and is prepared to meet timelines and expectations.

For example, at the end of 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg livestreamed a one-on-one with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. During the stream, Sandberg revealed that weekly feedback sessions were essential when she began working at Facebook in 2008. Since then, the two C-suite leaders start and end each week with a one-on-one.

2. Uncomplicate the Process

In most businesses, things happen much more rapidly than they did generations ago. This has been especially true over the past ten months or so. Having frequent, regularly scheduled constructive feedback sessions gives managers and employees the chance to get on the same page, even as things change. However, more frequent feedback can also become more complex, and employers will do well to keep the process simple.

HR teams might lend managers a hand by creating a simple online form that employees can use to quickly and easily submit answers. Much like a customer satisfaction survey, completing it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Then, managers can generate a report based on those form answers to share and discuss during the next feedback meeting.

3. Find the Right Cadence

After setting an initial feedback schedule and simplifying the process, HR teams might look at each employee’s desire for feedback to determine individual cadences. Managers in every industry have strayed from the once-a-year performance review model; employees have responded positively to the increased feedback, but not everyone needs to meet every week.

When employees feel micromanaged because evaluations come too frequently, that feedback loses its usefulness. Everyone might agree on weekly feedback sessions at first. But you might consider shifting to biweekly or monthly check-ins if they start to feel like a burden. Work with your team to find the most productive cadence, and be agile enough to change things up.

The distinction between destructive and constructive feedback is in the results. Knowing how to provide effective feedback to employees consistently helps ensure that it’s helpful, engaging, and empowering.

With these tips, HR leaders can help managers draw that distinction more clearly while guiding employees in their growth — and improving their performance.


How GE Renews Performance Management: From Stack Ranking To Continuous Feedback

These days, not another day passes without an industry leader announcing that they are done with their inefficient performance review processes. AdobeAccenture and Deloitte all announced that they are changing their performance reviews by getting rid of rankings and implementing frequent performance conversations to enable employee growth. Amazon was chastised because of its suspicious people management practices.

It is of course great news that innovative companies are trailblazing performance management, but the biggest milestone is probably the announcement that General Electric (GE) is reinventing its performance management. Given that GE is the company that made stack ranking popular in the 80’s and 90’s, the commotion this move has created is no big surprise.

Having Thomas Edison as one of its founders, General Electric is an American multinational conglomerate that was founded in 1892. Currently, the company operates in several industries ranging from energy to finance and has 300,000 employees. GE’s size and constant success makes it an important game changer in many areas of business, including company culture and management. Its business practices even made it into popular culture: The industry giant was often mocked by the popular NBC (also owned by GE) show 30 Rock for its ruthless management practices.

Jack Welch, a 20-year chairman and CEO of GE, made stack ranking a widespread people management policy. During this time, several other companies followed suit and applied similar systems within their organizations. However, 30 years into its inception, GE admits that the old system is not functioning very well anymore. With the move, GE is dumping annual performance reviews and performance management system over the next couple of years. It will implement more frequent feedback via an app, and an experimental group will pilot feedback without any numerical rankings.

What does the research say?

In the late 80’s under Welch’s influence, stack ranking became popular as a solution to the performance management system that preceded it. Previously, managers would set goals for their employees, provide feedback about a six or twelve month performance and then rate employees on whether these goals are met or not. Managers would rate employees from 1 to 5.

As managers would have to justify any rating that indicates outstanding or bad performance, they soon developed a habit of giving most of their employees a 3, which indicates average performance. The “rank and yank”“stack ranking” or“vitality curve” was invented in hopes of measuring performance better. With the new system, managers were forced to define their top and bottom performers annually. Compensation decisions were tied to the ranking and bottom performers would have to be fired each year to improve performance.

Recently, HR professionals and influencers realized that this decades-old solution actually creates frustrated employees who dread performance review cycles. One of the main reasons is our human reaction to rankings. Research indicates that our brain is evolutionarily wired to have a “fight or flight” response to physical attacks. The response our brains give to criticism of any kind is the same type of neural response when we are confronted with physical danger.

The second problem of stack ranking is the way it reinforces the wrong kind of mindset about human growth. A research conducted by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, revealed that people generally have two different approaches to human learning. The “fixed mindset” argues that people have an inherent capacity that remains the same throughout one’s life. The “growth mindset”, on the other hand, holds that people can learn new abilities and advance the one they already have.

Although few people are usually inclined to either the growth or the fixed mindset, popular performance management practices usually favor the fixed mindset. In a performance management environment where bottom performers are shown the door without providing an opportunity to learn, it is unavoidable that fixed mindset prevails.

One major difference of new performance management systems applied by GE and other companies is their emphasis on the growth mindset. By setting up short-term goals and having ongoing growth conversations that are not tied to compensation, modern workplaces reinforce the notion that anybody can rise to the occasion and learn to be successful professionals.

Reasons for the change

Led by the current CEO Jeff Immelt, one reason for the change at GE is the rise of mobile technology. Head of Human Resources at GE, Susan Peters stated that millennials influenced this decision. Peters admits that millennials are born into the age of technology, and they are used to getting continuous feedback. With social media becoming widespread, millennials’ need for feedback has become a fact of life.

CEB, an advisory services company specialized in business practices, states that the average number of direct reports for a manager has increased from four to seven, which has decreased the time spent on coaching and guiding each employee. Add to that the fast pace of change that has caused many companies to realize that annually set goals might not remain the same for the whole year.

Raghu Krishnamorthy, who is in charge of GE’s Crotonville management training center for a long time, tells that the center is currently focused on aiding GE’s culture change. The center is currently working on helping executives transition from a competitive process to one that is identified by its emphasis on growth. The new mission of Crotonville is to “inspire connection and develop people” instead of the “command and control” system Jack Welch was known for.

The new system

The new performance management at GE involves a mobile app to enable frequent feedback. Called PD@GE, the app provides a platform to define near-term goals for employees. Managers are expected to have frequent conversations, named“touchpoints”, with their employees on how far they are from their goals. The app can provide summaries of these touchpoints when desired. The main aim of the app is to unlock constant improvement.

First adopted by the HR group at GE, the app is currently used by around 25,000 to 30,000 people. Peters estimates 80,000 people will be using the app by the end of this year. While GE hopes to implement the new system throughout the organization by the end of 2016, a small fraction of around 8,000 people are already testing an alternative system with no rankings.

Krishnamoorthy states that the most important element of the new system is continuous conversation, not the mobile app. Feedback conversations are constructed to be positive, and annual salary decisions are much less linked to performance with the new system.

How could that work for your company?

Although GE transforming its legacy performance management system is big news, there are still several challenges down the road. One of these is “shadow rankings”, which means that companies still rate their employees, but more in the background. Since it is difficult to justify compensation decisions with new methods, managers are still resorting to conducting rankings informally. One of the ways to overcome this is to invest in training managers on how to get used to the new system of performance management. Adobe’s Head of Human Resources Donna Morris states they made big investments in training their leaders during their transition, which apparently yielded .

Apart from conglomerates developing their own tools and systems for performance management, there are also an impressive amount of companies opting for external solutions such as Impraise. Impraise is a mobile-first platform that enables continuous feedback conversations between coworkers and managers. Managers can initiate 360-degree review cycles to gain better insights into how well their teams are doing. Employees can also request feedback from their peers or managers to take ownership of their own development.

Whether or not the new system will turn into a success story at GE remains unknown, but at least the conversation around performance management is going in the right direction. People management practices are being criticized and enabling growth in the workplace is becoming a hot topic. The conversation around new and old practices in performance management going is vital to establishing the right mindset for new methods, so that they do not become a mere replacement for old systems.

Photo credit: Bigstock

How To Give Constructive Feedback Your People Want To Hear

What is the most constructive way to give feedback? You praise, you criticise or you do both? Some say that the Americans prefer the feedback ‘sandwich’. It means 3-step feedback. You start with positive comments, then add one or two things that can be done better, and finish with more positive points. However, some leadership training experts advise that one should step away from this model. Their argument: couching criticism with positive comments can dilute the message and sound insincere.

So, how do you know that your feedback is constructive and has an impact? In an increasingly culturally diverse workplace, there is no simple formula for all feedback. Nevertheless, you can learn to give feedback constructively by starting with the right question. First ask yourself WHY instead of how.

Why do you want to give feedback? You want to help your colleague to work better, right? Keep a positive attitude and start any performance review conversation with it.

“Let’s look into how we can improve our performance in the next quarter.”

When you talk to people about WHY, your message goes to the part of the brain which controls feelings and drives behaviors. When people empathise with your motivation, they are more likely to accept your feedback and work on it.

Now, let’s move on to HOW

You have set up a positive mindset about giving meaningful feedback. Now you should know about the right time and space, and adopt the right behaviors to give feedback constructively.

The Right Time

It is better to give feedback sooner than later. How soon depends on the specific situation. When a teammate does a good job, you should pay her or him a compliment as soon as possible. Whenever other people are affected by a certain behavior, try to address the issues in time so further damage can be avoided. If strong emotion is involved, it is wise to wait till the heat has gone before giving any comments. Choose the right time for your feedback. Impraise’s mobile app can help you share feedback right when it matters the most.

The Right Space

Most people like to receive compliments in public. An Oscar is not really as good if you receive it in your front room instead of before an audience including your respectable peers, your family and friends. A public recognition of one’s achievement feeds their needs for respect and boosts their self-esteem, the second highest level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When a colleague achieves exceptional sales record, give your compliment in front of the whole sales team. It not only shows your appreciation of his or her contributions but also encourages others to perform better.

Regarding more critical feedback, the golden rule is to do it in private. No one wants to receive negative feedback in front of others. Find an empty conference room or go to the lunch room if it is vacant. Make sure that you choose a place where your colleague and you can relax and feel comfortable. If you want to give your feedback in a meeting room, make sure it is well lit and the temperature is not too hot or cold. Sit close to your colleague so you can have eye contact and do not have to shout. You want to make it like a casual conversation rather than a formal meeting. Alternatively you can take your teammate out for a walk, talk over a coffee and make it a natural and relaxing chat. You want to avoid extra pressure that might block your colleague from receiving the feedback well and ultimately accepting it. Allow enough time and space to discuss unclear points until you reach a common ground of understanding.

The Right Behaviors

Be Specific

Think about the specific behaviors that are important for your team to do an amazing job. For example, having integrity and paying attention to details are essential for a good auditor. An excellent communication skill and the ability to work under pressure are otherwise necessary for those who work in a PR agency. Considering your team, you need to define the ideal behaviors and communicate them up front to your people. Everyone should be aware of those and continuously receive personal feedback on them. Impraise makes this a simple and natural process.

If you notice room for improvement, share it with your colleague in break-down points. Say you receive a complaint from a client. Your colleague failed to help the client to fix a technical problem within the time requested by the client. Besides, he didn’t get back to the client afterwards with an explanation. You don’t just tell your colleague that the client is not happy with his service. Instead, break it down into behaviors that would create a good customer service experience: 1. Sticking to a client’s requirements. 2. Keeping good communication with a client: during and after providing a service. 3. Having a strong drive to exceed a client’s expectations. 4. Reaching out for help if appropriate and if necessary. Your feedback will help guide him away from inappropriate behaviors so that he can deliver a better experience to a client the next time.

Offer Suggestions For Improvement

Give some practical examples about how to do things better. Practical examples are easy to remember so your colleague is more likely to take up your suggestions. Provide a sense of direction. For example, a colleague achieved a higher sales record in the last quarter. You are giving feedback to him or her. Besides a compliment on a good job, you can offer him or her a direction to move forward, like to get involved in training new sales staff.

Listen Actively

Always listen to what others have to say. Why do they choose design A instead of design B? Is it because of their personal preference? Do they know certain scientific research backing up option A? or Do more tested users give positive feedback on A than B? Ask clarifying questions and encourage them to give suggestions. When you listen actively, you know more about their field of interests and discover development solutions. The knowledge will help your feedback be more constructive.

Follow Up

Do not just throw an icy bucket of your opinions at someone and leave them with it. You need to follow up. Come back to the person after a week or a month, depending on the nature of the matter. After you suggest your accounting team to use a new tool to keep track of small expenses, check back with them after a month. Ask if they are comfortable with changing their way. You can sit down with them to see if the new tool saves them more time and helps them keep a more accurate report. Ask for their feedback.

The Final Word: Practice

It takes practice to give constructive feedback. People hold various perspectives, and respond to feedback in different ways. Giving feedback to a dominant character and to a timid person on a similar matter can be two different experiences. Practice gives you the flexibility and confidence in delivering feedback in the most constructive way. Practice giving feedback to your colleague today with

  • A mindset starting with WHY
  • Appropriate choice of TIME & SPACE
  • The right BEHAVIORS

Do you find these tips helpful? Are you struggling with a dilemma and you are not sure if your feedback would help? We would love to hear your stories.

Photo credit: Bigstock

Be Fearless About Feedback

Over 70% of employees think their performance would improve with more feedback and the vast majority say that recognition is more rewarding than cash. This presents a tremendous opportunity for both managers and team members. While feedback on what we do well is gratifying, feedback on what we can do better helps us improve — it’s an essential ingredient in career growth. As Ken Blanchard so aptly said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions!”

Unfortunately most employees say they don’t get enough feedback. This is in part because giving and getting feedback can be emotionally charged, which inhibits giving it and may reduce our ability to put feedback we receive into practice. By viewing feedback as learning and leading opportunities and being fearless about it, we maximize career and team velocity.

Try these three practices for fearless feedback:

1. Managers: Get Over It

If you lead a team, regular feedback is a part of the job; giving no feedback is far worse than critical feedback. Unfortunately, 50% of managers fail to drive accountability and don’t give constructive feedback for fear of being the “bad guy.” Instead, put your team members’ success in front of the need to be liked — 57% of employees prefer corrective feedback. They want to know how they can improve and where they’re not meeting your expectations or their potential. It’s a disservice to withhold that information, particularly when it informs your view of their performance.

2. Team Members: Make the Most of It

Getting good feedback is easy, but getting constructive feedback is golden! It’s a growth opportunity, not an indictment, so focus on applying it rather than dissecting history. At a minimum, you’ve just learned what your manager (or customer) thinks — that’s invaluable! Distinguish the real message from the messenger or the messenger’s style; getting bogged down on how the message was delivered robs us of its benefit. And rather than refute the feedback, listen and look at it clinically for what can be learned. While it may not be completely accurate, harvest the wheat from the chaff to advance your skills and effectiveness.

3. Make Feedback Effective

We don’t all need or want the same feedback — career stage, personality, skill levels, circumstances and age all affect the types of feedback we want and need. To make feedback most effective for the whole team, take these steps:

  • Have a conversation on how to make feedback most effective for each person on the team. While 70% of young employees’ learning happens on the job, they benefit most from strengths-based feedback; tell them what they’re doing right as they experiment without experience. Older employees tend to want 50% more feedback than their younger counterparts and prefer more candid, constructive feedback on their growth opportunities.
  • Forget the “feedback sandwich.” Wrapping negative feedback in positive feedback undermines trust and the value of the positive feedback. Focus on the business outcomes and changes needed and tailor delivery to the individual.
  • Do make time for positive feedback. We’re all human; we operate at our best when we feel valued and our talents welcomed on the team. A five-to-one mix of positive feedback to negative is most effective.
  • During feedback conversations, create space for both manager and team member to listen. The manager may not have all the facts and the team member may have insight on where the manager can help.
  • Gather feedback on how you give or get feedback. Feedback on feedback provides great data on how you can maximize your learning and leading opportunities, and the practice strips away emotions that inhibit performance candor.

When feedback is an ongoing conversation rather than a rare or dramatic episode, team performance and culture improve. We like “Feedback Fridays” as a way of institutionalizing peer feedback, putting a positive wrap on the week and making feedback our norm.

photo credit: Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It. via photopin cc