Giving feedback, lessons from experience
“How you can engage your employees in conversations about their performance”
Telling someone that they are not meeting expectations is difficult enough without having to deal with the employees reaction. If not done well, the employee could react negatively, become angry, assign blame or simply deny any knowledge that the expectation exists.
Traditionally, management training has presented the idea of a feedback sandwich where you give the employee some positive feedback followed by some negative feedback then close off with some more positive feedback.
To understand why this method may not be effective you need a basic understanding of how memories or stored in our minds. A memory will form with two elements to it; firstly the persons view of the situation then the amount of emotion the person was feeling is attached to the memory. The greater the emotion that is attached to the memory the stronger the memory will be.
When you use the sandwich method of giving feedback you are at risk of the employee having a different emotional response to each piece of feedback, which will result in the employee remembering the feedback with the stronger emotional response.
In addition, the sandwich technique for giving feedback tends to result in the manager giving the employee their feedback and the employee just listening to the feedback. This feedback style tends to result in an increase in employee dissatisfaction and does not generally engage the employee in the process of resolving their underperformance
Instead of the sandwich technique you can use a feedback technique that invites the employee to have a conversation with you about their performance. This technique is very effective because employees who are not meeting expectations generally have some level of awareness about their underperformance.Employees who are aware of their underperformance do not need to be told that they are not meeting expectations, instead they need to be invited to tell you about their performance.
The reason that you are giving the employee some negative feedback is to uncover the reason for underperformance and to allow the employee an opportunity to correct their performance. Your employees are more likely to correct their performance if they are engaged in discussing their performance and developing possible actions that they can take.
The technique that you use to invite your employees into a conversation is to simply state the expectation in a warm and friendly tone, and then ask the employee to tell you about their recent performance.
John is a sales person who is selling three units per day when the expectation is six units per day.
“John, the expectation is that you sell six units per day, can you tell me about your sales results.”
Mary works in customer service and arrived 20 minutes late for her shift today
“Mary, the expectation is that you arrive at work at the rostered time, can you tell me what happened today?”
You will note that in both of these examples the employee has been invited to engage in a conversation about their performance. Your challenge now is to let the employee do the talking and to ask probing questions. Through this conversation you will have the opportunity to give positive feedback.
By inviting the employee to have a conversation about their performance they are unlikely to attached a disproportionate amount of negative emotion to the memory of the conversation. A disproportionate amount of negative emotion creates a lasting memory in the employee. This lasting memory will be viewed as a negative impression of the manager and of the organisation.
The number one pitfall managers make is that they assume their employee is not telling the truth and they question the employee to try and find the flaw in the employees explanation. The only thing you will achieve by trying to catch your employee out is discontent and a breakdown of the relationship between the manager and the employee.
Manager : Mary the expectation is that you arrive at work at the rostered time, can you tell me what happened today?
Mary: My bus was running late
Manager: Mary the other staff who took the bus were on time today, are you sure your bus was running late?
Mary: Don’t you believe me?
You will note that conversation at this point has veered away from the goal of correcting performance and could easily end up in debate about bus timetables.
Instead of challenging the reason for underperformance you could use the following approach:
Manager : Mary, the expectation is that you arrive at work at the rostered time, can you tell me what happened today?
Mary: My bus was running late
Manager: (Empathise) Public transport can be a little unpredictable, what can you do in the future to ensure that you are at work on time?
Mary: I guess I could take an earlier bus
This approach remains focused on the goal of the conversation which is, to allow the employee the opportunity to correct their performance in-line with expectations.
In addition this approach will strengthen the relationship between the employee and the manager and will increase the probability of open honesty in your business
Giving Feedback Summary
When you are required to discuss a performance concern with your employee you can now choose an approach that will invite the employee into a conversation with you about their performance. By choosing this approach you will strengthen your relationship with your staff and reduce the risk of employees becoming dissatisfied by the corrective feedback that you give them.
Feedback that Motivates
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