Leadership Article: Giving Feedback

“How you can engage your employees in conversations about their performance”

Giving Feedback

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 notion that giving feedback on under-performance should be completed using 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. For example

  • Good sales people have incredible resilience and are unlikely to recall the negative feedback but will boast for days about the two pieces of positive feedback
  • Employees who are fragile will only hear the negative feedback and will attach a disproportionate amount of negative emotion to the memory

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.

Giving Feedback: Why have a conversation?

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.

When giving feedback, how do you invite the employee into a conversation?

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. For example

    Example 1:
      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.

    Example 2:
      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.

    For example

    • Thank you for your upfront honesty about your performance
    • I really appreciate the way you have engaged in conversation with me today
    • You have a lot of great qualities and with these actions that you are going to put in place I believe you can get your performance back on track 

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.

Givng Feedback, False Assumptions

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.

    For example
      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 giving feedback about 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.  

Consulting Australia

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Ian helps leaders to motivate and inspire their teams through a combination of developing strong operational management systems aligned to your strategy and a focus on leading people using techniques that we know improve employee engagement and lift team’s performance by between 30% and 220%. To find out how you can benefit from Ian’s expertise select the “leading for performance button” and begin your journey to higher performing team.