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employee performance feedback

The real purpose of feedback is to help the recipient improve on the aspect that the feedback is being given. Do note that the focus word is “help” and thus, feedback in its intent and spirit should always be constructive that helps improve Employee Performance.

Unfortunately, we are imperfect humans and more often than we try not to, we are influenced by the narrowness our mind leads us to when coloured by the core emotion palettes that we carry. These are exactly the times when trying to put down or impact negatively an individual, we cloak our actions by the convenient wrapper called feedback. This is what feedback is definitely not.

Thus, knowing what the purpose of real feedback is and how to identify when it is not, let’s now look at 5 ways to really make feedback work in a workplace for the employee.

1. Give Feedback in Real-time

Imagine a situation when a young trainee is doing his first client presentation & does a wonderful job. When do you think this person needs a real pat on the back and pointers on how to make it even better?

Don’t tell me that you will note it down in your little black book to refer to during your annual performance reviews when you will remember to give him a positive point for this incident.

Oh, have you considered the possibility that by the time the annual review comes, this trainee might have been bogged down by self-doubts and quit to consider other alternatives? Would you really want that to happen?

Thus, feedback is best when it’s as real-time to the incident that triggers the need for the feedback. That’s when the proverbial iron is hot and works best to positively influence behaviour and make the feedback most impactful.

So, be it a pointer for improvement or encouragement, let us accept this as the cardinal rule for giving feedback. Even if I am not present at the time of the incident and have come to know of it, I should pitch in as soon as I can, to reinforce the impact of the intended feedback.

2. Work Aspect Orientation

The context is the workplace and feedback should be limited to the workplace and the role of the employee within that ambit.

In the workplace, the employee 

  • Has a job to do,
  • Needs to be aligned to certain non-negotiable values that the company stands for and
  • Needs to exhibit/develop certain skills along the way to perform or grow within the organization.

Thus, any feedback in the workplace should be related to these 3 aspects of the employee’s activities, skills and behaviours. Anything beyond this would typically get into the grey zone of personal space of an individual that needs to be sacrosanct.

Thus, for example, religious or sexual orientations have no place for a snide remark due to my personal prejudice cloaked as feedback within a workplace. For example, if the workplace has no policy on what one can wear to a workplace, a Manager has no business to call in a reporter and ask him for an explanation on why he is wearing shorts.

Again, let’s say that after work hours, an employee plays guitar in a live rock band at a hotel. If the company has no policy on restrictive employment, then none has any business to question this person’s activities after work hours. This sensitization is important for both Manager and employees alike, where everyone knows where is the boundary and what construes a violation of an individual’s liberty and choices.

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3. Understanding of the Why

Spoken or written communication is typically used to give feedback. Unfortunately, these forms of communication are extremely open to misinterpretations and hugely influenced by the communication skills of the person who is giving the feedback.

Also, even if the feedback giver may be the best communicator, it’s just half of the job done. The other half of the responsibility lies with the recipient to process the communication, make sense of what is being said and then react or understand.

Thus, as you can see, any feedback based communication is extremely vulnerable to the skills of the communicator and perceptive abilities of the recipient. This brings the importance of explaining Why. Herein the responsibility lies with the communicator to ensure that the recipient of the feedback understands the purpose of the feedback and how it is supposed to help the person going forward.

For example, if I just say “Hey, you need to get your house in order” to a colleague without even explaining what it means and why I am saying it, just imagine the can of worms of interpretations this remark opens up. For a person not exactly acquainted with these phrases, he or she might be wondering – “Hey, what’s wrong with my house? And  what’s not in order?” Or, even if someone knows what this phrase means, which part of the house needs order and why is not explained and they might end up wandering and getting confused.

Thus, while giving feedback, if I explain -See, if you keep on doing this, then this will happen and then you will be affected like this. Or, if you do this, that can be better and you will create more impact, then the feedback becomes more relevant, understandable and open to the application to achieve better outcomes.

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4. Repetition Check

The same feedback loses significance exponentially as many times it is repeated. This is true for both positive or constructive feedback, more so for the latter.

Thus, the feedback giver should be conscious not to repeat similar feedback too frequently. If the need to repeat arises, the feedback content should definitely be enhanced to add more value to be of incremental relevance to the recipient.

For example, if I have complimented someone on great presentation skills, I do not necessarily need to do it again too often unless I can enhance the feedback with something that can help improve the recipient be even better.

In cases of constructive feedback, this check is even more relevant as if the concerned individual is continuously repeating something that I thought my feedback would help improve, then either 

  • I am communicating my feedback poorly.
  • The recipient does not understand the purpose of my feedback.
  • Even if it’s understood, the area of application is not clear.
  • Even if the area of application is clear, how to improve is not clear.
  • Even if everything is clear, the recipient just does not care.

Any of the above-mentioned scenarios are possible and that is where the discerning ability of the feedback giver comes to play to be able to assess and react accordingly.

5. Sensitivity to the How

Of course, feedback can be given in written or verbal methods. But there is an additional aspect that many times gets ignored. That is where the sensitivity and type of feedback plays a key role for the giver to decide accordingly. In all cases, constructive feedback that is usually related to aspects that need improvement should be given privately, on a one-on-one discussion basis. 

On the other hand, positive feedback or compliments should be handed out involving as many from the workplace as possible. Let’s understand the Whys of the Hows.

None likes to be criticised, infinitely so in front of everyone else. Who likes to be ashamed, after all. 

Thus, all constructive feedback should be as private as possible in a discussion mode. It should allow for the open-ended exchange and not be time-restricted. At the end of the discussion, the feedback giver should feel convinced that the recipient knows how this feedback is going to help improve outcomes. On the other hand, the recipient should come out feeling encouraged to try something else to achieve better results without feeling resentment or a need to get back.

On the other hand, positive feedback should be as open as possible. This has two specific purposes

  • It opens up opportunities for others to participate in the feedback to reinforce encouragement to the recipient.
  • It encourages a spirit of healthy competition where others are inspired to get themselves opportunities where they can also be openly acknowledged for the successful impact made.

Epilogue

One of the fundamental things that we tend to forget is that the workplace is made up of the same human beings that we meet elsewhere. Professionalism doesn’t necessarily mean putting on masks and behaving artificially for it can easily be seen through even if none is telling me to my face. 

Actually, professionalism means not bringing the base instincts of self maximization while engaged in a team activity to achieve a common goal without a clear relation to “What’s In It For Me”

Thus, feedback to help, construct, improve becomes the key lubricant that keeps this bunch of unpredictable, unsure, perfection aspiring humans across age, experience, background, personal life occurrences to come together and join hands to strive another day to be better, do better and just live well.

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