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Effective Employee Feedback Is Given Often

In a guest post for Lattice, Culture Amp's Alexis Croswell writes about feedback culture. 

When you think of annual reviews you received early in your career, were they positive or negative experiences? Were your bosses able to give effective employee feedback that allowed you to improve? If not, what might you do different for your employees?

Taking the “annual” out of annual reviews

The ‘annual’ part of ‘annual review’ is being seen as a big part of the problem. The first challenge is recency bias on the part of the reviewer -- focusing only on recent achievements or mistakes when the employee remembers their year in full. The second challenge is the psychological anxiety of the employee as they prepare to receive a snapshot view of their performance.

Is it any wonder that these two stressors often lead to a fight or flight response? This also explains why, in one study of annual reviews, “At least three out of every ten appraisals translated into decreased performance.

A stand-alone review that happens only once a year doesn’t have the impact that companies have traditionally hoped for. Beyond deciding compensation and targets, how successful is any employee review? If our goal is to encourage more conscientious, confident and capable employees, why not give feedback more than once a year?

Why frequent employee feedback works

You need to actively engage each individual employee at your organization. One of the best ways to do this is to provide regular, constructive employee feedback of two kinds - reinforcing and redirecting.

Reinforcing employee feedback

The first type of effective employee feedback -- reinforcing feedback -- is the kind that you can’t give too often. Notice and appreciate the good thingsyouremployees do and make sure they know that you do.

As I wrote previously at the Culture Amp blog“Reinforcing feedback means that we want someone to keep doing a certain positive behavior. When we give this type of feedback, we’re verbally reinforcing the positive effects of someone’s actions.”

Think of the cumulative impact on your team’s performance when you focus on reinforcing the positive behaviors of individual employees.

Scenario: Jane joined your team six months ago. She was still finding her feet at the end of Q3, rushing through onboarding to be ‘ready’ for Q4. Even though she’s relatively new, you notice that she always makes time to reach out to new team members to make sure they feel prepared.

Have a feedback conversation with Jane, starting with a compliment about how welcome she makes new hires feel. Elaborate by sharing a few specific examples of how you’ve seen her supporting someone through the onboarding process.  

More reinforcing feedback examples:

Redirecting employee feedback

Considering that even stellar teams and superb employees can still exhibit negative behaviors at times, as a manager, you will inevitably find occasion where a behavior needs to be corrected.

In this case, the idea is not to rebuke, which has been shown by research to ingrain the negative behavior but instead to transfer the employee’s effort to a more desirable behavior.

Again, as I wrote at Culture Amp, “With redirecting feedback, we’re telling someone that we want them to stop doing X and start doing Y.”

When you try to remove a negative behavior, couple it with a preferable positive behavior. This makes the conversation into a joint effort between you and your employee with an actionable and achievable objective.

Scenario: Joan joined your team two years ago. She’s usually a great contributor during cross-team meetings as a representative of your team. However, recently you noticed her usually stellar earnings update presentation was lacking in data and in the delivery.

Start a conversation with Joan by asking, “Do you have a moment to catch up about how that presentation went?”

This gives Joan a clear idea of what you want to talk about so she isn’t left in suspense as well as time to prepare for a feedback conversation if needed -- her response may then reveal that she already knows her presentation wasn’t her best. Let her know she is a valuable member of your team but that her presentation in this meeting left people with more questions than answers. Work with Joan to find a way to avoid such a situation in the future.

Other redirecting feedback examples:

If you’re looking to better engage your team, visit the Culture Amp blog for more great employee feedback examples of reinforcing and redirecting feedback, as well as five steps to effectively manage employee feedback conversations, how to receive feedback and how to create a culture of feedback at your company.