Employees Cry Out for Feedback
Jan 24, 2019
If you are sincerely interested in becoming a good manager, providing regular feedback to your employees is your single-most important managerial task. Master it, and there is a good chance that everything else will fall into place.
My neighbor's 22-year-old son started a job this year at a consumer advocacy group in Chicago. It's his first real job since graduating college. He provides research support for five different senior researchers. His immediate supervisor is one of the administrators of the firm, but he does not work for her.
After about eight weeks on the job, my neighbor's son shared with his parents his concern that he wasn't receiving any feedback about his performance. He was feeling anxious and concerned. He thought he was doing well and meeting everyone's expectations, but he wasn't sure. He said to his parents, "I really need to know how I'm doing, but my boss has very little direct knowledge of my work."
Our surveys over the years have found that only 46% of employees say they receive frequent and ongoing feedback on their performance. Furthermore, only about half say their annual performance reviews are conducted on time, and fewer than half say these reviews are useful.
Feedback is very important to employees, especially younger employees just entering the work world (i.e., the Millennials). Employees need direction and guidance. But more importantly, they thirst for positive feedback, a pat on the back, personal validation, and assurance that they are doing good work. Some desire this feedback because they worry about losing their jobs or want to make sure they receive pay increases or promotions. But most crave feedback so that they know they are on the right path and can feel good about themselves and their work.
When employees don't receive regular performance feedback, they:
- Become less confident in their work activities
- Are less likely to offer useful suggestions
- Grow anxious and insecure
Additionally, if employees don’t receive sufficient feedback, they may lack the direction they need to:
- Work on the right activities
- Set the appropriate priorities
- Do their work properly
More important, if employees feel they are being ignored:
- Their enthusiasm for their work will decline
- They will become less committed to your organization
Why do managers fail to provide feedback?
- They don't realize how important it is to their employees
- They think that their employees already know that they are doing a good job
- They lack confidence in themselves because they are not receiving feedback from their bosses
- They lack the people skills and emotional intelligence to provide appropriate feedback
- They are fearful of upsetting employees, facing conflict, or dealing with a difficult situation
What to Do
1. Make "Provide Ongoing Feedback" your management mantra.
Those who supervise others should come to work every day with this mantra on their mind. They should constantly seek opportunities to provide feedback to their employees about their job performance (i.e., what they are doing well and what can be improved.)
2. Provide constructive, as well as positive, feedback.
There is always room for employees to improve their job performance. Constantly telling someone that he is doing a good job is not enough. Also tell him how he can continue to improve and develop. Be specific so that he can translate your words into specific actions that help him improve.
3. Catch people in the act.
Immediate feedback is much more powerful than after-the-fact feedback. Catch people in the act of doing something either right or wrong and tell them about it then and there.
4. Develop a system that ensures you will provide adequate feedback.
If you supervise a large number of employees, it may be difficult to keep track of whether you are providing an adequate amount of feedback. Implement a system: create a spreadsheet that lists each employee and note each time you provided feedback to each person. Refer to it often to make certain that you pay attention to each employee.
5. Conduct annual performance reviews on time.
It can be insulting to employees when their supervisors delay providing them with their annual performance review. In most organizations, this review is tied to pay increases, so a late performance review translates into a delay in their salary increase.
If supervisors provide ongoing feedback to their employees, the performance review requires a minimum amount of preparation. It is merely a summary of the ongoing conversations that have taken place throughout the year.
6. Recognize that providing regular feedback can have strong organization-wide effects.
Several years ago I conducted an employee survey for a high tech manufacturer that was undergoing major changes. Employee morale was terrible. The CEO told me, "Things are so chaotic here that it will be difficult for us to make many major changes immediately, but one change I insist upon is that we conduct performance reviews on time." I resurveyed employees nine months later and there were dramatic improvements in employee morale and commitment to the organization. The simple act of providing employees with timely feedback dramatically improved how they felt about their jobs, their supervisors, management, and the organization in general.
To continue the story about my neighbor's son: He asked his boss for feedback. She contacted each of the researchers he works with, and then reported to him that he was doing a great job. He felt much better and was looking forward to continuing to impress everyone.
The moral of the story: If you're not getting feedback from your boss, ask for it. If you're a boss, realize that most of your employees are probably starving for feedback. Although it may not be easy, the rewards are many.