Why giving employee feedback is so important
A survey looked into the feedback practices of 22,000 leaders around the world and found that managers who scored near the top on giving feedback had employees who were three times more engaged. On the flip-side, managers that scored towards the bottom had employees who were three times more likely to think about quitting.
What sort of feedback should you give?
Gallup examined the impact of positive, negative and no feedback on engagement. Specifically, they looked at engagement levels between employees who received feedback focusing on positive strengths, weaknesses and no job feedback at all. Positive feedback had the best impact on engagement, but not all feedback has to be positive. The key message is: give feedback regularly.
Only 1% of employees who received positive feedback were actively disengaged compared to a whopping 40% of those who didn’t receive feedback.
How to Give Good Feedback
We’re huge proponents of the radical candor framework created by Kim Scott, co-founder of Candor. We love how she describes building her career around a simple goal: creating bullshit-free zones where people love their work and working together.
The single most important thing a boss can do is focus on guidance: giving it, receiving it, and encouraging it.
Guidance, which is fundamentally just praise and criticism, is usually called “feedback,” but feedback is screechy and makes us want to put our hands over our ears. Guidance is something most of us long for.
In order to provide that guidance, there are two important considerations. The first is caring personally about the person you’re giving feedback to. It’s what Kim calls the “give a damn” axis. The second is the ability to be clear and direct. She calls this the “willing to piss people off” axis. When you have both, you have radical candor and it’s what you need to strive for. ↓
To help further, the team at Candor created an acronym to describe what radical candor looks like: HHIPP
- In Person (in private if it’s criticism and in public if it’s praise)
- Doesn’t Personalize
How to avoid giving the wrong type of feedback
Basically, anything that falls into any of the other quadrants isn’t good.
- If you’re direct, but don’t care, you fall into the quadrant that Scott calls obnoxious aggression . While it’s not great, it’s still better than not providing any feedback.
- If you don’t care, and you’re indirect, you’re being passive aggressive and fall into the worst quadrant: manipulative insincerity .
- For most managers though, the vast majority of feedback mistakes happen in the quadrant called ruinous empathy .
We’ve been conditioned to believe that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”. In an attempt to be nice, difficult feedback is avoided. Ultimately, this is a huge disservice. So make sure you make accountability a core part of the culture on your team.
“It sounds so simple to say that bosses need to tell employees when they’re screwing up. But it very rarely happens.”
Kim provides an example of how this personally lead to the worst moment in her career. “There was this guy who was working for me. We’ll call him Bob. I really liked Bob. The problem was that Bob was absolutely terrible at his job,” she says. Whenever Bob would express worries about his performance, Scott would try to reassure him. But after nearly a year, she realized that Bob’s weak performance was impacting her whole team — and she was in danger of losing several top performers as a result. Trying to be “nice” to Bob, she’d been unfair to the people who were doing great work. And things didn’t work out so well for Bob, either. “Having never criticized Bob for 10 months because I was trying to spare his feelings, I was now sitting in front of Bob firing him. Not so nice after all,” says Scott. “When I told him, Bob pushed his chair back, looked at me, and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t anyone tell me?’”
Make sure feedback is fair
Be Fair. A German study focused on the link between fairness of feedback and levels of engagement. Not surprisingly, feedback that was seen as unfair led to disengagement. The researchers went on to break down feedback fairness into the following:
- Fair means properly reflecting the employee’s effort, performance, and results of work as a non-negotiable component of giving feedback.
- Fair relies on accurate information, is free from bias, and is based on adequate procedures. Consider your starting-point for the feedback and whether it originates with another person or yourself.
- Fair is delivered with politeness and respectfulness. No need for elaboration.
- And fair should be sincere and given with adequate explanation. Take the time to go through the reasoning behind your feedback.
Show That You Value Feedback
Make feedback a habit and not a once a year thing done as part of performance reviews. Make it a regular agenda item in your one-on-ones. Giving and receiving feedback is a muscle that can be developed like any other skill. And while you’re improving your ability to lead and manage people through feedback, you’re also demonstrating that you value feedback within the team. It demonstrates that you “give a shit” and it makes it easier to be “willing to piss people off”.