What Psychology Can Tell Us About Employee Feedback

What Psychology Can Tell Us About Employee Feedback

By Anton Sirik

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What Psychology Can Tell Us About Employee Feedback

When running a business, we want to ensure that our employees are motivated, confident and engaged. We want them to be open to sharing their concerns and ambitions, and we want open lines of communication throughout the business.

This is why the exchange of honest, direct feedback is one of the most important stages of the performance management cycle. Feedback is paramount to the success of any modern business; a fact that more and more companies are waking up to as the years go by. Despite this reality, many employees and managers still struggle with the exchange of feedback for a number of reasons.

Many employees dread feedback, or actively avoid it. Equally, managers frequently approach  feedback sessions with apprehension, as they aren’t sure how their words will impact an employee’s motivation and performance. If this is the case, feedback discussions can be challenging and unpleasant — but when the psychology of feedback is understood and carefully applied, the results can be beneficial for everyone involved. This can be shown by the results of one survey of over 22,000 worldwide leaders, which indicate that quality, regular employee feedback resulted in more engaged, more loyal employees.

But simply understanding the importance of feedback isn’t enough to deliver effective feedback. The psychology of employee feedback is a complex subject matter that deserves a lot of study, but below are just a few key points to consider when delivering feedback in a performance management review.


The more infrequent feedback is, the more employees dread it

Feedback is not something that should be given once in a blue moon. It is an important performance management consideration and should take place regularly. This is where companies who make use of just one annual performance review often encounter problems. When feedback is so infrequent and communication between manager and employee is limited to a formal yearly meeting, it is natural for defenses to go up. Employees will feel judged and on edge. They won’t feel free to discuss their weaknesses or struggles and, most likely, they’ll take all feedback as an attack.

For this reason, companies around the world have been moving towards a performance management approach known as agile or continuous performance management. This system incorporates the use of informal monthly check-ins, where feedback can be exchanged. Given that the environment is more relaxed and not necessarily tied to bonuses or promotions, employees are able to develop stronger, more trusting relationships with their managers. Companies also generally benefit from reduced turnover and better performing, more engaged employees. One notable example is that of Adobe, who introduced regular feedback and saw a staggering 30% reduction in voluntary turnover.


To actively engage your employees, focus on the positives

Imagine you are an employee who knows that whenever you have a one-on-one with your manager, you will be faced with a barrage of negativity and criticism. How likely are you to be receptive to feedback and how likely are you to look forward to them as a means to address your performance and improve in the future? It is likely that, rather than eagerly anticipating your feedback discussions, the thought of them will demotivate you. This is because receiving nothing but negative feedback can be hugely psychologically draining. Even an easy-going, confident person will only be able to handle this for so long before the stress becomes too much.

A wiser move would be to focus on the positives during performance discussions. In what areas have your employees improved? Are they putting in a noticeable amount of effort? Have they shown an interest in learning more about the company? Take the time to acknowledge and recognize your employees’ accomplishments and strengths. This is a great way to motivate and inspire employees to improve and advance.

A Gallup poll has shown categorically that positive feedback can result in more engaged employees. The poll surveyed employees who were regularly given positive feedback, negative feedback and no feedback at all. Unsurprisingly, the most engaged group by far were those that regularly received positive feedback, with only 1% of this group being actively disengaged. Interestingly, the most disengaged group were those that received little to no feedback at all.


Be specific: vague feedback is as bad as no feedback at all

Given what we have learned from the Gallup poll mentioned above, we know that a lack of feedback is terribly detrimental to performance and engagement. However, there is no point in having frequent feedback if the content of this feedback is vague, unclear, and unhelpful. Feedback such as this is as bad as receiving no feedback at all. The best case scenario is that you will waste a lot of time. The worst case scenario is that your employees will be left feeling confused, frustrated, and demotivated.

It is best to be specific in all areas of your performance management system. This is why the setting of SMART objectives is so important. With regards to their goals, employees like to know exactly what they are meant to be doing and how they are meant to be doing it. In the same vein, when receiving feedback (whether positive or negative), employees want to know exactly what it is they are being praised or cautioned for. So rather than giving your employee a “good job” as you pass them in the hallway, take the time to let them know exactly what they have done that has impressed you. If you want your employee to improve, don’t simply tell them to do so. Instead, be specific and tell them to improve their sales targets by 5% over the next month, for example.


If you want employees to take feedback on board, acknowledge the importance of trust

If you deeply distrust your leader, how likely would you be to believe their criticisms of you? Would you gladly take them on board, or would you simply believe that they are out to get you? It’s natural to be open and receptive to feedback when it is coming from someone with whom you have an honest, trusting relationship. Such a relationship can make all the difference in terms of engagement, so managers should take the time and effort to nurture trust between themselves and their employees.

Doing so will have a notable impact on employee productivity and performance in the long run, and incorporating all the points above will result in a workforce that is driven, determined, and open to feedback.

Original: https://www.i-nexus.com/stratex-hub/what-psychology-can-tell-us-about-employee-feedback/
By: Stuart Hearn
Posted: September 29, 2017, 8:05 am

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Anton Sirik

Proven success in Strategy Execution, Operational Excellence, Business Transformation, Digital Marketing @ i-nexus

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