Employers expect results from their employees. Employers can help to get those results by providing their employees with feedback on their performance. Feedback (both praise and constructive criticism) is imperative for an employee’s professional growth and ability to meet the employer’s expectations.
According to Phil Rich, Ed.D., MSW, “Feedback is a way to let people know how effective they are in what they are trying to accomplish (and) provides a way for people to become more effective.” Anne Saunier, a principal at Sibson & Co., a consulting firm in Princeton, New Jersey, put it this way: “If you have ideas and information that will help someone perform better, it’s hostile not to share them.”
In her article “How to Give Good Feedback,” Gina Imperato says that the biggest problem with feedback is that it is still considered by employers “as a once-a-year event, rather than an ongoing discipline.” Annual performance evaluations are good to have in place; however, they shouldn’t be used as the only method to deliver feedback. Saunier observed that, “Doing annual appraisals is like dieting only on your birthday and wondering why you’re not losing weight.”
So, on-going feedback is necessary in order to get results. Then why don’t employers give feedback? According to local employment attorney David Blaine, “employers tend not to give feedback because doing so makes them anxious – it becomes an emotional experience for them. They also don’t give feedback because they don’t know how to.” Blaine says that employees are more receptive to feedback when it is delivered in an unemotional, straight-forward manner and encourages employers to deliver feedback in that way. This method reduces the anxiety for the employer and increases the employee’s acceptance of what is being said. Blaine also emphasizes that delivering feedback on a regular basis reduces anxiety as well. Delivered regularly, feedback is just a discussion rather than an event.
According to Rich, in order for feedback to be effective, it should be:
Supportive: delivered in a non-threatening and encouraging manner.
Direct: the focus of the feedback is clearly stated.
Sensitive: delivered with sensitivity to the needs of the other person.
Considerate: not intended to insult or demean.
Descriptive: focused on behavior that can be changed, rather than personality.
Specific: focused on specific behaviors or events.
Thoughtful: well considered rather than impulsive.
Helpful: intended to be of value to the other person.
An example of the above approach would sound something like this: “Employee, as your supervisor it is my responsibility to help you become as effective as possible. Therefore, I need to tell you the following. Your directness sounds harsh at times, which hurts the feelings of some of your co-workers. You will be much more effective if you soften your approach.” The supervisor would then provide examples of what “softening your approach” would look like.
I agree with Michaela Scherr, who said, “To receive honest, constructive feedback is much like receiving a gift, whether we think so or not at the time. The challenge is to receive feedback with an open mind and learn from it, and disregard our natural instinct to defend ourselves or our actions. On the other side of the coin, it also takes true courage to give good, constructive feedback for fear of a negative response or reprisal, even if the feedback was requested.”
Giving and receiving feedback needn’t be an anxiety-filled experience during performance evaluations or at any other time. Delivered and received appropriately, feedback is a very effective tool that helps employee’s grow personally and professionally and benefits the organization as a whole.