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Feedback - Your People Need It

Dec 1, 2007
The early months of a job are the most important in determining whether the match between employee and organization is going to be successful or not. If the recruitment has been handled well and reasonable expectations have been set by all parties, then it comes down to the relationship between the employee and the manager.

Ideally you will have a performance management system that incorporates WHAT people need to do through a job description and HOW they are to do it through core competencies and behaviours. However, whether you have that in place or not, early setting of expectations and provision of feedback is essential.

Regardless of the seniority of the job, it is important that the new employee has some direction and receives information on how they are going.

We have previously discussed Expectations of Success which are the targets for a new employee over the first few months - possibly even up to the first year.

It is important to give in-depth and specific feedback at these times. It is often too easy to say "everything seems to be going OK" whereas a comment on what they are doing well is far more useful. "I liked the way you prepared that report, it was clear and concise and I was able to use it to communicate with the Board." "Thank you for briefing me on the planned meeting well in advance, it helped me prepare for it"

A useful reinforcement model is to define exactly what was expected, how they did it and the consequences. "Part of your job is to plan the preventative maintenance of the equipment. I see that you have done that well in advance; it is comprehensive and has been communicated effectively. As a result, we have had no down time and our margins are up. Thank you for doing a great job."

With that sort of feedback the employee knows what it is they did well and why it is important. They are likely to do it again.

Of course giving positive feedback is easier than the other kind. If we have to be critical, we'll tend to try and avoid it. It is important that we don't.

Try this simple improvement model.

Describe what the problem is. "One of the behaviours we try to encourage here is team work. I've heard that the rest of your team is not getting the information they need from you. Is there a problem?"

Collect the relevant information which will include the employee's side of the events. "What sort of obstacles are stopping you from sharing this with them?"

Explore possible solutions. "Can we organize brief meetings, do it by email or will phone calls be OK?"

Agree on the action to be taken. "OK, so you'll send an email with the figures each Friday"

Agree on a follow up. "Let's meet as a team at the end of next month to check this is working and see what else we can do to make improvements."

A few guiding principles also help.

Maintain the employee's self esteem. Look for the positive aspects of the employee's behaviour and treat any negative aspects as areas that are development opportunities.

Concentrate on the task or behaviour - not the person. For example: "When you say 'get me the file now', the support team feels intimidated and offended" rather than "You upset the team". Another example may be: "When the report is late, the invoicing is delayed which increases interest costs" rather than "You're too slow".

Remember to focus on the behaviours and performance, not the personality.

Don't fall into the trap of giving a couple of compliments followed by a "but". Try replacing this with an "and". It makes all the difference.

With a structure to follow it is often easier to prepare for giving feedback and preparation will help reduce the tendency to procrastinate.

We have talked about the importance of feedback for new employees, of course it is also important to keep this up with all employees and build it into your ongoing performance management process.

In times of a talent shortage it is particularly important to identify any instances of previously good performers who may be slipping in their performance and addressing this in a positive way. This way problems are identified and fixed as soon as possible rather than left to grow and lead into costly exercises that cause friction, reduce productivity and increased costs.
About the Author
Paul Phillips is a Director of Horizon Management Group; a specialist human resource management consulting firm. He has over 30 years experience in HR and, while based in Australia, has worked in a number of overseas locations. www.horizonmg.com
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