The exchange of honest feedback is critical to the smooth running of a business and an important element of any performance management system.

But this doesn’t mean it is always warmly welcomed or eagerly anticipated. In fact, performance discussions and the exchange of honest feedback can be difficult for both employee and manager alike.

Employees might feel a sense of dread, while managers might feel unprepared and uncertain as to what to say to inspire and motivate those around them.

Knowing how to approach a performance discussion and deliver effective feedback can be challenging, particularly for a new manager, but studies regularly demonstrate how essential it is to meet with employees to do so.

One survey of over 22,000 leaders worldwide showed that those who gave quality, regular feedback benefitted from employees who were three times more engaged, when compared to those who received poor, infrequent feedback. Furthermore, the survey also revealed employees who received ineffective feedback were three times more likely to leave the company for a new position.

Clearly, feedback is critical for productivity, performance and engagement, but how can we best adapt our feedback sessions to bring out the best in our employees? How do feedback sessions impact employees on a psychological level? Below, we’ll navigate this complicated subject and discuss how frequency, clarity, and positivity can make all the difference during a performance management review.

Employees do better with frequent feedback

Traditionally, feedback was generally only given during an annual performance review. Thankfully, times are changing and managers around the world are waking up to the benefits of regular feedback sessions and frequent performance discussions.

This move has seen great results and is known as continuous performance management. Companies who implement regular employee feedback generally see a 14.9 percent lower turnover rate and, when Adobe incorporated this approach, it saw an impressive 30 percent reduction in voluntary turnover.

These same companies also benefit from improved workplace culture and stronger, more trusting relationships.

The simple fact of the matter is: employees are happier with more frequent feedback. In fact, 65 percent of employees want more feedback. Without it, employees can feel blind and uncertain as to what they are meant to be doing, or whether their performance is up to standard. When employers actually make the effort to deliver frequent feedback, they notice that employees perform better and they are more engaged.

Remember – it is natural for employees to dread feedback and to equate it with negativity. However, if you incorporate regular feedback discussions, employee and manager have a chance to develop a trusting relationship.

Conversation becomes less formal and more constructive, information is more readily exchanged and employees will be more open to receiving future feedback.

Constant negative feedback impacts productivity

It can be a tremendously psychological drain for an employee to be constantly faced with a barrage of negative feedback. Logically, this makes complete sense.

We all want to believe we’re good at our job, and we want to improve and be a productive member of the team. But when we experience knock-back after knock-back, our confidence takes a beating and we begin to believe we’ll never improve, or that our achievements will never be recognised. This is why negative feedback needs to be approached carefully.

Nobody is suggesting that negative feedback doesn’t have a role to play, but its nature needs to be more constructive. It’s important to address our weaknesses and work on them, but it is more effective to focus on the positives.

A Gallup poll once examined the impact of feedback that was positive, negative, and non-existent. Results indicated that those who received positive feedback were the most engaged group, with only one percent of this group being actively disengaged.

Interestingly, the biggest engagement gap was between employees who received positive feedback and those who received no feedback at all. This indicates that while negative feedback is superior to none, if you want to motivate and engage your staff, the focus must be on the positive.

Constant negative feedback can create stress in employees, ultimately impacting their health and wellbeing. It can also prompt avoidance, which is undesirable.

If you are having to constantly deliver negative feedback, you should also question whether you are running your company properly. Are there flaws that need to be addressed? Have you got the right people in the right job assignments? Are you making effective use of employee strengths?

Rather than instantly blaming your employees, you should consider the questions above and recognise the effort and accomplishments of your workforce.

Managers need to understand the connection between feedback and trust

What are the trust levels like in your organisation? A remarkable number of employees don’t trust their leaders, even though a trusting relationship can make all the difference when it comes to the exchange of feedback.

If an employee doesn’t trust you, they are likely to perceive any feedback as you being ‘out to get them’. This makes the delivery of feedback next to useless.

Managers should put in the effort and build trust levels within their team. Everyone should feel as if they’re part of a well-functioning team that they can rely on. Intimidation simply won’t work; such old-fashioned managers are unlikely to see any notable improvements in employee performance, regardless of how often feedback sessions are held.

If you’re not giving specific feedback, it’s as bad as no feedback at all

The worst mistake a manager can make is to deliver vague feedback. Frequent feedback is optimal, but frequent, unclear feedback is no help to anyone, and results in a significant waste of time. On top of this, your employees will be left feeling lost and confused as to how to proceed.

Feedback is much more effective when it relates to a specific goal. The setting of SMART objectives will help in this respect. Establish employee expectations, ensuring they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Use this same mentality to deliver feedback. Be as specific as possible.

So, for example, rather than simply telling an employee they did a good job, let them know that they exceeded their sales targets by 10 percent. Similarly, rather than asking your employees to do better, suggest that they improve their sales figures by 10 percent in the next quarter.

The points above can be used to create the perfect framework for delivering quality, inspiring feedback. Managers should remember that each individual is different and will react to feedback in their own way.

Adapting your approach to each employee might sound complicated, but in the long run, you will benefit from motivated employees and a dynamic, enthusiastic workforce.

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