What makes an effective employee feedback system?

It is 9:00 am on the second Tuesday of the month, your standing meeting time with your boss.  You dread this monthly meeting.  It is the same every month.  Your boss starts the meeting with some small talk, asks you how your family is doing, and then goes in for the kill.  He gives you a long list of things to do and tells you what you could have done better last month.  He ends the meeting at 10:00 am thanking you for your efforts.  You leave the meeting and take a coffee break.  Thank goodness you don’t have to think about getting feedback from him until next month.

Has this ever happened to you?  Is this what your employees are thinking about when they think about the feedback, they receive from you?  Why is giving performance feedback to employees not more effective?

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To answer these questions, it is important to start with the purpose of performance feedback.  Employees are given performance feedback out of respect for the individual and managers give performance feedback to improve business results.  Everyone wants to know how they are doing, are they being successful.  Employees deserve feedback out of basic respect for everyone.  Companies also want better results.  If these are the reasons for giving performance feedback, then how should it be done to be effective?

There are three basic elements to an effective employee feedback system:  a review of objectives, an opportunity for the employee to give feedback and ask for assistance, and employee development.

A review of objectives.  Are your employees engaged in achieving the business’s objectives?  Is there ownership among everyone for the company’s bottom line?  The performance feedback process is one way to reinforce this necessity.  Objectives should be team-based.

No one works alone within a company.  An employee should have clear personal accountability for contributing to the success of the objectives.

This might be through an individual piece of the overall team’s objectives or perhaps the individual is responsible for the overall objective and working within the team to get results.  During performance feedback, the individual’s contribution towards these objectives should be discussed.

An opportunity for the employee to give feedback and ask for assistance.  A key part of a manager’s role is to support his/her employee.  It is essential that the manager create an environment where employee’s feel comfortable giving feedback on how the business is operating and where they can comfortably ask for assistance.  Quite often this part of the feedback session is left until the end of the meeting and not given enough time.  Be sure employees have time to express themselves and ask for the support they need during the feedback session.  This exchange is often best integrated into the discussion of the objectives.

Employee development.  Each manager should be personally invested in an employee’s development.  This demonstrates real care for the individual.  This can be done in different ways.  The employee may want to become better at an aspect of their work to be more successful in their current role.

Or the individual may want to work on a skill to prepare for a future role.  Each employee should be asked to identify one developmental area in which they can improve that will help them become better at the work they are doing or will be doing for the company.

It is important that this come from the employee and be confirmed by the manager rather than the reverse.  The ownership for development must begin with the individual.  Once a personal development goal is established, it can be reviewed routinely as part of the feedback process.

These three elements are the keys to an effective employee performance feedback system.  Even if these elements are in place, some company’s employees still dread the process.  Well-intended companies have taken these elements and added to them, making their feedback process ineffective.  What not to do?  Two things have proven to be create a poor corporate culture when integrated into an employee feedback system:  ranking and connecting pay to the feedback process.

  1. Many companies have used the employee feedback process to rank their employees from the best to the worst. Even more debilitating was when the lowest 5% or 10% were dismissed when cost cutting was needed or to improve the overall quality of the workforce.  This approach creates a cut-throat approach within a team.
  2. Connecting pay to the process hurts the feedback system. If employees are concerned that their pay will be affected, most will be less likely to be transparent about the help they need.  The performance of the company will suffer.  It is best to tie pay to team objectives or overall company objectives.

Giving performance feedback is not difficult if the company remembers “why” it is doing it and puts the employee and the company results at the center of the process.  An effective performance feedback process will improve business results and contribute to a healthy corporate culture.


About the Author: Mike Ungar is a Certified FocalPoint Business Coach and Trainer.  He has 35 years of experience with Michelin in manufacturing and human resources.  Mike is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Clemson MBA program.

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