Three ways leaders can use feedback to improve employee performance

by | Sep 1, 2020 | Leadership

Providing feedback to employees can be one of the most challenging responsibilities of a leader. There seem to be two extremes: 

  1. Some managers completely avoid giving feedback. 
  2. Other managers provide feedback that upsets employees in a way that is counterproductive.

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In my leadership coaching practice, I frequently discuss giving feedback with my clients. The goal of this blog is to provide three ways leaders can use feedback to improve employee performance. 

Providing feedback immediately after something does not goes as well as expected:

In this video, The secret to giving great feedback, cognitive psychologist LeeAnn Renniger provides a four step process for delivering difficult feedback:

  1. “The micro-yes” helps the feedback receiver know feedback is coming. The feedback deliverer asks a question such as “Do you have five minutes to talk about how that last conversation went?” The micro-yes commits the feedback receiver to the conversation.
  2. A “data point” is a specific description of what was observed. If an employee has missed a deadline, the leader might say “You were supposed to turn in the report by the end of yesterday, and I still haven’t received it.”
  3. A leader should “show impact” by describing the impact of the data point. For example, the leader could say “As a result of not receiving the report, I could not begin the proposal for a customer who expects the proposal today.” 
  4. The leader should “end on a question” such as “How are we going to move forward?” This approach can make it a two way conversation and create buy in. 

This five minute video is a must-watch for anyone who has to deliver difficult feedback. The approach can also be applied to providing positive feedback that is very specific in nature. At the end of the video, Renninger also mentions the importance of leaders asking for feedback from those around them. 

Providing regular, ongoing feedback

Marshall Goldsmith has suggested a six question agenda for meetings with direct reports that includes the following questions:

  1. “Where are we going?”
  2. “Where are you going?”
  3. “What is going well?”
  4. “Where can we improve?”
  5. “How can I help you?”
  6. “How can you help me?”

Goldsmith suggests the manager ask the questions of the direct report and then the manager can provide additional comments. For example, when the manager asks “What is going well?” the direct report may share information that the manager is not aware of. The manager can add areas that he or she has observed are going well. The “Where can we improve?” question allows an opportunity for the direct report to share some ways to improve, and the manager can agree or possibly add another area of improvement. This approach allows the manager to develop an excellent rapport with direct reports and remain informed of efforts throughout the company. 

Providing feedback from multiple sources

There is value in gathering feedback from multiple sources. We often use a 360 degree feedback process to gather information from direct reports, supervisors, customers, and peers. The input is compiled into a single report to provide confidential feedback. This approach allows those providing feedback an opportunity to be open and honest with their comments. Simple questions such as “What is this person doing well?” or “What changes do you suggest this person makes?” can be used. The questions can also be more specific based on the type of position. After providing feedback from a 360 degree process, I recommend developing a growth plan for the employee. Giving the employee an opportunity to select an area of improvement is a great way to develop buy in for the improvement process. Companies might consider utilizing a 360 degree feedback process on a regular basis such as once a year or every other year. 

I hope these suggestions are helpful. Please contact us if you would like to discuss leadership coaching and training options.