How To Effectively Capture Employee Feedback In Your Workplace
Feedback. We dread it. We fear it. We can partly blame our biology for this. From the prehistoric days of running away
from sabre-toothed felines, our brains are attuned to protect us from danger. In the modern-day, our brains are still
hardwired to fight back in response to a threat, even if it is just to words.
Just the word “feedback” can be associated with negative feelings for both the person receiving the feedback and the
one giving it. This may be in part due to our brains being hardwired to prioritize negative input over positive input.
Moreover, negative events are five times as powerful as the positive ones. This means that (i) managers tend to
recollect their employees’ failures over their accomplishments, and (ii) employees are more likely to remember
receiving criticism over praise. Feedback is a double-edged sword – poorly delivered feedback can be just as bad
(or worse) than no feedback for employee engagement, productivity, and retention.
The good news is that managers can alter how their feedback is perceived by changing how they deliver it.
When feedback is delivered effectively, it can develop skills and motivate employees - ultimately increasing
employee engagement and productivity. Feedback is one of the most important management tools for organizations;
however, this skill of giving effective feedback is frequently not taught. So how can HR leaders ensure that they
are enabling effective feedback among their employees?
Effective feedback is multifactorial. First, effective feedback is constructive.
As nice as “you’re smart” might sound, it is not actionable. People can’t repeat or correct traits
(intelligence in this specific example). Moreover, praising or criticizing employees for their natural
traits can be destructive if they experience setbacks.
Instead, feedback should be focused on behaviors, which can be repeated or corrected. For example, instead of saying
“your presentation was very good”, employees should try something like “the three examples you used in your presentation
made it very easy to understand”. The latter feedback is actionable. The former is not. Focusing on behaviors becomes
even more critical with negative or corrective feedback. Negative feedback without actionable steps can leave employees
unhappy, demotivated, and fearing what will happen in their next feedback conversation.
In addition, feedback should also incorporate forward-looking suggestions.
Many employees know when they are not performing up to standards - they just don’t know how to improve,
or they are just too afraid to ask.
Research shows that forward-looking feedback, not backward-looking,
can improve employee performance by as much as 13%.
Third, effective feedback is objective (or as objective as it can be). Let’s face it; we are all biased.
Central tendency bias, negativity bias, and recency bias are a few of the biases that plague performance
reviews and feedback conversations. Central tendency bias is the inclination to lump most employees as average.
For managers, this bias does a disservice to their highest and lowest performers - it masks contributions and/or
development areas of their employees. Managers need to make conscious efforts to acknowledge contributions and address
shortcomings more accurately.
People’s tendency to dwell on negative events more than positive ones may lead to managers remembering employees’
failures over achievements and improvements. This bias is especially amplified with annual or even quarterly reviews.
It’s close to impossible to keep track of an entire year’s projects. An employee’s performance should not be dependent
on their manager’s ability (or inability) to accurately recall achievements and failures over the course of 12 months.
This is also true with recency bias, with managers being biased to focus on more recent behaviors of their employees.
Effective feedback happens in real-time. A basketball coach does not sit quietly until the end of a game when players
are underperforming. They try to correct the issues as soon as possible. Managers should too. Feedback is an opportunity
for employees to learn and improve in the moment - and employees are asking for it, with 65% of employees wanting more
feedback. Consistent communication is the key to higher employee engagement.
In the future of work, holding annual or quarterly reviews is not enough to develop and retain employees.
Instead, the lack of effective feedback, rather than feedback itself, should be feared. We need to train our
teams and put the right tools in place to do it better. Let’s use that “F” word more often and effectively.
About the Authors
Harrison Kim is the CEO of Pavestep, a performance management solution designed for the new workforce.
He is a former McKinsey consultant and private equity investor in the human capital management sector.
He founded Pavestep to help executives and managers develop, motivate, and understand their talent.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chiara Toselli is the Marketing Lead at Pavestep. She has published a wide range of content for the Pavestep
community and leads the company’s strategic marketing initiatives.
She can be reached at email@example.com.