8 Reasons Why Employee Feedback Backfires
By: Timothy I. Thomas
Timothy I. Thomas is the President of Makarios Consulting, a leadership development firm that specializes in empowering leaders to maximize their leadership skills and inspire others to accomplish extraordinary results. The above article is an excerpt from "Creating All-Star Performers: The Power of Effective Feedback," now available for immediate download at http://www.makariosconsulting.com/mc/eBooks_allStars.html.
Many times, leaders, managers, and executives give up on providing employee feedback because it has backfired on them. Why is that the case? Why does feedback so often backfire? Here are eight of the top causes:
1. Feedback that is indirect.
People often go the long way around the mulberry bush when it comes to giving feedback. They talk about everything except the real issue. For example, suppose that Bob's emails to a vendor are unclear. As a result, the vendor has made mistakes in fulfillment. The manager comes to Bob:
Manager: Bob, I'm really concerned because the client is getting on us about these mistakes from our vendor. My VP has gotten calls directly about this and has insisted that we achieve a minimum accuracy rating of 95%. You need to improve your liaison skills to make sure that fulfillment runs smoothly.
A more direct (and therefore more effective) statement from the manager would be:
Manager: Bob, our vendor has been making mistakes because he hasn't understood the direction you've been giving them in your emails. We are in danger of losing one of our major accounts as a result. We need to discuss ways in which we can improve the level of clarity in your instructions.
Bob: I hadn't realized that I was being unclear. May I run my next few emails by you for approval before I send them?
2. Feedback that doesn't carry impact.
When you look at the above example, you see another key reason why feedback often fails. In the first example, the manager says, "the client is getting on us about these mistakes from our vendor." That is very amorphous and vague language and blames the client! Is the client very angry? Just annoyed? Understandably, Bob doesn't have a clear notion in this case of the impact or effect his actions are having on the organization. "The client is getting on us" doesn't carry any weight, so he is liable to just brush it off.
However, in the second example, the manager is very clear: "We are in danger of losing one of our major accounts as a result." Now, the situation is suddenly presented in living color: we could lose the account. Corollary - we could lose our jobs, because our jobs are dependent on keeping our client accounts.
3. Feedback that doesn't include dialogue.
Too often, managers do all the talking in a feedback situation, something I like to call the dreaded Manager's Monologue - and that is guaranteed to cause trouble. It is vital to engage the employee in open dialogue; to seek to understand their thought processes and reasons. If you don't listen to them, you may not get a clear understanding as to why the employee is behaving in this manner (do they lack skills, knowledge, etc). You will also increase the likelihood that they will not listen to you.
4. Feedback that includes "But - "
The biggest troublemaker in the feedback process is also the smallest word: "BUT." If you are giving redirecting feedback and you say, "You're doing this, this, and that very well, BUT ..." you have just lost your audience. They will forget everything prior to the "but" and will only hear the negative comments. Not only that, but it will leave them feeling negative about the entire encounter, rather than being inspired to make a positive change.
I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed a manager cozying up to an employee, telling him or her what a wonderful job they are doing, and then dropping the "but bomb!" All the positive things the manager said disappear into the air and the manager oftentimes comes off looking manipulative. Stop the niceties and get to the heart of the matter!
5. Feedback that is irregular.
One of the biggest culprits that derails effective feedback is simply that managers and executives do not provide feedback on a regular and ongoing basis. Often, they feel that they don't have the time. Or perhaps that it's not important. Or they hope the problem will go away.
Unfortunately, problems never just go away. They build and multiply - and so does the manager's anger and frustration at the situation. You then get a result like this:
- January: Sandra is promoted to a new position. However, right from the beginning, she is not performing adequately. Her boss, Richard, is concerned, but he says nothing to Sandra.
- February: Richard is still concerned, but says nothing to Sandra.
- March: Richard is getting frustrated, but says nothing to Sandra.
- April: Richard is complaining to his peers, but says nothing to Sandra.
- May: Richard is griping to his boss, but says nothing to Sandra.
- June: Richard is documenting the issues, but says nothing to Sandra.
- July: Richard is venting to HR, but says nothing to Sandra.
- August: Richard is grinding his teeth, but says nothing to Sandra.
- September: It is time for Sandra's annual review. Richard explodes, tears into her, and warns her that her job is on the line if she doesn't show significant improvement in two weeks. Sandra quits.
Rule of thumb: Always give regular and consistent feedback. There should never be any surprises at an annual review.
6. Feedback that has no plan.
The whole reason feedback is given is because there has been a consistent problem that needs to be addressed. It is foolish to think, however, that fifteen or thirty minutes of dialogue will resolve a problem that has been going on for weeks or months. That is why proactive planning and follow-up are so important.
It is vital that the manager and employee determine together how to solve the problem and what steps to take ... and then meet regularly to check on progress.
7. Feedback that has no collaboration.
Notice the important word in the previous paragraph? "Together." Collaboration is vital in giving effective feedback. If the manager acts as a dictator, the employee will respond as a rebel or as a compliant sheep. But if the manager engages the employee in the resolution and planning process, the employee will more likely take ownership of the solution and its implementation. Collaboration is inherently validating and encouraging - it builds people up because they feel they have more control over their fate.
8. Feedback that is never positive.
For many, feedback can be difficult to take, particularly when we are being told that we are not performing up to snuff and we need to modify our behavior. For that reason, it is vital to take the time to encourage the employee after giving feedback or whenever you catch them doing something right! Leave them with a positive outlook, and seek to bolster that positive attitude at every opportunity. Most people who receive regular encouragement even in the face of negative feedback will have the internal resources and desire to make significant and lasting changes - and will do so with a good attitude.