Managers understand the importance of motivation in the workplace, but when it comes to providing the feedback that fuels it, they often fall short. When is the right time to offer feedback? Is it better to do so when employees do something right or something wrong? With so many unanswered questions, it's not surprising that managers choose not to say anything. But that only leaves a vacuum of leadership at times when feedback is critically necessary.
Employees want constructive feedback. In a 2014 Harvard Business Review study, 72 percent of those surveyed (including millennial, Gen X and baby boomer employees) stated their belief that "their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback."
Of course, feedback is often incorporated into annual and semi-annual performance reviews. But while formal employee feedback is desirable, there are situations in virtually every employee's workday where informal and constructive feedback can be surprisingly effective. That's why managers need to adopt certain guidelines about providing feedback, so the process becomes comfortable for both them and their employees - and is aimed at improving performance, not inhibiting it with an onslaught of negative comments.
Here are tips to keep in mind to more effectively promote motivation in the workplace:
Seize Opportunities as They Arise
Ideally, you can provide favorable feedback when an employee's performance is exemplary - highlighting the things he or she has done right, and encouraging more of the same. Just as importantly, however, are those opportunities when the employee's performance falls short of the mark.
"Negative feedback, missed deadlines, negative attitudes, poorly thought out client sales pitches, and shabby work are all examples in which you should provide your employee with constructive criticism immediately following the incident," notes business efficiency expert Andrew Jensen.
Forego the "Compliment Sandwich"
The age-old technique of sneaking a bit of constructive (or "negative") feedback between compliments doesn't really work. For one thing, most employees can figure it out right away, and will either dismiss the good or the bad part, depending on their mood. If you find yourself using words like "but" and "however," you'll know you're stuck in "compliment sandwich mode."
Focus On the Facts
The most effective feedback is based on the facts of a situation, not generalities. If an employee stumbles while interacting with a customer, don't offer feedback like, "I've noticed you have problems relating to customers." Instead, identify what you know to be true about a specific encounter and focus on that, highlighting aspects where improvement is needed. Without concrete examples, employees will be left to guess what they can or should do better.
Ditch the Accusatory Tone
"People instinctively shut down when they are approached with negativity and strong emotion," says organizational development expert John Stoker. Every conversation should be approached "clearly from the perspective of helping the individual grow and develop," Stoker adds, thus avoiding the employee's sense he's being accused of some grave wrongdoing.
Face-to-Face is Better
How much constructive feedback is an employee likely to absorb from an email message or all-staff meeting? When you take the time to address an employee face-to-face - sending the message that you believe such a conversation is well worth the effort - he or she will grasp the importance of the situation right away and pay more attention.
Generally speaking, the most effective feedback is offered as part of a corporate culture that values strong relationships and direct interactions. Senior executives as well as managers should take every opportunity to praise employee contributions to the company's growth, infusing their staff with the sense that "we're all in this together." In this type of positive environment, there's no telling the impact your constructive feedback can have on employees who are hungry to grow in their jobs and continuously improve their performance.