My neighbor's 22-year-old son started a job this year at a consumer advocacy group in Chicago. It's his first real job since graduating college. He provides research support for five different senior researchers. His immediate supervisor is one of the administrators of the firm, but he actually does not work for her.
After about eight weeks on the job, my neighbor's son shared with his parents his concern that he wasn't receiving any feedback about his performance. He was feeling anxious and concerned. He thought he was doing well and meeting everyone's expectations, but he wasn't sure. He said to his parents, "I really need to know how I'm doing but my boss has very little direct knowledge of my work."
Our surveys over the years have found that only 46 percent of employees say they receive frequent and ongoing feedback on their performance. Furthermore, only about half say their annual performance reviews are conducted on time, and fewer than half say these reviews are useful.
Feedback is very important to employees, especially younger employees just entering the work world (i.e., the Millennials). Employees need direction and guidance. But more importantly, they thirst for positive feedback, a pat on the back, personal validation, and assurance that they are doing good work. Some desire this feedback because they worry about losing their jobs or want to make sure they receive pay increases or promotions. But most desire feedback so that they know they are on the right path and can feel good about themselves and their work.
When employees don't receive regular performance feedback, they:
Become less confident in their work activities;
Feel less free to offer suggestions; and
Grow anxious and insecure.
Also, if employees are not receiving sufficient feedback, they may lack the direction they need to make certain they are:
Working on the right activities;
Setting the appropriate priorities; and
Doing their work properly.
More importantly, if employees feel they are being ignored, their:
Enthusiasm for their work will decline; and
They will become less committed to your organization.
Supervisors fail to provide feedback for a number of reasons:
They don't realize how important it is to their employees;
They think that their employees don't need constant feedback because they already know that they are doing a good job;
They lack confidence in themselves because they are not receiving feedback from their boss;
They lack the people skills and emotional intelligence to provide appropriate feedback; and
They are fearful of upsetting employees, facing conflict, or dealing with a difficult situation.
WHAT TO DO
- Make "Provide
Ongoing Feedback" your management mantra.
Those who supervise others should come to work every day with this mantra on their mind. They should be constantly seeking opportunities to provide feedback to their employees about their job performance (i.e., what they are doing well and what can be improved.)
- Provide constructive,
as well as positive, feedback.
There is always room for employees to improve their job performance. Constantly telling someone that they are doing a good job is not enough. Also tell them how they can continue to improve and develop. Be specific so that they can translate your words into actual improvements.
- Catch people in the
Immediate feedback is much more powerful than after-the-fact feedback. Catch people in the act of doing something either right or wrong, and tell them right then and there.
- Develop a system for
ensuring you are providing adequate feedback.
If you supervise a large number of employees, it may be difficult to keep track of whether you are providing an adequate amount of feedback. Become systematic about it. Create a spreadsheet that keeps track of when you have provided feedback to each employee. Refer to it often to make certain everyone is receiving their fair share.
- Conduct annual
performance reviews on time.
It can be insulting to employees when their supervisors delay providing them with their annual performance review. In most organizations, this review is tied to pay increases and a late performance review translates into a delay in their salary increase.
If supervisors are properly providing constant feedback to their employees, then the performance review requires very little preparation or thought. It is merely a summary of their ongoing conversations that have taken place during the year.
- Recognize that
providing regular feedback can have strong organization-wide effects.
Several years ago I conducted an employee survey for a high tech manufacturer experiencing major changes. Employee morale was terrible. The CEO said, "Things are so chaotic here that it will be difficult for us to make many major changes immediately, but one thing I insist we change is conducting performance reviews on time." I re-surveyed employees 9 months later and there were dramatic improvements in employee morale and commitment to the organization. The simple act of providing employees with timely feedback dramatically improved how they felt about their job, their supervisors, management, and their organization.
To continue the story about my neighbor's son: He asked his boss for feedback. She contacted each of the researchers he works with, and then reported to him that he was doing a great job. He felt much better and was looking forward to continuing to impress everyone.
The moral of the story: If you're not getting feedback from your boss, ask for it. If you're a boss, you need to know that most of your employees are probably starving for feedback. Although it may not be easy, it is important for you to give it to them often.