How to Apply the “Golden Rule” to Giving Performance Feedback
Diane Strohfus | HR| By
Whether you call it “the golden rule” or “the golden law,” we all collectively understand it this way: do unto others as you would have them do to you.
I’ve worked with a lot of managers who feel very uncomfortable providing feedback, either out of fear of the employee’s reaction or because they simply struggled to translate their feedback into words. I’ve also worked with plenty of employees who feared to be on the receiving end of feedback because they are wary of getting critiqued or concerned they won’t be able to follow through on recommended course corrections.
Both of these scenarios are problematic and contribute to a situation in which nearly half (47 percent) of employees receive feedback from their manager only a few times a year or less, and fewer than a quarter (23 percent) found that feedback to be helpful in improving their performance. Those numbers are even more pronounced among Millennials: a recent Gallup study found that only 19 percent of Millennials receive routine feedback and a mere 17 percent say the feedback they do receive is meaningful.
Giving ongoing, continuous feedback has been proven to increase performance and motivation, and any obstacle preventing it from occurring only stunts employee engagement and career growth and increases turnover and operational expenses. Inconsistent and infrequent feedback causes fear; continuous and ongoing feedback is the antidote.
HR leaders evaluating this situation should remind both stakeholders of that ancient civic rule: do unto others as you would have them do to you. Here are three ways to ensure that the feedback given and received as part of your company’s performance management process adhere to the golden rule.
Give Feedback That Employees Can Look Forward To
There are many ways for feedback to go wrong. Some managers only focus on the positive and gloss over the negative, hedging against possible backlash and hoping excessive encouragement inspires their employees and magically corrects areas where they underperform. Other managers only focus on the negative and fail to acknowledge when employees do a good job. And the third set of managers simply give neutral feedback that’s neither negative nor positive in tone and thus not helpful.
Each of these methods misleads your staff. Employees who receive the first type of feedback are never told how to improve and therefore can’t be expected to reach their full potential. Those who receive only negative feedback feel overlooked, criticized, and burnt out from the lack of recognition. People who receive the third type of feedback risk growing disengaged.
The right type of feedback demonstrates to employees that their manager is investing in them, focuses on areas that will accelerate their career, and incorporate both praises for achievement and ideas for areas of improvement.
If you can coach your managers to give this type of feedback, your employees will likely respond well to it; a survey from Harvard Business Review found that 57 percent of employees prefer corrective feedback over straight praise, and 92 percent of employees believe redirected feedback improves performance.
Help Employees Learn How to Receive Feedback
In the book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, the authors note that feedback is hard to process because it forces us to come to terms with two conflicting facets of human nature: the need to learn and grow and the drive to be accepted, respected and loved the way we already are.
With that in mind, it’s important to spend time helping employees learn how to receive feedback. It might seem obvious, but many employees think feedback is either a tedious part of their job that they must endure, or they don’t yet understand how to take feedback and use it for their own growth.
When a new manager-employee relationship begins, encourage managers to learn about their reports’ feedback tendencies and preferences right away via informal, casual conversations about their work and their life. Personalizing feedback relationships early on can prevent fraught situations down the line.
For those employees who push back on feedback, managers are able to coach those employees on how their resistance impacts colleagues, themselves, and the business at large. Push managers to use clear, simple language to prevent any perceived judgment in feedback. Also, ask employees for feedback on the entire process to ensure their communication styles are understood and that they feel part of the process. Doing so will help managers provide more accurate and personal feedback that aligns with the employee’s goals.
Give Feedback Continuously (and Certainly Not Once a Year!)
When feedback is delivered promptly and continually, the details of our behavior and our work are still fresh in our minds and relatable. We are better able to understand why we deserve the praise or criticism we are receiving and can react to it with more clarity and intelligence. When feedback is given months or even a year later the details of tasks are long gone, and any negative feedback will more likely be perceived as a personal attack.
Ongoing, frequent feedback, and progress are closely tied together. Progress is the single most important motivator during the workday, and without continuous conversations and feedback, it’s tough to gauge our progress. With feedback in hand, we understand how far we’ve gone, and when goals are clearly established, we see where we need to get to. The annual/feedback loops of the past turn far too slowly. These loops need to be much smaller, and much more frequent for employees and managers to feel comfortable giving and receiving the feedback they both deserve.