One big myth of employee feedback systems is that all supervisors want to give feedback and all subordinates want to receive it. It’s often, if not always, the case that supervisors want their employees to grow and develop but apprehension grows when faced with the idea of providing negative feedback to employees. Similarly, subordinates want to improve their skills and performance but may be hesitant to hear this information from their supervisor. Therefore, it’s important to consider best practices of feedback giving so supervisors can be more confident in giving feedback and subordinates can be more willing to hear feedback and then take actionable steps to improve.
1. Establish a feedback environment. A feedback environment should be one that promotes learning to achieve both organizational and individual goals. In such environments, feedback is easily accessible and salient. The less effort employees need to exert to receive feedback, the more likely they will be to obtain it. Essentially, feedback environments promote employees to actively seek feedback. Those who more actively seek feedback tend to have higher performance than those who do not seek feedback and, as a result, they are more likely to use the feedback to promote change. Providing an environment that is safe for inquiry and that minimizes effort on the part of the employee is important—especially since those who need it most might not be seeking it.
2. Focus on feedback content. While feedback is helpful for improving performance, the degree of improvement is largely dependent on the content of the feedback. Feedback interventions are much more effective when feedback is task-focused and simple. Furthermore, being specific to the task can increase learning because employees can envision how to make effective changes. It’s also important to give feedback relative to a neutral standard, rather than in comparisons to peers. Individuals are less likely to accept feedback when it is focused on the self, rather than the task, and when compared to peers it can hurt individuals’ self-concepts.
3. Consider feedback delivery. It is often the case that employees will have some areas for development and therefore how supervisors present this information is very important. First, while delivering this information, it is important to maintain a sense of respect throughout. Even though some of the information may be challenging to deliver, maintaining composure can help prevent reactance from employees. Showing one’s credibility and status of being knowledgeable of the information presented will help to gain acceptance. So, it’s important to be prepared prior to the session. Second, when presenting the material, it’s helpful to start with strengths to spur feedback acceptance. Following, areas for development should be presented while keeping in mind it’s good to have a balance of strengths and areas for development. It’s often the case that providing a few unfavorable statements or areas for development motivates employees to make changes and therefore is a critical part of the session. To facilitate changes, supervisors can engage in goal-setting with employees to more concretely understand the steps they can take to improve their areas for development. This will help employees to focus less on the short-term, and more on long-term steps they can take to develop. Developmental reports resulting from assessments can be very helpful in generating ideas for goal-setting.
Taking into account these three best practices, employees should be more inclined to want to receive feedback and take actionable steps to improve. Since there will be less reactance and more acceptance from employees, supervisors can be more confident in delivering feedback— a win-win situation for the supervisor and subordinate.