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Behold, the Power of Feedback

We have all seen the Olympic gymnasts, American Idol contestants, or other competitors anxiously wait for the scores from the judges. We watch our parents’ faces when we stand on elementary school stages or at recitals. We look for information returned from customer satisfaction surveys.

Feedback — we watch for it, we want it. Whether it is good or bad, we always want information about how we are doing. We use this information to determine how to respond or what to do next. Feedback is one of the most powerful tools a manager has to influence performance.

Employees now have a greater role in developing strong customer relationships that inspire loyalty and performance. Therefore, employees need to have the best skills, use sound judgment, and feel competent in their job.

To do this, they must always be learning, thinking, and improving. They need information about the quality of their decision, and to know if they are making good decisions.

That means managers must be watching to catch employees doing great things and then provide positive feedback to sustain the performance. They also must watch to catch problems as they occur, to use the teachable moment to help the employee improve and develop stronger skills in order to respond better next time. Feedback is the way to guide, coach, and educate employees to improve or sustain performance.

Effective performance feedback has rules to ensure its effectiveness because, done poorly, it can do damage to the manager/employee relationship.

Employees don’t want to be told what to do or to be scolded. They want meaningful information to help them improve. Following the feedback process below guarantees all feedback (for both great and problem events) will focus on behaviors and performance. Review the following five steps:

Step 1:Start with a ‘cookie’ (a positive comment). No one likes to hear about something that needs improving with a strong statement. Feedback is about people, behaviors, and emotions. So start each performance feedback with a positive comment, something that shows respect and understanding of who the person is and brings the employee into the discussion.

Step 2:Describe the current behaviors and situations (give great details). Describe what is currently happening, the behavior that you want to reinforce or redirect, and the specific situations where you observed the behavior needing feedback. Be specific, brief, and direct. Remember, the goal is to change behavior that needs changing or encourage good behavior to continue.

Step 3:Describe impact and consequences (find the ‘hook’ or attention-getter for the feedback recipient). Describe the impact and consequences of the current behavior, noting the effect the behavior had on results, customers, or employees. Be specific, and quantify details. The more detailed and accurate the information, the more meaningful the feedback will be. Realize that no adult changes his behavior unless he sees a personal reason to change. The impact in this case should not only deal with the organization, but should also be a personal hook for the employee (or feedback recipient).

Step 4:Create a plan to continue great behaviors or change negative behaviors (let them have a voice in the response). Work with the employee to suggest options that would improve a negative event or keep a good event going. Be sure that the employee has a voice in the process; the more the employee invents their responses, the more they own the results.

Step 5:End with a cookie (another positive comment). Regardless of the nature of the performance feedback (positive or negative), employees will process the message better when the performance feedback event both starts and ends on a positive and personal tone. Be sure to reassure the employee of the value of the discussion in the feedback. It sets the stage for an open and honest relationship and dialogue about performance.

The best way to see the impact of this process is to use an example. Let’s say your employee, Jean, was not very helpful to a customer on the phone. You heard the event and now must provide feedback for Jean to improve her understanding, confidence, and performance:

Step 1:Cookie. “Jean, you have some of the best customer-service skills in the industry. Our customers are always very impressed with our service levels when they deal with you.”

Step 2:Describe the current behaviors and situations. “Jean, I heard you on the phone with Stanton Company. You were short with them, told them to call back when they knew the numbers they wanted and hung up without saying thank you. Did I hear this correctly?” (Give Jean an opportunity to respond.)

Step 3:Describe the impact and consequences. “Jean, Stanton is one of our largest and best customers. They continually send other customers to us, and if we do not treat them with our best and most supportive service, they will not refer others to us. They were critical in helping us achieve our profit targets, which resulted in bonuses for everyone on the team — including yours. Our relationship with them is critical to our success.”

Step 4:Identify alternative behaviors. “Jean, what do you think you should do with Stanton right now?” (Allow Jean to offer ideas and to own the solution). “Great, Jean, I like that idea. Please get right on it. Mostly remember how important the relationship is with each of our customers. They call us because we know what we are doing and we treat them better than anyone else … it’s how we do business.”

Step 5:Cookie. “Jean, you are an important part of the great service this team gives our customers. Thanks for making the difference that you do; please keep doing your best to help us be the best in the industry. Thanks.”

Feedback is not a process for the manager to vent. Feedback is a learning event that focuses on particular behaviors that need to be sustained or improved. Though this approach is more ‘human,’ it does not coddle employees. It defines expectations and holds employees accountable. This process insures that the employee is treated fairly, learns, and is responsible for his or her actions.

Feedback is one of the most significant tools that managers have to help guide, coach, and instruct employees to continually grow, make extra effort, and improve performance. Managers catch employees doing great things and applaud them. Managers catch employee performance problems and use them to improve performance and win employees back.

Employees want feedback; be sure to provide the right kind of feedback that builds their skills, confidence, and commitment to perform at their best.

Jay Forte is a speaker, consultant, and nationally ranked thought leader; (401) 338-3505.

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