Why performance feedback is important – for managers and employees

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The Manager by Designsm  blog writes frequently about the importance of managers having the ability to give quality performance feedback.  I’ve written about the need to use behavior-based language, and making sure the performance feedback is given in the appropriate timeliness and specificity.

But is giving feedback really necessary?


Leslie Allan has a great article on the Business Performance blog that highlights the importance of quality manager feedback on employee engagement. She cites a Gallup survey conducted in 2009 that identifies how different “feedback styles” can have a huge impact in employee engagement.

The article highlights that a manager who does not provide any feedback will have almost no employee engagement.  Then those who do provide feedback have much more employee engagement, with those managers who focus on strengths getting even more engagement — they’re 30 times more likely to manage engaged workers than no feedback.

So when it comes to employee engagement, the absence of feedback is worse than managers focusing on negative feedback, while managers focusing on strengths create the most engagement.

So the question I have from a management design perspective is the following:

  1. How much feedback does a manager get in being a manager?  I’ve written about it here, where I conclude that managers get relatively little feedback in performing their role as managers compared to other roles.  Using this survey as an indicator, this appears to be a guarantee of disengaged managers as managers, and not just employees.
  2. How much effort in your management design to assure that managers are providing feedback?  Is this measured in your organization – at all?  According to this Gallup survey, even having managers who focus on the sub-optimum things (weaknesses, negative feedback) still have markedly better employee engagement.

Imagine an organization that a) Measures the feedback b) Checks to make sure the quality of the feedback given (i.e., specificity and immediacy) and c) Drives toward encouraging focus on the positive strengths of the employees rather than weaknesses.

There are relatively few artifacts of “feedback given” in many organizations.  I advocate that managers keep a performance log on their employees, primarily in that it would improve the quality of the feedback (focus on things that actually have an impact, be performance based, etc.).  But based on this survey, managing a performance log would also have the benefit of revealing who on your management team is, uh, engaged in the feedback process.

A blank performance log would reveal one of those dreaded managers who gives “no feedback”.  A filled-in performance log would reveal both what kind of feedback (strengths or weakness-based) and the quality of the feedback (specific, immediate, and behavior-based).  The performance log would be an “artifact” that the manager’s manager can directly review and. . .provide feedback on.  Ostensibly, this would allow the manager of manager to “engage” with her managers on how the manager manages.  (Yes, that’s a mouthful.)

In other words, does the manager get feedback on managing?  Reviewing the performance log would accomplish this.

Good management design would encourage this activity.  The lack of management design would create the high-variance scenario that the survey seems to indicate:  Some managers give feedback, others don’t.  Some focus on negatives and weaknesses.  Some focus on the positive.  And, in absence of a good management design, this variance of these behaviors likely occurs within the same department and organization.  Employees better hope they get one of the “good” bosses that at least occasionally give them feedback.

Does your organization have a high variance in how managers give feedback?  Is there any structure and feedback on how your organization’s managers provide feedback?  If not, this might be something to design in to your organization.

Related articles:

Management Design: How managers receive performance feedback compared to other jobs

The Art of Providing Feedback: Make it Specific and Immediate

An example of giving specific and immediate feedback and a frightening look into the alternatives

Performance feedback must be related to a performance

What inputs should a manager provide performance feedback on?

When to provide performance feedback using direct observation: Practice sessions

When to provide performance feedback using direct observation: On the job

Areas of focus in providing performance feedback based on direct observation: Tangible artifacts

Behavior-based language primer: Steps and Examples of replacing using adverbs

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Examples of how to improve employee corrective feedback and how to get rid of damaging adverbs

Behavior-based language primer for managers: How to tell if you are using behavior-based language

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Avoid using value judgments

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Stop using generalizations

The annual review reveals more about the manager’s performance than the employee’s performance (part 1)


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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .

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