July 2, 2015

Employee Feedback

The Complete Guide

Employee feedbackA smiling male employee and a smiling female employee seperated by a floating light bulb lighting on and off, having a discussion.
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Employee feedback is the core of personal and professional growth.

Feedback can help an employee get better at what they do, and surprisingly employees crave feedback.

Most managers don’t provide enough feedback, and when they do, they either make it too negative or are too vague while trying to keep it positive.

As simple as it might seem, giving feedback is incredibly complex because of how delicate we are as humans.

negativity can affect an employee's emotional state

There are many forms of feedback, like employee engagement surveys, 360 reviews, annual performance reviews, and more.

Most of these are so ingrained in a company’s DNA that it only makes sense to learn how to give feedback effectively.

Helping employees grow will not only make them happier and more engaged, but it will make them provide better service to customers, leading to more profits.

It’s in the company’s best interests to take the feedback process very seriously.

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Why Is Feedback Important?

For the most part, employees don’t get enough feedback, and that when they do, the feedback is too vague.

There is also a sense that managers aren’t authentic enough. The feeling among many employees is that managers don’t care enough about employees to genuinely want to make them better.

This is a very important point for managers: Employees will be able to tell very easily if you’re being genuine when giving feedback.

Do you genuinely want to help them get better? Are you genuinely trying to make them improve? Or are you just venting your frustrations at them.

Besides being open and honest, give your feedback to employees in real time. The closer to the event that you give feedback, the better it is.

Employee Feedback Statistics

Before looking at ideas on how to improve employee feedback at your company, let’s look at a few statistics1 that will help illustrate the point about how important feedback is:

  1. 14.9% lower turnover rates in companies that implement regular employee feedback.
  2. 2X as likely to be actively disengaged if employees are ignored by their manager.
  3. 4 out of 10 workers are actively disengaged when they get little or no feedback.
  4. 82% of employees really appreciate receiving feedback, regardless if it’s positive or negative.
  5. 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week compared to only 18% of employees with low engagement.
  6. 65% of employees said they wanted more feedback
  7. 58% of managers think they give enough.

10 Employee Feedback Statistics

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These statistics show that there is clearly something wrong with the way feedback is done in most companies.

Employees don’t receive enough, most managers think they give enough, and feedback has a direct connection with engagement.

Use Employee Performance Evaluations To Grow

Many people (specifically managers) are scared of taking the time to truly evaluate their employees and give feedback, especially negative feedback, to employees because of how they might react.

Employee engagement is such a sensitive issue, and an employee’s psyche can be really hard to deal with.

But it turns out, according to research done through evaluation surveys, that employees crave that feedback.

Research from Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy, found that people want what they call “corrective feedback,” which they define as “suggestions for improvement, explorations of new and better ways to do things, or pointing out something that was done in a less that optimal way.”

What’s interesting about their research, is that employees want this even more than praise, if it’s provided in a constructive manner.

What they found was that by roughly a three to one margin, employees believe that constructive feedback does more to improve their performance than positive feedback.

Within the same job satisfaction poll, employees were asked if they would prefer to receive praise or corrective feedback, and 57% said they preferred to receive corrective feedback versus 43% that said they would want the praise.

When they asked what was most helpful for their career, 72% of people said their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback on their employee appraisal forms.

The satisfaction forms also found a strong positive correlation between a person’s level confidence and his or her preference for receiving negative feedback.

A research paper, “Tell Me What I Did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback” in The Journal of Consumer Research, says that when people are experts on a subject, or consider themselves experts, they’re more eager to hear negative feedback, while beginners are more likely to seek positive responses.

The reason for this is as people gain expertise; feedback serves a different purpose.

When people are just beginning, they may not have much confidence, and they need encouragement. But with experts, their focus is on their progress, and getting better.

Here’s an important lesson for managers. In the Zenger/Folkman research, employees that rated their managers as highly effective at providing them with honest, straightforward feedback scored significantly higher on their preference for receiving corrective feedback.

What Is 360-Degree Feedback?

Everyone that works around you (hence the name 360 degree) gives you feedback anonymously on what your strengths and weaknesses are.

Your manager, a few co-workers, and maybe even customers can give you feedback.

What a 360-degree performance appraisal does, is get everyone on the team to improve in areas that might be hindering their personal or the team’s growth.

One very important point about 360-degree feedback is that they should not be used in the performance review process.

Many companies make that mistake, and it’s not the right thing to do. Remember, 360-degree feedback measures strengths and weaknesses, not performance.

What Are The Pros Of 360-Degree Feedback?

While there are many pros of 360-degree feedback, it’s important to remember that they are part of a larger, more holistic feedback process, that includes things like employee pulse surveys, performance reviews, and other kinds of reviews and evaluation processes.

  1. Global View

    Getting feedback from different people can help you create a global view of who you are and what your strengths and weaknesses are. You’ll start to see patterns and repeated themes from all of the feedback that comes in.

  2. Continuous Growth

    If employees participate and provide positive, yet, constructive criticism, everyone is helping each other improve on the day to day to become better employees. In the long term, this will help your company grow.

  3. Career Development

    With everyone telling you what your strengths and weaknesses are, you’ll be able to develop a plan to improve yourself based on all of the feedback. As you continue to develop and grow yourself, your career will develop based on improving your weaknesses and focusing on your strengths.

Mistakes Made With 360-Degree Feedback Systems

Many companies make these mistakes when implementing 360-degree feedback, so you should watch out for them.

  1. Lack Of Follow-Up

    Whenever someone sets goals and works on improving themselves or the team, it’s important to continuously check in on the progress and see if anything can be improved. If there is no follow up in the process, all of that initial effort will be wasted.

  2. Focusing Too Much On Weaknesses

    Many managers focus too much on weaknesses when giving feedback. Don’t forget about the strengths, you can always improve on your strengths, and people like hearing what they do well.

Annual Performance Reviews

Many people are against annual performance reviews, but some companies swear by it.

More than anything, it depends on the culture inside your organization. if your company allows open and honest feedback, annual performance reviews can be a great thing.

On the other hand, if there is a lot of fear and politics inside your culture, then it won’t be a good process.

If managers are close with their employees, and use annual performance reviews as part of a much larger communication/feedback strategy, then it can be great.

Doing an introspective, and looking back on the year that passed is an important part of growing.

That reflection allows you to plan smarter for the year ahead. Here are a few problems with annual performance reviews.

  1. They Often Don’t Rely On Data

    What often happens is a manager will have to recall an employee’s performance by memory, without actually using any data to back up what they’re saying.

    Because it relies on opinion, and usually it’s one persona’s opinion, the way that they are conducted is flawed. Sometimes perceptions make a manager think that an employee is performing worse than they actually are,, which can lead to a poor review.

  2. They’re Often Tied To Salary

    If an annual performance review is tied to a salary increase, then the whole process becomes sensitive. A manager might feel bad about giving an employee a negative review, and the employee might get defensive if anything negative is said about them.

  3. They’re Too Formal

    Humans by nature are very sensitive, and since employee happiness is such an important subject, managers don’t want to have an open and honest conversation, which again, leads to a flawed review.

  4. Managers Wait To Deal With Issues

    Feedback needs to happen in real-time, otherwise, problems will just fester, and nothing will be improved. What managers will often do, is wait until a review session to discuss an issue instead of tackling it head on.

    This can have a negative effect on company morale and culture, because during that waiting time, the poor performer is demoralizing the rest of the team.

    Would a basketball coach wait until the end of the season to give their players feedback? Absolutely not.

  5. The Reviewer Suffers From Rater Bias

    Rater Bias is a huge problem with performance reviews, and most of the time we don’t even know that we have these biases.

    Managers hire employees that are similar to them. When it’s time for these managers to give reviews, their opinion is biased, and they end up giving a high review, regardless of if they deserve it or not.

    On the other side, managers that review employees that are different than them will be biased to give them a lower review.

  6. One-Sided Employee Reviews

    Too often, the review will be an hour-long session where the manager is telling the employee what they did wrong, when in fact, it should be a 2-way conversation, with the employee doing most of the talking. Ideally, employees would use that opportunity to help managers improve their own performance.

    Even if employees are allowed to give feedback, they are so anxious, that they choose not to.

Do Performance Appraisals Even Work?

An amazing study on performance appraisals back in 1965, researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of employee appraisals at General Electric.

One of the most interesting parts of the study, was that employees would only react to the negative feedback.

As an example, if a manager were to say something like “you’re doing great, but I think one area to improve would be….”, the employee would only start listening after the “but.”

Another interesting finding in the study was that the more an employee feedback an employee heard, the worse their performance was after the appraisal.

The study found that short-term goal setting was much more likely to improve performance than annual performance reviews.

Setting Objectives And Key Results

Objectives and key results (OKR) is one of the best ways to focus your team around objectives. You set high-level, somewhat vague objectives, and then very specific key results that will get you to that point.

As an example, you could say, in this quarter I want our company to be the industry leader (objective), and here is what will have to be done to get there:

  • Get 3 guest blogging opportunities
  • Sign Up 10,000 new customers
  • Write 3 eBooks

Those are your three key results for that objective. Notice how specific and measurable the key results are.

It doesn’t say “get a few guest blogs” or “get some new signups”, these are very easy to measure if you’re hitting your target or not.

That’s one of the most important parts of setting OKRs.

The company is supposed to set their own OKRs, and every employee is supposed to set their own personal OKRs. Ideally, the personal OKRs are aligned with the company’s OKRs.

The fact that the personal OKR is aligned with the company OKR is probably the best feature of the system.

It aligns employees around the purpose of your company. One of the biggest motivators for engagement is intrinsic motivation, and having employees work towards the same goals as the company is incredibly satisfying.

Another important part of the OKR system is that everything is made public, meaning anyone can see the company’s OKRs and my personal OKR at any time.

This creates a sense of accountability among the team, and everyone helps each other reach their goals.

The Performance Preview

UCLA professor Sam Culbert wrote a great book called “Get Rid Of Performance Reviews” where he really explains why they don’t work.

In the book, he offers an alternative to the performance review, and it’s called the performance preview.

His argument, is that performance reviews are backwards-looking, so they’re not very productive.

Essentially, what you’re doing is saying, let’s sit down in a room, and look back at what you’ve done in the last year, and see where you went wrong.

A much smarter idea, is to look forward, and define goals that you want to hit, that are aligned with the company’s core values, and then have regular check-ins to see how you’re doing on meeting those goals.

As he describes in his book, the performance preview has a chance to create true teams, with everyone being held accountable for achieving team goals that reflect business objectives.

The one caveat that he mentions though, is that in order to work, there has to be trust and honesty between everyone at every level of the organization.

This is easier said than done, but he warns that the performance preview process will fail if there isn’t trust and honesty between everyone.

The performance preview is incredibly similar to the OKR methodology described earlier.

Setting short term goals, and reviewing them consistently, working together as a team, is the best way to create engaged, productive teams.

Give Frequent Feedback

Feedback is such an important part of employee engagement, but so many managers don’t do it enough.

It turns out, according to research, that the frequency of feedback is probably the most important element of all.

A study on feedback and performance by Harvard researchers, found that students’ success was not correlated with size of the class, but the biggest factor was the frequency of feedback from their teachers.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he reveals data that shows that most people who suffer an injury due to doctor negligence don’t actually sue their doctor.

According to polls gathered from interviews of these injured patients, it turns out that there was a common factor that predicted which patients would be more likely to sue: those who felt like they didn’t get enough quality time with their doctor.

It’s important that you have frequent feedback sessions with your employees from the start as it will allow yourself, the employee, and the company to grow.

In the long run, they’ll thank you for it. Schedule time to meet with each of your employees at least once every two weeks. When you meet with them, find out how you can help them be better at what they do.

Feedback needs to be informal, frequent, and done authentically with an employee’s best interests in mind.

You can also use engagement surveys to collect feedback frequently from employees, and it’s possible that you’ll get more authentic responses if they know it’s anonymous. Whatever you use, the key is to make it frequent

Replying To Employee Feedback

One of the biggest mistakes that leaders make when they receive written feedback from employees, is they don’t reply.

An employee took the time out of their busy day to not only make your job easier, but give you valuable feedback that will improve the company.

The least you could do is show them that you value their effort.

Think about all the advantages that come from replying to employee feedback:

  • Employees feels listened to
  • Employees feels valued
  • Employees feels as if they’re part of shaping the company culture
  • Employees know their issues will get solved

Replying is important, but even more important is how you do it. If you say the wrong thing or take too long to reply it can backfire, and cause an employee to disengage and not participate in the future.

There are three things to keep in mind when thinking about replying to employee feedback.

  1. Have A Grateful Mindset

    You need to approach your reply from an angle of gratitude. You should be grateful that an employee was willing to give you and your organization feedback, no matter how harsh it may be.

    Any feedback is a chance to fix something and improve.

    If you have the right mindset, you’ll be more positive with your replies.

  2. Be Positive In Your Reply

    It’s very important be overly positive with your replies, using exclamation marks and potentially even an emoji or two.

    When it comes to emails, or any text communication, we’re more likely to perceive the message as negative because there are no other cues like body language or tone of voice to help us interpret the message.

    This is what’s known as the negativity bias, and means that you need to be more positive than you think when replying.

  3. Reply Quickly (But Not Too Quickly)

    It’s important to reply quickly to feedback you get to keep the conversation going while it’s still relevant.

    If you wait too long for the reply, it could be seen as insulting to whoever wrote the feedback, as if you don’t care enough about their opinion.

    Having said that, it might be a good idea to take five minutes before replying to reflect on the feedback and make sure you’re not getting defensive.

Employee Feedback Form Questions

These are some examples of questions that you can ask employees to start an open and honest conversation about how they’re feeling at work:

  1. How can we make work more fun?
  2. What do you think customers say about our business?
  3. If you were the CEO, and could make all the decisions, what would you do and why?
  4. If you could change one thing about the way we do things here, what would it be and why?
  5. How would you want to be rewarded for good work?
  6. What don’t you like about my management style?
  7. What can I do to make your job better?
  8. What’s the biggest issue in your job?
  9. How can we make work more fun?
Free Bonus: Download the complete manager’s guide to giving better employee feedback.

Key Takeaways

  • Giving feedback is sensitive because of how employees might react to it
  • Feedback is important, it helps employees grow and improve
  • Feedback leads to higher productivity and lower turnover
  • 360 Feedback is great because you get a diverse set of opinions
  • Set clear goals for your employees and help them reach them
  • Give feedback frequently
  1. https://officevibe.com/blog/infographic-employee-feedback
Alison Robins

Written by Alison Robins