13 Oct Giving feedback to achieve high performance: five things you need to know
By John Girardi
There are so many things a manager has to be on top of, so many important things! As a manager, you probably need to manage budgets, roster staff, organise sales promotions, attend meetings, deal with problem staff, and meet with customers. It’s an endless list of “important things” you need to do. It’s all important! You can add to that list of important things you need to do, “providing employees with feedback”.
Now here’s the thing. We all know that providing employees with performance feedback is important, but it’s an important thing to do amongst an endless list of important things to do. I think that’s the reason providing feedback is a neglected and weakly developed skill for most managers. And, mostly, in my experience, it doesn’t get done well, or often enough.
In terms of people management, providing feedback is a critically important skill. I can’t see how you can lead a team and achieve high levels of performance without being skilled at it.
Behaviourism, which dominated the field of psychology for decades, is basically all about feedback. Behaviourism teaches us that the future performance of a work team (or sports team) will be heavily influenced by the consequences that follow the performance of that work team today. In other words, the feedback I give to a work team today, will influence how that work team performs tomorrow.
It’s a good idea to trust the science when thinking about how to improve the performance of a work team, or a sports team for that matter. Sports psychologists draw on these same concepts when working with elite sports teams.
So what are some of the key aspects of behavioural science that managers can draw on if they are trying to improve the performance of a work team?
1. Be clear about the performance you expect
If you are not seeing the performance you want to see from your work team, first focus on ensuring that people are clear about what you want them to achieve. Talk to them about your expectations, the behaviours you want them to display, what you want them to get done today, this week. These conversations can be done in a matter-of-fact way. Your aim should be that people walk away from that conversation feeling relatively good, to get them thinking about what they need to do differently, yes, but not feeling like they’ve just been given a ‘serve’.
2. Don’t wait for perfect performance: reward improvements
In the classic, The One Minute Manager book, by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, one of the pieces of advice is, “catch someone doing something right” and it’s a great piece of advice! A similar message is, catch someone who has improved at something, anything! Become a manager that has their antennas out, searching for any form of improvement, and when you see an improvement, you should give the person some positive feedback. It can be as simple as saying, “that’s really good”. “I noticed that you just did that”. “I really liked the way you did that”.
I believe one of the biggest mistakes managers make with feedback is that they fail to acknowledge and reward improvements. They are not tuned in to the improvements people are making, and the improvements are gold, because they represent growth, positive change. Instead, these managers, are too focused on what’s still missing. Failing to acknowledge and celebrate positive change, or worse, giving negative feedback because the performance is still not good enough, is a way to lock in mediocrity.
Rewarding progress doesn’t mean you are accepting second rate performance. It’s just about acknowledging that people are moving in the right direction. And in a journey of improvement and positive change, that’s something we should all feel good about.
3. Reward successively higher levels of performance
In behavioural science there’s a term called “shaping behaviour”. In an organisation, you can think of it as shaping performance. There’s a mountain of research evidence to support this concept and it’s especially important for driving performance improvements in an organisation. It means that, after receiving some positive feedback today, an employee will need to achieve more to get the next bit of positive feedback. In this way, your use of feedback is able to continually drive improvements. It’s about rewarding successively higher and higher levels of performance, until the performance is at the standard you want it to be at.
4. Become a pokie machine
If you’ve ever wondered why so many people are addicted to pokie machines, there’s a psychology to it. Regular but unpredictable rewards are really good at locking in behaviours. If you want to know how often you should be providing feedback, think about the pokie machine analogy. Positive feedback should be regular, but unpredictable. The research shows that this type of feedback is the strongest when it comes to reinforcing behaviours.
5. Keep it brief and informal
There’s nothing wrong with formal or detailed feedback (such as in the form of an annual performance review), but feedback is too important and too powerful to leave it to these occasions. There are too many day-to-day opportunities that present themselves, so why wait for a performance review meeting? Positive feedback can be as simple as a quick passing comment, such as “well done”, or “that looks really good” or it can be more specific, “I really liked the way you served that customer”, “I’m really pleased that you took it upon yourself to [fill in the blank]”
There are many important things we do as managers, but what’s more important than managing people? Do it well and you can multiply your effectiveness and your organisation’s productivity. Giving feedback—in the right way, at the right time, and of the right type—is one of the key skills that can help you to do that.
This item was first published in AUTOMOTIVE ELECTRICAL & AIR CONDITIONING NEWS (April/May 2022 edition)
John Girardi is a human resources consultant who runs Girardi Human Resources. He works with a number of employers in the automotive industry to provide outsourced human resource support, including providing Fair Work advice, drafting employment contracts, performance management, management training, and recruitment.
Contact Girardi Human Resources now if you need help with managing your team and HR services.