Delivering Effective Performance Feedback

Let me first begin by defining “feedback” as information about performance that will allow the performer to change his or her performance. It is a crucial part of improving performance, as all of our learning requires feedback or some knowledge of the results or impact of our behavior on the environment. Without it, employees won’t know which behaviors are effective and which are not.

Feedback is commonly confused with positive reinforcement, and while it often has a positive impact on performance, they are not the same, and it is therefore helpful to separate the two in thought and deed. Information about your performance may be negative, and the delivery of information about good performance can be presented or delivered in a way that causes the performer not to improve. Most organizations today aren’t giving enough performance feedback, and while managers may think poor performance is due to a lack of motivation or laziness, it is really inadequate feedback that is to blame.

If you are a manager who is looking to deliver effective performance feedback, there are things you can do. By following these tips, you are guaranteed to get the most out of giving feedback to others.

Make it immediate. The sooner you give people feedback, the sooner they can make a behavior change and have a positive impact on their performance. Strive for daily or at least weekly feedback. Some performance software is now available where performers can track their performance continuously. That is ideal.

Use a graph. I have often given the advice to “put it on a graph.” Visual representation of data can provide a clear depiction of individual and group performance. Plus, seeing the graph move upward can be reinforcing, further contributing to performance improvement.

Individualize feedback. You want feedback to be specific and under the performer’s control, so delivering individualized feedback helps ensure those criteria are met. Individual feedback should be given to individuals privately. Group feedback is usually graphic and public.

Don’t forget reinforcement! While feedback without reinforcement may improve performance in the short term, it will not be sustainable over time without reinforcement. Feedback should act as an antecedent for reinforcement, prompting you to reinforce the behaviors that are contributing to better results.

I also strongly recommend that you read a related blog by a colleague of mine on the topic of candid feedback and trusted advisers: Justin Bieber, Senior Leaders and ‘Yes-Men’.