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What to do when feedback doesn’t work

by on
in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

Will Ramsey does his best to give thought­ful, constructive feedback to the teachers he supervises. And according to them, he's succeeding. "The teachers usually say they understand what I'm telling them and that they appreciate my considerate delivery."

So what's the problem? "I find that the same teachers who've given me such nice compliments about my feedback," Will reports, "are still doing the work incorrectly."

Many employees come with a built-in feedback deflector. Some seize only on the praise you offer, ignoring the criticism. Others assure you they "got it" but don't follow through, or argue that the inadequate performance you saw was an exception.

What can managers like Will—and you—do to make sure corrective feed­back makes a real difference in performance? Here's how the pros do it:

Ask for the performance you want. Start by checking your previous feed­back to make sure it included clear and positive expectations, not just criticism of the current performance. It's not enough to tell employees what they're doing wrong. Make sure you also tell them how to know they're doing it right. As much as possible, leave the details of how to achieve results up to the employee—but make sure the overall picture of expected performance is as clear as you can make it.

Reinforce why a change is needed. Explain the need for change in terms of team goals and individual performance stan­dards, and describe the impact the employee's correct performance can have on achieving those results. You have to help people under­stand there's a valid reason why you want the change—that it's not just a personal whim of yours. Express your confidence in the employee's ability to meet these goals and stan­dards, and ask if there's anything you can do to help.

Repair communication breakdowns. When you know you've been as clear as possible but employees still don't do what you expect, find out where confu­sion set in so you can replace it with understanding. Let employees explain why performance hasn't improved—without putting them on the defensive. For example, once you've reviewed your expecta­tions, try saying something like, "I thought we were on the same track about where we were going, but I can't honestly say I've seen the kind of changes I expected. So I was wondering—what was your idea of what was supposed to happen? Or has something gone wrong that I need to know about?"

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