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Feedback: Performance Improvement’s Low Hanging Fruit

Submitted by  on October 10th, 2012

Businessman holding up pad with OKWe cannot underestimate the importance of environment in performance and its improvement. Receiving timely and helpful feedback – positive and constructive – helps us achieve better performance and productivity in organizations and in life. Sometimes we need praise or positive reinforcement from others who “catch us doing well.” At other times, we benefit from someone pointing out the proverbial “toilet paper on our shoe.” Of course, the feedback recipient needs to be open to it and act on it for the future. We have probably all stepped into politically dicey feedback situations. Still, it’s generally a good practice to at least give the feedback some thought as to what you can learn from it.

In organizations, surveys, focus groups or interviews with employees, customers and other stakeholders, allow us to collect people-centered data to guide decisions and future performance for achieving better results. Organizations, teams and individuals are never able to step outside themselves for an objective view, so it helps to have an outsider holding up the mirror. Seeking out the feedback of family, friends, significant others, supervisors, co-workers and others should not be underestimated.

Toastmaster’s International’s time-honoured method of improving communication and leadership skills through valued feedback in a supportive atmosphere is great proof that feedback is critical to getting better at something. Performance experts, Rummler and Brache, recognize “useful feedback” as a critical performance factor. This helps explain the 360 degree survey feedback currently in vogue. Genuine praise and practical suggestions help us learn what to “Start, Stop and Keep” doing by gaining otherwise inaccessible insights about ourselves.

It may sound rather Skinneresque, but we do have the ability to influence each other’s behaviour -for the betterment of all. The classic “Sandwich Technique” (positive-constructive-positive) aids feedback digestion. Some people prefer the direct method and prefer to skip the niceties (an approach I’ve noticed tends to be preferred by American colleagues). Interestingly, the work of Dr. Lionel Laroche reminds us that newcomers often have a different understanding of supervisory feedback, which can have far-reaching implications. Many newcomers find the ever-so-palatable “Canadian Feedback Sandwich” confusing compared to the direct method of open-faced constructive comment (which, in my experience, appeals more to the American palate).

Receiving and providing feedback in work and in life provide us with valuable opportunities to learn and improve. An absence of regular, accurate and timely feedback typically demotivates staff and tends to reduce productivity and performance. By the same token, believing you have no room for improvement is the height of ignorance and arrogance. I’ve seen that unfortunate habit in some managers, colleagues and acquaintances. While confidence (along with competence) is critical to performance, we should never rest on our laurels, thinking we are somehow above feedback for learning and improving or CHANGING for the better.

My Montreal-based colleague, Sonia Di Maulo, (a.k.a. “Feedback Queen of Canada”) believes, “Providing authentic feedback is a key factor that boosts growth and cultivates trust and collaboration.” She encourages using feedback as a tool to “harvest” workforce performance by using timely and accurate feedback as a performance management tool.

2 Way Feedback e-book

Are your managers capable of giving effective feedback to employees? How are they at receiving feedback? Give your managers the tools and skills they need to bring out the best from your employees. Download our 2 Way Feedback e-book. This practical guide will help your managers, supervisors and team leaders get everyone on board and going in the same direction -with enthusiasm. Find out more about 2 Way Feedback and download today.

Posted in Communication, Performance | Comments (3)

3 Responses to “Feedback: Performance Improvement’s Low Hanging Fruit”

  1. Rebecca Pelke Says:

    I definitely agree with this about how important positive and constructive feedback can be! Feedback offers a chance to learn and improve whether it is in the work place or in life situations. I like to hear/receive positive feedback first, because it is more relaxing and prepares for the constructive parts coming next. For more information on improving feedback and coaching, visit our blog at

  2. Leslie Allan Says:

    Thanks Rebecca for your input and for referencing your helpful page on feedback. I’m pleased to see that it recommends, like Karen in her blog post, prefacing negative feedback with positive and countenances against the use of the word “but”. That’s all great advice.

    Two traps I often see supervisors and managers fall into when giving feedback is using value-laden terms such as “lazy”, “incompetent” and “idiot”. Passing judgement on the person instead of focusing on describing the unwanted behavior really ensures that the employee won’t hear the rest of the message -and wins an enemy for next time.

    The other trap I see is supervisors leave giving negative feedback (because they hate doing it) until they can’t take it any longer and blow up like a drum of gun powder. By then, all sense of proportion and reasonableness has left them and the conversation quickly degenerates into a vitriolic argument. Thanks again Rebecca for sharing.

    Kind Regards, Les Allan

  3. Karen Says:

    I appreciate both of you comments – positive feedback puts us at ease, avoid using “but” after a positive, keep it objective and avoid passive-aggressiveness. I would add, be specific. Just saying “good job on that” is not enough to reinforce desired behavior. Plus it’s imprecise about what was good and why which won’t promote performance and productivity in the workplace.

    Additionally, measuring employee performance should be done with suitable, objective metrics rather than just subjective observations. I serve on a Board and the Executive Director has an annual evaluation. She’s doing an amazing job for the bottom line , programs, staff and otherwise. However, a review of accomplishments, goals and anecdotal feedback won’t be defensible nor provide a good comparative year to year (as a long term employee planning to stay). Specific feedback plus a scorecard of performance metrics is beneficial so the official feedback stays remains objective and rational.

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