How often does your boss tell you how well you are doing at work? Does he or she tell you when you have done something well, and when your performance needs to improve? Does your boss give you specific guidance about exactly how you can do your job better? In other words do you receive feedback? This is important because employees need feedback to do their best.
What Is Feedback
Feedback is information that tells us whether we have done something correctly or not, and how well we have done it. Some tasks have built in feedback. If we are practicing basketball free throws, we can see whether or not the ball goes through the hoop on each attempt. Other times feedback is not very apparent. We perform a task, but we might not be certain if it was done correctly or not. This is particularly the case when a task is new to us and we are just learning. In those cases we need feedback from others, such as supervisors, to tell us how we are doing.
Feedback is best if it is specific so that we know exactly what we did correctly, what we did incorrectly, and how best to improve. Global feedback is good when someone has done a good job and you wish for them to keep doing the same thing, but it is not so helpful when the person needs improvement. Merely telling someone they did a poor job will only be effective if the person knows what they need to do. For example, if the problem is a lack of effort, this might motivate the person to work harder. If the problem is lack of knowledge or skill, just telling the person they need to improve without explaining how might just demoralize the person and result in worse, not better, performance.
Employees Need Feedback
Giving feedback to employees is important for at least three reasons.
- Feedback is necessary for learning. It is hard to learn something without feedback. Imagine learning how to throw free throws while blindfolded. Without knowing the result of each throw, you cannot improve because you do not know what to do. Should you throw harder, softer, more to the left or more to the right?
- Feedback about good performance is rewarding. Being told you are doing a good job makes people feel good. It makes them feel valued. This encourages people to continue to perform so they can get more praise.
- Feedback about deficient performance is motivating if that feedback is specific and lets the employee know what he or she needs to do to improve. Most employees want to do a good job, so specific feedback can guide employees from deficiency to success. Keep in mind that people have a limited capacity for negative feedback, so focus on no more than one or two issues at a time. Otherwise employees can become overwhelmed and discouraged, leading to even worse performance.
I discuss giving feedback in greater depth in my IO psychology textbook.
Feedback Should Be Continual
Employees need feedback more than once per year during the annual performance review. Such annual reviews are important for documenting good and poor performance, but they are not good at providing the sort of feedback that employees need to improve or maintain good performance. The sort of feedback people need should be continual. Supervisors should be coaches who provide ongoing feedback about what the employee is doing right and should continue, and where performance needs to improve. Continual feedback enables employees to develop their knowledge and skills so they can improve performance over time. It is a vital function that all supervisors should provide to their employees.
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