Looking for the perfect gift for your employees this holiday season? Consider giving the gift of feedback (although turkeys and bonuses are certainly good, too!). An overwhelming amount of information has been published on the benefits of feedback in the workplace in recent years. Studies consistently show that employees crave more, real-time feedback and have become dissatisfied with the traditional annual review process.

What is feedback?

Feedback is critical information about expectations, performance, projects and assignments, communication style, organizational culture, attitude, and professional image. Simply put, it is an honest, real-time dialogue between managers and employees (in either direction) about what is going well in the workplace, what needs improvement, and what needs to happen for improvements to be made.

What are the benefits of giving your employees feedback (a.k.a why should you keep reading)?

The benefits of feedback include: improvement of work-performance, increased employee engagement, increased employee retention, increased productivity, and increased revenue! As an employment lawyer, it would be remiss of me not to add that a robust feedback program is also an investment in litigation avoidance. I cannot count the number of cases I have had where the plaintiff did not see the employment termination coming because he or she was not receiving any meaningful feedback relating to job performance. And, because the plaintiff thought he/she was doing a fine job, the plaintiff assumed he/she was fired for an illegal reason. What’s more, if you are engaging in feedback with your employees, you may learn that an employee needs an accommodation to succeed, that you have a problem manager, or that your processes are antiquated or inefficient. The bottom line? Feedback pays off!

Good idea – now what?

My colleagues, Bobbie Conklin (S&J’s Business Development Manager) and Jen Trippett (S&J’s Senior Manager of Professional and Staff Development) have spent a tremendous amount of time researching and implementing a robust feedback system for our firm and have become experts on the topic – many of you reading this may have benefitted from attending their presentations on the topic. Because they have “been there, done that” when it comes to creating and implementing a functional feedback program, I have solicited them for their top tips for employers who want to give the gift of feedback to their employees.

Without further ado, here are Bobbie and Jen’s top 5 tips for delivering and receiving effective feedback:

  • 1) Provide feedback timely, yet after emotions have subsided. We have all had experiences where emotions run high in the workplace; a deadline has been missed, a typo has been overlooked, or a vital process was not followed. Giving feedback during stressful and emotional moments has the potential to be delivered in a clumsy manner and will likely not positively impact future performance. Consider revisiting the situation after the work has been completed and emotions have stabilized. Approach your colleague and say “I would like to revisit the (fill in the blank) and talk about how we can prevent the mistake/error/process breakdown from happening in the future.” A short delivery delay will influence the feedback effectiveness in spades.
  • 2) Consider the impact generational differences may have on feedback. Your workplace is a unique blend of individuals from multiple generations, each with their own feedback needs. Studies show that millennials are more likely to stay engaged in their workplace if there is a culture of consistent feedback. This can be especially difficult if the feedback givers are from the traditionalist generation, which favors a “no news is good news” approach. The bottom line is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for delivering effective feedback; however, you can be aware of the unique traits of each cohort and the generational influence on your feedback culture.
  • 3) Don’t ask “Why?” Explain why. The bottom line is that you are not necessarily concerned with the “why” that is driving a certain behavior. For example “Why are you always late to work?” will result in a string of excuses that will have no impact on future timely arrival at work. The knee jerk reaction to “why?” is to become defensive and, in this situation, the feedback will get lost in the attempt to find the right words to defend the behavior in question. In the specific situation above, consider saying “When you are late to work, you are creating a situation where your coworkers have to cover your workload. What will you do to address your consistent late arrival?” By identifying the goal, preferred behavior, or needed change, you are providing perspective on the individual’s impact on operations.
  • 4) Praise in public, criticize in private. Before engaging in feedback dialogue, carefully consider the where and when it will occur. Share kudos in a group email message or offer a “job well done” to someone at a holiday gathering. Save constructive comments for one-on-one conversations, in-person whenever possible. If an email exchange is necessary, be thoughtful when drafting any critique and avail yourself to follow-up via phone or a face-to-face meeting so that nothing in electronic format is misconstrued.
  • 5) Even if poorly wrapped, feedback is a gift. Every Christmas, gifts are given that are poorly wrapped; the bow has fallen off, the paper is ripped, and in a room with five mothers, the name tag says “mom.” The poorly wrapped gift is treasured as much as the professionally wrapped work of art. Receiving feedback, whether wrapped in tattered paper or even barbed wire, is a gift delivered with beneficial intent. Carefully unwrap and unpack the poorly packaged feedback, find the gift, and express gratitude. Consider the way you give feedback, and if the bow has fallen off and the paper is ripped, take the time to repackage your message before it is delivered.

Consider kicking off 2019 with a resolution to give and receive more feedback. An organization that invests in their feedback culture should see many happy returns! Happy New Year!!