The key to balanced feedback – 8 tips to promote an effective and productive workforce

Many companies run employee-recognition programs of some sort, which all too often can produce an underwhelming experience for the employee. Instead of the intended giving people a meaningful sense of appreciation, they become just another box for managers to tick and are completely disconnected from employees’ accomplishments. Some companies try to make programs more relevant by giving specific awards to individuals, for such areas as creating and leading and important new initiative; for embodying the organisations values in their behaviour; or had a significant impact.  Yet that approach can have problems too: Awards can be seen as an elite opportunity for a chosen few and leave most of the workforce feeling left out and overlooked.

If managers could make a far broader group of employees feel appreciated, the benefits would be considerable. Research has shown that when employees experience gratitude from their manager, they are more productive and that teams perform tasks better when their members believe that their colleagues respect and appreciate them.

Whilst some managers are good at giving positive feedback, making employees feel valued, it can be questioned when it is not coupled with constructive notes.  Others can be good at giving negative feedback.  But constant criticism, without praise can cause employees to despair. Yet, many managers can struggle to make employees feel that their talents and contributions are noticed and valued and that it takes a certain skill in providing both – the balanced feedback.

The gap between managers and employees

Research has proved that there can be a stark difference between how much managers appreciate employees and how appreciated employees feel. Coming down to people’s tendency to overestimate how visible their emotions are to others. Managers can incorrectly assume employees know how they feel about them.  Additionally, some managers can find communicating appreciation complicated. Having trouble balancing it with developmental feedback and fear sending mixed messages to employees. Worrying that efforts to offer appreciation to employees would be routinized and seen as impersonal and meaningless.  So how do managers ensure they find this balance to promote a positive, proactive culture.

Touch base early and often – While regularly taking time to say hello to employees and check in with them might seem like an unnecessary drain on productivity, these interactions are valuable points of connection for both employee and manager. They prevent staff from feeling invisible. By creating routines that allow employees to share stories about what they are doing, or working on, can make them feel recognised and help to feel as part of the organisation.

Too little positive feedback – When most or all feedback is negative from the manager, employees know what is not liked. But it leads employees to have to guess at what is liked and expected.  Therefore, they may …

Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by the criticism and take it personally

Confused about what the manager wants

Lose confidence, since everything they do seems wrong

In addition, if the only time they hear from their manager, is when they have a complaint, employees soon begin to feel defensive or try to avoid interactions with them.

Too much positive feedback – If all the manager gives is positive feedback, employees can have an unrealistically high view of their worth and performance levels. Because they receive unbalanced responses, they can have confidence above and beyond their actual performance levels. Leading to employees becoming complacent and lazy and hence their performance falls.

Giving balanced feedback – To give balanced feedback, the trick is to avoid giving both types of feedback at once. When managers try the common ‘sandwich approach’ stuffing negative feedback between two layers of positive feedback, employees just get confused.  Employees who need developmental feedback tend to hear the positive, whilst the people who perform well are likely to leave remembering more of the negative comments.

So, the balanced feedback provides a response on what is being done well; these positive comments, with detailed examples: build confidence and reinforce the ‘good’ behaviour managers want to see more of. It clarifies expectations and makes people feel good.  By combining what could be improved; the negative feedback; given as factual information and preferably includes some suggestions for improvement.  By being honest and straightforward and by being balanced, will help to build skills and confidence at the same time.

Sharing feedback – Feedback to employees is information regarding their performance and provides information they can act on.  Feedback must be shared in a manner that is understandable and perceived by the individual as being provided in a respectful manner.  Sharing feedback involves skills in effective listening, verbal and non-verbal communications.

Address growth opportunities – Employees want to know what the future holds for their careers. When managers take the time to explicitly discuss growth potential or provide opportunities and ‘stretch’ assignments, employees interpret it as evidence that they are valued.  Conversely, when managers neglect to address people’s development, employees take it as a sign that they are not.

Offer flexibility – Key in the new post Covid world. By managers offering employees the option to work remotely or even simply suggesting a colleague comes in late the day after working extra hours, employees will interpret it as an important sign of trust and appreciation.

Make it a habit – Simply taking a few minutes to tell employees specifically what is valued about their contributions can have a tremendous impact. Try to build it into regular routines, perhaps by spending the first 15 minutes of the week writing personal thank you notes or starting your team meetings with shout outs briefly acknowledging accomplishments of individual team members.  The range of options is limitless from tangible expressions such as food, or gift cards, to speaking with each report daily. The idea is not to create an automatic system for thanking employees, however its more about giving permission to express appreciation in a way that feels natural.

Clearly, finding the right balance of feedback is key to motivating employees.  However, that is not to say there is a ‘perfect balance’ of feedback.  Levels of encouragement and criticism should be tailored to each individual, as everyone will react differently.