Employee Performance Feedback - Who Wants It?

Giving your staff negative feedback can be stressful for both you and them. Let’s face it no-one likes being told what they’re doing wrong.

Why be so Negative?

What if you could use positive feedback to fix an employee performance problem? Sounds a little crazy I know, so I’m going to tell you a little motivational story

Picture Carol - the Problem Employee

Using Feedback to improve employee performance doesn't have to be so negative.

Using Feedback to improve employee performance doesn't have to be so negative.

Employee Performance Management - the Usual Way

Carol, a receptionist, has recently been late for work. As a result, someone else must stop what he or she is doing and cover the front desk until she arrives. Her behavior affects members of the team, yet Carol's manager hesitates to address this (minor) employee performance problem. After all, his diary is already full and Carol knows what time she should start. Carol will probably get defensive and offer a number of excuses. Her manager makes a note for Carol's annual performance review and the employee performance problem remains. Worse, by not addressing her tardiness, this manager is sending the message that he condones this behaviour.

Employee Performance Management - A Different Way

In a parallel universe, Carol’s manager does something different. No, he doesn’t undertake the slightly unpleasant task of calling Carol into his office to have a serious talking to about punctuality. Instead he does something incredibly easy and simple. He starts giving a particular type of positive feedback when Carol does something right:

  • “Good morning Carol. I like seeing you at the desk when I arrive because I know there is someone here to greet our customers.”
  • “Good morning Carol, I’m glad to see you on the desk. When you’re there I know that everyone else can get on with their jobs without having to worry about covering reception. I appreciate that. Can you please keep that up?” 
  • “Good morning Carol. I’m glad to see you here before start time – now I know I don’t have to worry about covering reception. Can you please continue with that?”
Performance feedback. Increasing employee performance with more telling staff what you do want. Less telling them what you don't want.

Performance feedback. Increasing employee performance with more telling staff what you do want. Less telling them what you don't want.

Secret Ninja Manager Skills:

So as you can see, the manager:

  • Hasn’t said anything unpleasant,
  • Hasn't delayed his feedback until annual performance review,
  • Hasn't called Carol into his office and
  • Hasn't even spent a long time giving performance feedback.

He is using secret ninja manager skills to fix a problem. Managing can be just as easy for the everyday manager like you and me. That's why I've made the www.boss.camp program. It shows you how to get better employee performance in just an hour a week using proven management techniques to improve manager skills.

Effective Performance Feedback. The Power of Words:

These simple words have a very powerful performance management effect:

1. Feeling Valued: The manager has told Carol how she is appreciated and how the work that she is doing is important to other people. This is a key driver of job satisfaction 

2. Doing important work: People want to do meaningful work. The manager has told Carol what happens when she’s not around and how her actions affect other people. (even though many may think that a receptionist is not an “important” job).

3. Acknowledgement: The manager has also demonstrated that he is aware of Carol’s performance. (I call this the “I see you principle or the Sawubona principle”). This has a double effect:

    a. Carol is made aware that her performance is being noted. 

    b. It demonstrates to Carol that what she does is important to the organization and also important to the manager. This is a form of acknowledgement and makes Carol feel valued.

4. Performance Management: The words demonstrate that the manager is willing to engage in discussions about the level of performance.

5. Increasing Performance: And if you look carefully, you’ll also see that he has asked Carol to commit to coming in on time in the future. Effective feedback motivates employees to change.

Performance Results and Other Benefits

So what do you think will be the result of these words of encouragement. With that sort of consistent performance feedback, do you think it’s likely that Carol will be late in the future? Based on what other managers have experienced. This sort of positive feedback doesn't just fix individual problems - this positive feedback increases employee motivation, increases employee engagement and employee retention. This is because acknowledgement, feeling valued, doing meaningful work are strong drivers of employee satisfaction, employee engagement and staff retention. When Carol feels better about her job, she will not only start coming in on time but she will improve in every area of her role. So a small effort in one area has a much bigger impact.

Managing by Exception is a Management Excuse

The “Manage by Exception” management technique is where the manager keeps an eye on things and only performance manages problems. Humans are incredibly good at spotting exceptions. Those that didn’t evolve the ability to spot the break in a pattern went without lunch or became lunch. We consistently see what’s wrong. There are two problems with this:

  1. The performance feedback focusses on negatives, no one likes negativity
  2. Focussing on the negatives does little to build on the positives

Why Your Employee Relations are Dysfunctional

All this negative feedback is destroying your employee relations. If you are consistently negative and critical, no wonder employees don't like you or want to listen to you. Dr Gottman's magic ratio for healthy relationships is 5 times as many positive interactions as negative. Healthy employee relations doesn't mean making your employees like you as a friend, Healthy employee relations means respect and good communications. Positive feedback builds employee engagement.

What if you think that there isn't anything positive to focus on? A word of wisdom from that wise man Dale Carnegie:

About 90% of the things in our life are right. Make sure you don’t overlook the 90% of things that are right because you are focusing on the 10% of things that aren’t.
— Dale Carnegie

Positive Feedback isn't only for Positive Performance

There is a misconception that positive performance feedback is only for good performance. But as I’ve shown above you can and should use positive performance feedback to also fix employee performance issues. This works for employee performance issues large and small.

Performance Feedback Method:

Improve Staff Performance With Feedback. How to Identify Performance Areas for Your Staff to improve

Improve Staff Performance With Feedback. How to Identify Performance Areas for Your Staff to improve

Because I believe in providing actionable advice I will tell you how you can use the positive feedback technique. How you can increase employee performance, starting today:

1. Think of a few things that your employees are doing wrong and write them down (this is the easy part!)

2. For each of these items think about what the mirror image of the undesirable behavior is. In my example I used being on time and at the desk as the opposite of being late. An employee gives bad customer service. Perhaps you can mention the times that they smiled at the customers and answered all their questions. Did an employee give you a report with 10 errors? Can you commend them for the parts of the report they got right. Whether this is sections or perhaps the numbers are wrong but the spelling is correct etc? What about any other reports, emails, letters?

Tip: To identify what they got right think about what you want more of

3. Write down several items of positive feedback for every direct report of yours.

4. Put this in a place you that will remind you (diary, post it note, one-on-one file etc.)

5. Rehearse saying these until it feels more natural and automatic

6. Plan and deliver the positive feedback for maximum effect:

a.    Smile and be pleasant

b.    Try to get close as possible to the behavior

c.    Create some privacy by being discreet (timing, location, soft voice etc.). One-on-ones are good opportunities

d.    The first one is the most difficult. Pick an easy topic and make sure you deliver

7. Repeat: The beauty of positive feedback is that the subtle nature avoids a lot of conflict. But the subtlety also means that you might need repeated, consistent pressure. Like slowly steering a big supertanker

8. Don’t reserve performance communication only for when things go wrong

There must be a multitude of simple things that your staff are doing that you want more of. What could you start saying to your staff members right now? Share what you would like your employees to improve at in the comments.  I hope that you have enjoyed this motivational story and that you are inspired to use positive feedback with your staff. 

Further Info:

This isn’t just feedback, this is Effective Feedback which uses specific words and techniques developed to be motivational and effective. Positive feedback is one of the techniques we cover in the Improving Performance with Effective Feedback module. Effective Feedback is an incredibly powerful tool to get what you want from your staff quickly, easily and without confrontation. Effective feedback is a potent method to increase employee engagement and improve employee performance. To start using Effective Feedback to motivate employees and retain staff see the solution here


Do you have any comments, questions or tips for giving effective employee performance communicartion? Hep the rest of us out by sharing in the comments below. 

Boss Camp

Did you know that the typical boss hasn’t had any training in practical people management? Did you know that the typical boss learnt a technical skill that is totally unrelated to managing employees. Did you know that the typical boss was promoted into management not because they were any good at managing but because they were good at doing something totally different. So is it any wonder that the typical boss has employees that don’t respect them and aren’t performing? The good news is that it doesn’t take much to be better boss than the typical boss. As they say in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. Do WWW.BOSS.CAMP so that you don’t become one of those typical bosses. The program includes topics such as:

  • How to motivate employees,
  • What are bad employee motivators,
  • What you must do as a manager but isn't on your job description,
  • How leaders get power.