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Corrective performance feedback

A key tool that you have as a manager to shape team culture is the performance feedback conversation.   There are three key elements to these performance conversations:

  1. Communicating expectations,
  2. Providing positive feedback, and
  3. Giving corrective feedback.

If you do these three elements of performance feedback well, you can create a synergy that manifests in a productive and positive culture.

1. Communicating Expectations

This element is the foundation for all your performance feedback conversations.  Unless you communicate your expectations clearly and concisely, you cannot expect your staff to perform to your desired level.  Staff need to know what is expected of them in terms of values and behaviour.  These two aspects go hand-in-hand.  Values can engender positive feelings, but unless you translate them into behavioural terms, they can remain a nice intention.

So if “professionalism” is a core value, what does that mean for your staff in terms of behaviour within their work and task context?  Professionalism for an elite footballer may mean a commitment of effort for the full 80 minutes, for the manager it may mean to ensure that their workplace is “businesslike”, and for a nurse it could include conscious care in administration of medication.  If you have not communicated your expectations in clear behavioural terms, it is difficult to give effective performance feedback.  Communicating expectations sets the foundation for team culture as it spells out both values and behavioural norms.

2. Positive Feedback

Positive feedback is one of the most powerful means you have available to shape a team culture – it is also the most accessible and easy to use.  Its power lies in the fact that through positive feedback you can reinforce the behaviours you desire in the team.  However, positive feedback has to be timely (close to the event), sincere, personal and specific.

Sincerity is an absolute prerequisite for effective positive feedback, otherwise you will damage the relationship and undermine the desired team culture.  While giving positive feedback by email can have its advantages, e.g. creating a written record, it is not as powerful as personal, face-to-face communication.   Through specific, concrete feedback you are able to let the staff member know what particular aspects of their work or task were appreciated.  Specific positive feedback builds the staff member’s confidence and belief in their capacity to do a specific task.

3. Corrective Feedback

Corrective feedback is designed to correct inappropriate or undesirable behaviours – it is not intended to devalue or diminish the person.  So when you are giving corrective feedback the focus should be on the behaviour not the person.  It is possible to give such feedback in a professional way that actually builds the relationship rather than diminishes it.

The corrective feedback needs to be timely, specific and respectful.  While it is important to maintain control of the performance feedback conversation, it is also essential to actively listen to ascertain mitigating factors, some of which may relate to your own performance or failure to be clear about expectations and/or instructions.

Corrective feedback is a powerful means to shape culture by eliminating undesirable behaviours.  Unfortunately, you may find that you suffer the consequences of omission in this area or ineffective performance.  There are some very clear principles that determine whether corrective feedback will be effective or not.   There is a real art to using performance feedback conversations to generate the team culture you desire.

Final Note:  Need for Congruence in Your Own Behaviour

Congruence is about the alignment between your words and your actions.  If your behaviour is not congruent, you will undo any positive effects of your performance feedback conversations.  It is really important that you “walk the talk” and that your behaviour is seen to be consistent with your words.

This congruence is particularly important in the way you engage in performance feedback conversations.  If you tell your staff to be professional in their work but you are unprofessional in your performance conversations, you will undermine your desired team culture.  It is critical then that you master the three key elements of performance feedback conversations if you want to create a team culture that is positive and productive.

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