In the context of shrinking resources, creating a performance culture is more important than ever and giving feedback on performance has a critical role to play to achieve this culture.
Team dissatisfaction with having to carry poor performers can become toxic and result in resignations by good staff. This is very costly. It is much more effective and efficient to retain staff and build a positive performance culture that values service, timeliness and innovation, as well as strong quality results and outcomes. Managers do this by highlighting the value of good performance (and rewarding it), and addressing any shortcomings as promptly as possible.
Thus, conversations and dialogue about work performance and workplace behaviour should be expected and embedded as ‘business as usual’. This can be achieved by providing two forms of performance feedback – positive feedback and corrective feedback – on a regular basis.
1. Giving positive feedback on performance
First and foremost, positive feedback is required to highlight and reinforce desired behaviours. It works best if you are (a) clear about what exactly was done well – be specific and focus on behaviour; and (b) spell out the impact of the action undertaken. For example:
“I appreciate how quickly you turned that photocopying around. It enabled me to lodge the technical documentation today – the client was extremely pleased and impressed. “
Rewards can be tailored to the specifics of the situation and people concerned. It is often valuable to offer praise in public: Tell the story at your team meeting and emphasise the positive work behaviours that are illustrated. This assists in building a positive workplace culture.
2. Giving corrective feedback on performance
Corrective feedback must be provided where performance is below expectations or standards. Effective corrective feedback (similar to positive feedback) needs to be (a) clear about what exactly was done poorly – be specific and focus on behaviour; and (b) spell out the impact of the action undertaken. The conversation needs to go further, however, to address how the poor behaviour will be remedied. For example:
“I am concerned that you have been late back from lunch on two occasions over the past week. On Tuesday and Thursday you did not get back to work at your desk until after 2.15pm. As a result, customer X was unable to get information required to progress their application. This impacts negatively on our reputation for timely customer service. Team Member Y had to cover for you, which caused delays in finalising Tender Z. What is going on? How can we avoid this problem in the future?”
In a nutshell, this approach can be encapsulated in simple terms as the ‘what, why and how’ model (thanks to Adi Colling for this expression).
Managers, supervisors and team leaders can tend to avoid performance conversations about corrective feedback. It can feel uncomfortable. People feel out of their depth and are often afraid of how the employee will respond. Indeed, doing these conversations well is very important and it can be challenging to do them well.
Putting off corrective feedback typically makes things worse. Not dealing with poor performance rewards staff for doing the wrong thing. There is no incentive for the employee to improve. Other team members get the message that poor performance is acceptable. This can become a downward spiral as good team members become increasingly dissatisfied about carrying a poor performer or coping with bad behaviour.
Something has to give – do not lose your best staff or suffer morale issues within the team, because of a failure to deal with poor performance! Show that good performance and conduct are valued by the organisation. Turn a negative situation into a positive opportunity by giving corrective feedback on performance and reinforcing a strong performance culture for your team.