Reinforcing Behaviors With Feedback

Providing feedback on performance is a continuous process. Feedback has a greater impact on productivity when these principles are observed:

Give feedback as soon as possible. The purpose of feedback is to reinforce desirable behavior and to discourage undesirable behavior; its effect is most powerful when it follows behavior immediately. When praise for a specific task well done occurs promptly, it does more to encourage continued high level achievement than a good rating on a semi-annual performance review several months after the good work is first accomplished.

Give feedback on both positive and negative factors. Giving feedback only to correct errors causes people to become discouraged. They may believe that the only way to gain your attention is to do something wrong. Since most people crave recognition, a lack of positive feedback often encourages negative performance. Being criticized is better to some people than being ignored. Attention of any kind can be a form of reward. Be sure you are rewarding positive behavior, not just negative behavior, with attention and recognition. Watch for outstanding performance, improved performance, and continued quality performance in your team members, and at least mention that you have noticed it. Visibly reward positive performance when possible. Give extra compliments for work well done, for innovative ideas pursued, and for extra effort expended to meet a deadline. People who regularly receive praise and recognition for work well done are less likely to react defensively when you find it necessary to correct errors.

Regard feedback as coaching for growth. Keep in mind that if a team member’s behavior is inappropriate, avoiding confrontation usually prolongs and intensifies the negative situation. As long as the behavior continues, you, your organization, and your clients suffer from the person’s less-than-effective performance. And by persisting in current habits, the person misses a valuable opportunity to reach higher levels of development and achievement. Ideally, you should give much more positive than negative feedback to your team members. Keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Address the situation as privately as possible.
  • Give the person the benefit of the doubt. • Avoid sarcasm and joking about serious issues.
  • Avoid words like always and never.
  • Confront only specific factors the person can change.
  • Give the person ideas for fixing the problem.
  • Affirm the individual as a valuable team member.

Make feedback specific to behavior. Effective feedback focuses on a specific situation, action, or decision and the consequences. Praise and correction alike are most effective when they are specific. Non-specific over-generalizations, on the other hand, are confusing and counterproductive. In addressing negative situations, dealing with specifics helps separate the unacceptable behavior from the person. Listen carefully. You may learn that the cause is beyond the person’s control. But if you decide that the person’s behavior is the cause, first explain why it is unacceptable. State what you expect in the way of changed behavior, and the benefits for making this change. Emphasizing the benefits increases your ability to gain the person’s commitment to change.

Performance Evaluations

Many organizations have established procedures for performance evaluation to provide feedback. You may be directly responsible for making these evaluations.

When performance evaluations or merit reviews for all associates are made at the same time, managers who must complete these reviews often become emotionally torn. In any group of people, some individuals always out-perform others. The manager is then faced with the dilemma of how to be completely objective in deciding whose performance is fair, whose is satisfactory, and whose is outstanding. The result is often the “halo effect” in which the manager gives every team member the same rating.

Another challenge in providing fair ratings is the fact that some team members, because of factors unrelated to ability or attitude, have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and productivity – or lack thereof – more visibly than others. As a result, these team members, due to factors beyond their control, receive ratings that are either too high or too low. To avoid this dilemma, some managers tend to rate almost all individuals as average and seldom give an outstanding or unsatisfactory rating.

If performance reviews are given on a person’s anniversary with the organization or at some other random date rather than all at once, it is easier to be objective and fair. This procedure allows concentration on the productivity of individuals – not on their relative standing in the group. Unequal factors are more easily eliminated. When performance evaluations are done according to some type of staggered system, there is less likelihood team members will compare their ratings and raises. This reduces the incidence of resentment and general dissatisfaction.

Leadership Management® Institute
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management® International, Inc.

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