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Annual performance reviews are one way to share feedback with employees about how they’re doing in their jobs, but managers who want to maintain a competitive business and foster a culture of continuous improvement should actually be providing observations to staff throughout the year.

Make feedback a habit. Establish a regular schedule for feedback meetings—once a quarter should be a minimum frequency. Timely and effective comments help employees identify and capitalize on their strengths, address areas for improvement, and ultimately, maximize their contribution to your business.

Feedback doesn’t need to be complicated. My wife taught kindergarten for many years and was required by the curriculum to ensure that young students understood the meaning of the word. She prepared a poster in her classroom that read, “Feedback is when the teacher talks to me about my work.” That’s how you and your staff should think of it too.

It is important to remember that adults learn best when they understand the need and when they take an active part in the learning process. With that as a starting point, here are the six key elements of effective feedback that will provide the foundation for future coaching.

Be timely

You may have an established schedule for meetings however you must provide feedback and coaching as soon as possible after an important observation. Delayed feedback loses its relevance and impact.

Spend time on preparation

Collect fact-based, meaningful and significant observations. These should be items that are important to your business and meaningful for the employee. For every one of your employees keep a note book or file. Gather input from others if it’s appropriate while respecting the privacy of concerned individuals. It can also be very positive to ask the employee for suggestions about who might provide meaningful observations.

Schedule enough time

A useful feedback session should not be rushed. You’ll want to allow time for lots of questions; you might have an employee who doesn’t know what they don’t know.

Always give the rationale for your views

Be specific with facts and examples that demonstrate how your employee’s performance is impacting the business, their team and their future. Explain the connections between what you have observed and the impacts that you’ve outlined. Put yourself in the employee’s shoes and answer their unstated question: “What’s in this for me?”

Balance your feedback

You want the employee to understand where their performance needs to improve, however feedback that is consistently and solely negative can lead to withdrawal and demotivation. Accurate positive feedback will provide a foundation for trust.

Encourage dialogue

Invite responses. Ask open-ended questions that begin with what, when, where or how. Listen actively and carefully. Ensure that you have understood the employee by paraphrasing or summarizing what you’ve heard. This will help engage them as an active participant in the coaching process. Be open to the potential need for more than one feedback discussion. Your aim is for understanding and commitment.

Martin Birt is the president of HRaskme.comAfter serving seven years in the Canadian Army as a combat arms officer, he has enjoyed a thirty-five year career as a human resources manager, consultant and sought-after adviser to business executives. He can be contacted here.

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