Streetwise: The Real Reasons People Leave: Performance Feedback

February 27, 2021

From our friends at Eure Consulting:

This is the third blog in a series of five. (Read the first and second one.)

In January of 2020 (my last in-person conference) I heard a keynote by Jamie Taets of Keystone Group International about going “beyond the paycheck”. The talk focused on helping us, as leaders in our organizations, understand that paying people well is not enough. We need to do more to retain our top talent.

What resonated with me the most were her five reasons why people leave their jobs. Her reasons were all spot on and I have seen each and every one of them in action. Those reasons have never been more important to pay attention to than now. As companies are starting to hire again they may potentially hire away some of your best talent. Using her talk as inspiration, I’ve decided to revive this blog series on those five reasons (her information came from the American Progress Organization) and how you, as a business owner, can address them.

This week we’ll address the need for helpful performance feedback.

Everyone wants to know how to improve. And on the job, the only way they can do that is if you, their manager, are giving them solid feedback on their performance. You should be addressing both the good and the bad. They need to know what they’re doing well and where they can improve.

A good rule of thumb is to provide 4 times as much positive feedback as you do negative.

That may seem like overkill to a lot of you, but you have to remember that we as humans naturally dwell on the negative. We remember negative events more distinctly than positive ones. We can recall mistakes we’ve made years after the fact. That’s just the way our brains are wired. We’re built to remember any threat, real or perceived, to our safety and security. Including negative feedback from our managers.

This means that you as a manager need to help your employees understand that by providing feedback, both positive and negative, you’re just helping them be great at their job. That giving feedback is part of your job and you’re going to do it on a regular basis. And when you consistently reinforce the positive value that they bring to the team, when you do point out a task that they didn’t perform as well, they’ll know that you’re just trying to help them continue to grow. Plus, if you tell them what they’re doing right on a regular basis it won’t feel so out of place when you tell them how they can improve.

And while delivering positive feedback is everyone’s favorite part of the job, you can’t shy away from delivering the negative feedback when needed. Delivering positive feedback gives you a chance to emphasize an employee’s strengths and celebrate their accomplishments, but you also need to help them see where they can do even better. This will keep them challenged and engaged and help them become the best employee they can be.

Kim Scott lays out one great approach for giving feedback in her book Radical Candor.

Having been a manager herself at Google and Apple, Kim lays out a framework that has worked for her over the years: Care Personally and Challenge Directly.

  • Caring personally is all about making sure your employees know you have their best interests at heart. They need to understand that you are not pointing out things that need improvement because you’re a jerk, but because you want to help them learn, grow, and flourish.
  • Challenging directly is making sure you are actually delivering feedback clearly and candidly. If you sugarcoat your message, there’s a good chance the employee won’t really understand what you’re trying to say.

Caring personally and challenging directly sets your employee up to actually receive and act on the feedback that you’re delivering. Your feedback will be more effective if the employee knows it comes from a place of respect and care and if you can actually deliver the message you mean to get across. If executed properly, this approach means that you’ll only need to deliver feedback once instead of hinting around the issue for months on end.

In addition to being caring and challenging, feedback should also be consistent.

Not only in the sense of giving the same type of feedback across the company but also in the frequency with which you give it. Meeting once a year for reviews just won’t cut it.

I recommend meeting with each employee monthly, at a minimum, to deliver feedback. This cadence accomplishes three things:

First, it lets them know that you will be regularly and continually holding them accountable. They will know that you’ll be asking for updates about a specific task or following up on a project every month. You’ll have the chance to give them areas to work on and the ability to check in on progress regularly. You won’t catch them off guard by asking them about something on a random Tuesday. They know that you’ll expect to hear all about it at their next monthly meeting.

Second, it gives them ready-made opportunities to give you feedback — to bring any issues or obstacles to your attention, an opportunity whose value cannot be overstated. Having a direct line to you on a regular and consistent basis lets them know that their opinion matters. They will be able to bring you ideas about their role or their projects that can help both them and the company improve.

Third, it helps you build and strengthen relationships with each employee, further demonstrating that you care personally. Setting aside time to meet with each employee individually shows that you care about them as a human being and not just as a cog in the company machine. Giving them your one-on-one, undivided attention is the easiest way to show that you value an employee.

Performance feedback can no longer be reserved for the “Annual Review.”

Only delivering feedback once a year is obsolete. It holds both you and your employees back. They can’t do their best work if you’re too scared or too busy to tell them how they can improve. And despite what you may think, employees are ready to learn and grow. For that to happen they need more frequent and consistent feedback from their managers. By instilling a culture of feedback at your company, you’ll see greater productivity and higher profits — thanks to more highly engaged employees.