How to Provide Employees with Performance Feedback | SOS Podcast

How to Provide Employees with Performance Feedback | SOS Podcast

Providing employees with feedback is essential for continuous growth and development to occur.  Properly positioned, feedback follows clearly defined expectations and is a precursor to performance coaching.  In this episode, AEU LEAD Director Joe White discusses the importance of feedback and outlines a process anyone can follow to implement it as a valuable performance improvement tool.





The SOS podcast is a production of AEU Lead, an organization redefining how mid and frontline managers are developed.

Joe White:
Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Joe White, and this is the Supervisor Skills Secrets of Success Podcast. In today's episode, we're discussing performance feedback, a topic gaining recent attention, a plan to define what the term means, will offer some details surrounding its importance, and we'll share some thoughts and ideas regarding how you actually provide it. Per our namesake, today's discussion will be positioned from the perspective of frontline supervision. While the process most definitely involves employees, performance feedback is a tool used by management to improve operational outcomes. It's my sincere hope you'll find something of value through the course of our discussion today. That said, let's get started.

In a recent workshop, I heard a supervisor with nearly three decades of experience say something of profound significance. He expressed frustration for what he believes is a growing reluctance to hold employees accountable for meeting performance expectations. As he went on to share, taking developmental action for behavioral or performance issues once viewed as unacceptable is no longer supported by senior management in many instances. Coming in late, not wearing personal protective equipment, and use of cell phones on the job are but a few examples he gave. As he put it, we now get through the day and try our best to do a little better tomorrow.

This shift in practice isn't isolated or limited to a few. It's a default response to the transitioning workforce widely adopted across many industries. Primarily driven by complex and challenging labor market, it broadly represents a shift in power. Simply stated, skilled labor is in high demand, but limited supply. Adding the movement involving baby boomers and Gen Z and the forces behind the current situation get even more complicated. Most baby boomers will be gone by the end of the current decade. This base represents an enormous amount of capability that will be lost. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of the incoming generation have demonstrated interest in pursuing careers in skilled trades, especially those deemed physically demanding.

For anyone able to relate to the described scenario, struggling to apply past management practices, an environment that seems decreasingly responsive to them, there is hope. It requires adopting an entirely new set of leadership-oriented skills dependent upon influence, not control conveyed through authority. As it specifically relates to performance feedback, the process used is important, and for those open ideas or suggestions regarding how, here are several recommendations for consideration:

1. Set expectations.

Employees need to know what's expected of them and must have a knowledge and experience required to fulfill those expectations. The process of providing needed direction, however, should involve more than clarity around the "what." In many instances, it requires context, which gives purpose. This helps employees understand the "why." Finally, more than at any point in the past, setting expectations may require discussion or even demonstration regarding "how." Setting expectations is about setting up employees for success.

2. Observe behaviors.

Responsibilities assigned to supervisors have changed. They've also increased sharply over the past several decades. Among those most important to supervisors, involves the success of employees. This requires observation. Make time to observe employees whenever and wherever they may be working. If responsible for remote or distributed teams, start with those that currently require the most follow-up and support. Feedback is based upon observation opposite set expectations. It's the one opportunity we have to make course corrections before performance breakdowns occur.

3. Provide feedback.

Feedback is objective information involving observed behaviors. It's used to help employees understand where improvement opportunities exist and is void of emotions. Providing feedback, it's important to frame discussions around opportunities to improve going forward. Dwelling on the past can be internalized as passing blame. Conversations are far more likely to escalate, and defensive mechanisms quickly surface. Keep it positive, objectively based, and forward-focused.

4. Offer coaching.

Whereas feedback helps employees understand what needs to change, coaching is used to guide the improvement process. In practice, it involves dialogue and discussion to determine how improvements will be made. As a supervisor, it's important to distinguish the difference with employees between requirements and recommendations. Steps for improvement that must be made are requirements. Those that could be made are recommendations for consideration. An employee should never have confusion about where they stand in the performance improvement process. Performance coaching is an intentional effort that hinges on crystal-clear communication.

5. Take developmental action.

Developmental action involves clearly defined steps for holding employees accountable. It's a formal process most often spelled out in great detail in company policy or procedure. Requiring documentation, the process is dependent upon adherence to policy and consistency in application. For the purposes of today's episode, I would like to offer an additional perspective for consideration. Developmental action is a tool that occasionally must be used. That said, it should only come into play when performance feedback and coaching have failed. When you've reached this point, it's in the best interest of all involved to advance forward through more formal steps to help resolve the situation.

Employee feedback is the active ingredient of performance improvement. It's based on objective observations following conveyed expectations and is used to help employees better understand where opportunities for improvement exist. Positioned correctly, feedback leads to performance coaching whereby steps required for growth and improvement are discussed and agreed upon. When all else fails, accountability measures may be required. In taking developmental action, it's important to follow company policy and to consistently adhere to it over time. Most importantly, engage with human resources personnel or other company assets to help you navigate the formality of this last resort.

Thank you for joining us. It's my sincere hope you found benefit in our discussion today. We'll be back in March and look forward to you joining us then. If you know of someone that could benefit from our topics of discussion, please forward a link with an endorsement for their consideration. Should you have any questions or need additional information regarding today's topic, just let us know. Our contact information is provided in the show notes accompanying this episode. For those that may not have reviewed or rated your experience with our show, we would greatly appreciate you doing so. That's it for now. Stay safe, and thanks for listening.

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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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