Unmet expectations and frustration are symptoms of unclear communication. Learn how to use feedback to improve team performance and engagement.
“Feedback is a gift,” a former colleague told me. Early in my career, I learned she was right. When the feedback was positive, I knew I was on the right track. When it highlighted something to improve, I then had clarity on what to focus on. I firmly believe that a leader can boost team performance and engagement with regular feedback.
A Truth About Feedback
As I assumed leadership responsibilities, I learned another truth about feedback: when used correctly, feedback is a powerful tool for improving workplace relationships, and through increased employee engagement, improved performance.
One of the biggest challenges facing leaders who manage people is improving team performance and engagement. As a team leader, you may have annual performance reviews. But this shouldn’t be the only time your team members receive feedback.
Providing ongoing feedback helps set the tone for how you work together. Ongoing feedback and dialogue also give you real-time information about challenges and opportunities. And a chance to learn what your team members need to succeed.
Related: 5 Mistakes Visionary Leaders Make With Their Teams (and How To Fix Them)
Four Ways to Use Frequent (Productive) Feedback in Your Organization
Practicing frequent, honest feedback is a smart team policy. It helps keep everyone accountable, fosters a culture of continual improvement, and increases your team’s confidence.
Try these four practices to improve team engagement and performance:
Make Clear, Ongoing Feedback a Habit.
Feedback won’t always be positive. In fact, sometimes it may feel uncomfortable. But as a leader, it’s your job to make expectations clear. And you’re responsible for letting your team know if they’re not meeting them. Do so in a constructive way, fostering a conversation aimed to reach a solution rather than diminish others’ accomplishments or place blame.
On the flip side, your team members need to be able to turn to you and ask for advice more than once a quarter. By opening the door to your team, you encourage them to reach out and let them know you’re there to support them.
Open communication helps you ensure everyone is on the same page and feels supported in working towards the same goal.
Be Specific When Giving and Asking for Feedback.
Managers can struggle to give productive feedback because they try to cover too many things at once. Addressing too much with no clear path to improve can leave team members feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
In contrast, a focused feedback session is empowering. Use these questions to guide your conversation with a team member:
- What went well in the project/situation?
- What didn’t go well?
- Why didn’t it go well?
- What specific steps could be taken to address this?
- What resources or support are needed to take these steps?
With these answers, team members can create an action plan for anything they need to address.
Similarly, as a leader, you should take the opportunity to ask team members what you can do to better support them. Be prepared to listen, ask for specific examples, and learn.
Use Feedback as a Learning Opportunity.
In a study by Harvard Business Review, researchers found that 57% of people would rather receive corrective feedback over 43% who prefer praise or recognition. What’s more, a shocking 97% agreed that, delivered correctly, corrective feedback positively impacts engagement and performance.
Use feedback as an opportunity to coach team members by providing specific examples. Real-life situations help people see how issues play out at work and what practical steps can be taken to improve things.
Take time to understand where a team member may be struggling. Use the following questions to invite discussion about any challenges they may be facing:
- Are there any roadblocks in your way?
- Do you have all the information you need to meet your goals?
- Do you have the tools to succeed?
Your team members will feel valued, understood, and encouraged to improve. And you’ll get valuable insight that will help you understand your company’s current state and address underlying problems.
Course Correct Often.
Many businesses have a practice of conducting annual or quarterly performance reviews. While it’s helpful to have a set calendar to compare growth and team performance, a few touchpoints per year is not enough. Allowing months to pass between reviews before discussing performance is too long.
Checking in with your team often gives you the chance to address any problems as they arise. Regular touch points also help your team feel supported and engaged. It’s a sign that they – and their performance – matter.
Applying Timely Feedback Empowers Your Team to Take Action.
Gallup research shows that up to 70% of your team’s engagement depends on leadership skills. Your approach to developing people and addressing challenges can motivate your team and connect them to the company mission. Communication and feedback are an essential part of this.
Quick, regular touch points are more effective for engaging team members than quarterly or yearly performance reviews. Especially among younger workers. Frequent touchpoints give them the confidence to move ahead, pivot as needed, and ask for resources they may need to succeed.
Use these frequent touchpoints to provide feedback on how team members are tracking toward their goals. Make sure you’ve set and discussed goals first. According to Gallup, up to 69% of employees whose managers help them set goals feel engaged with their company – a stark difference from the 8% who feel engaged when setting goals alone.
In practice, feedback doesn’t have to be a formal weekly review. Tools like Karma bot for Slack have gamified feedback and made it easy to track accomplishments and reward achievement.
Getting in the habit of providing ongoing feedback and communicating openly helps boost your team’s morale and strengthen their commitment to the organization.