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Great feedback builds great employees

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It is well-documented that employees respond to valid feedback with improved performance.

There’s no better way to motivate and mold employees than regular and well-done feedback by management.

“The link between feedback and performance is documented by decades of research and dozens of studies,” says Richard Stup, agricultural workforce development specialist for Cornell University. “My own research into the organizational commitment of dairy employees found feedback and participation were the biggest drivers.”

Further, a lack of feedback can be de-motivating, he adds. The reason may be the human propensity to fill in the gaps where there is a lack of information.

The yearly formal performance review has been a standard for many years, but can actually be more negative than positive, if used inappropriately, Stup pronounces. It can be useful as part of a larger employee management plan and communication, but used alone it has too many faults. Stup says yearly reviews are too infrequent and so are ineffective if they are the only source of feedback. Employees may actually fear them, and they have a high potential for cognitive bias by the manager(s). If they are part of a more frequent feedback system, employees already know pretty much what is coming because of the frequent feedback, and that's a good thing, he says.

When you begin to increase feedback to your employees, they may be suspicious, so tell them what you’re doing, Stup says. Say something like, “I went to a seminar and this management expert said … So that’s what I’m going to start doing.”

Make the commitment and stick to it, he says. Start by noticing good work and offering praise for it. Use two-way conversation with employees. The more you provide feedback, the more comfortable it becomes for everyone.

Two versions

As you begin to train yourself to give better and more frequent feedback, consider first there are two basic forms of this communication: Group feedback versus individual feedback.

Individual feedback is for things within the control of the individual. It would be for things the manager can objectively observe or measure.

Group feedback is for things that affect a group, and might include data on the group's performance, information about emerging trends the group can influence, and group recognition to build teamwork and recognize successes, Stup says.

Pros and cons

Also, Stup notes there are four types of feedback you'll need to use.

1. Praise -- This is used to encourage correct behaviors. Praise is free and powerful, Stup says. Employees crave it. You should use it frequently and not worry about being repetitive.

2. Redirect -- This is used to stop wrong behaviors and refocus on correct ones. It should be positive in nature.

3. Ignore -- this is used only when a person is doing extra steps that don't hurt anything and when experience will teach them to stop on their own.

4. Punish -- Never punish a learner. Use punishment only when necessary to stop willful wrong behaviors. He adds punishment can be as simple as “I saw you doing that and you know better. Why are you doing it?”

Coach them well

Stup offers several coaching tips for helping your employees become better. First, catch people doing things right and praise them for it. Keep providing them with deeper and more substantial information about why they are doing things and how doing things right makes the business work better. Also, encourage people to become experts at their work.

When collecting information for individual feedback and coaching, Stup says you’ll need to do performance checks, meaning you will check the results of each employee's work after an assigned job is completed, watch them while they are completing their work, and keep data you can analyze. These are things you should write down to help you keep track of your coaching and feedback.

Stup says effective feedback for employees has five components, and he summarizes them with the acronym SCORE:

1. Specific, including details.

2. Credible sources of information.

3. On-time and frequent.

4. Relevant to performance.

5. Ends looking ahead.

Two examples

In a recent meeting of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, Stup offered the following two examples of good employee coaching. One is praising and the other is redirecting.

"Joe, you are getting better at prepping animals for surgery. I watched you work today and saw that you communicated well with your co-workers and that you followed our surgery prep procedures closely and methodically. The patient was well prepared when I started. How do you think it went?"

"Tina, you need to be more patient and consistent when prepping animals for surgery. I watched some of your work today and saw that you were hurrying to get it finished. The patient could have been better prepared but I went ahead with surgery anyway. Slow down, work methodically and pay attention to detail. You can do this!"

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