An expert says there's only one good time to give your employees feedback, and it's not during a performance review

boss employee feedback

  • Feedback from a boss or a
    coworker isn’t always effective, research suggests
     especially if the feedback is
    negative.
  • Some experts recommend emphasizing an employee’s value
    to the organization while delivering negative
    feedback.
  • The only truly effective time to give feedback, one
    expert says, is when a new employee starts, before they have a
    solid grasp of their job.

I recently read an article on
the Cut
about why everyone hates performance reviews, despite
the fact that we haven’t yet come up with a much better
alternative.

One bit jumped out at me. “Almost everyone believes feedback is
important and useful, but the research says, ehhh, that’s not
really quite true,” Kevin Murphy, chair of work and employment
studies at the University of Limerick and co-author of “Performance
Appraisal and Management
,” told the Cut’s Katie Heaney. “About
a third of the time, feedback makes things better, about a third of
the time feedback makes things worse, and about a third of the time
it has no effect whatsoever.”

Murphy is presumably referring to the results of a 1996 review,
published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, that found
eyebrow-raising levels of “variability” in the effects of feedback
interventions.

As a reporter for Business Insider, I’ve heard more than a few
executives and workplace experts talk about the importance of
feedback — from manager to employee, employee to manager, and one
employee to another. Apparently, it only rarely works.

Read more:
A former Facebook HR exec says many bosses are too uncomfortable to
ask people a hugely important question

Interestingly, a more recent
working paper
, from researchers at Harvard and the University
of North Carolina, found that negative feedback is basically
ineffective. As study coauthor Paul Green told the
Harvard Business Review
, “There’s an assumption that what
motivates people to improve is the realization that they’re not as
good as they think they are. But in fact, it just makes them go
find people who will not shine that light on them.”

That is to say, if your coworker says your work is too sloppy,
you just might find another coworker to tell you it’s
impeccable.

And yet the recent trend in human-resources departments across
industries appears to be increasing the amount of feedback
employees receive. IBM, for example,
ditched the annual performance review
and replaced it with a
real-time feedback app that supposedly encourages casual dialogue
between coworkers.

Make sure an employee knows their value to the organization, even
when they’re being criticized

So does feedback ever work? Murphy told the Cut that feedback is
constructive only right after an employee has been hired, before
they really understand their job duties.

And in the 1996 review, the researchers propose “designing work
or learning environments that encourage trial and error,” so that
employees can learn the hard way without their manager’s
interference. To be sure, these environments sound like they’d take
time and effort to create — but the potential improvement in
employee performance might be worth it.

As for Green, he told the Harvard Business Review that it can be
helpful to affirm people’s overall importance to the organization
— i.e. letting them know their job isn’t necessarily in jeopardy
— while delivering negative feedback. “It’s about accompanying
negative feedback with validation of who people are and of their
value to the organization,” Green said. “And it’s not even about
providing it all the time. People just need to feel valued.”

SEE ALSO: An
HR exec who’s worked at Starbucks and Coach shares the best way to
impress your boss


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An expert says there's only one good time to give your employees feedback, and it's not during a performance review