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3 Smart Managerial Feedback Tactics that Build Up Employee Engagement

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Effective managerial feedback grows employee engagement because it’s 100% honest, human, and nurturing. In this post, we discuss three tactics that will turn you into a black-belt feedback ninja manager who inspires and motivates employees and helps them grow, connect, and engage.

Tom is sitting at his office desk, fuming.

He’s just stepped out of the end-of-the-year performance review with his boss, during which she accused him of being unfocused, unable to prioritize, and difficult to work with.

Tom knows she’s right — he loves certain aspects of his job and excels at them. But he often fumbles other things, such as monthly reports or providing support to his team members.

However, focusing on his negatives during a performance review session won’t motivate Tom to improve. If anything, this type of feedback will have a detrimental impact on his engagement levels. Right now, Tom is slowly flipping through the latest job postings, completely convinced that it’s time for a career change.

“Every type of managerial feedback — be it corrective or congratulatory — needs to be crafted in a way that motivates employees to strive for better or to apply their strengths to all aspects of their work. If you want feedback to boost employees engagement in your organization, make sure that employees walk out of sessions feeling inspired, not deflated. Otherwise, you’re not doing your job as a manager.”

Koen Stevens, Ambassify CEO

Encourage employees to ask for conversations

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Whenever employees hear the word ‘feedback,’ they activate their fight-or-flight response — they associate that with unsolicited criticism and believe that it will most likely not benefit them in a significant way.

Instead of talking about feedback, try phrasing things more invitingly: “Let me know if you’d like to talk about your presentation — I have some materials that might be helpful.”

First of all, this avoids the word feedback and all negative preconceptions employees associate with it. At the same time, it invites people to ask for advice instead of feeling as if it’s being forced on them.

You want these to be actual conversations nine times out of ten. Scheduled feedback sessions are often too formal — two people who’ve been working together for years get in an office, close the doors and suddenly start acting like strangers, using HR lingo they’re not accustomed to. 

This turns feedback into an awkward exercise that no one wants to be a part of when it should be an opportunity to boost engagement and plan future development. 

Plan for genuine appreciation feedback sessions

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Over the years, we have created a global work environment in which employees dread performance reviews and feedback sessions because they know that something negative will come up. 

We refer to this model as the deficiency model — always focusing on problems to solve or obstacles to overcome (even when we can’t find any significant ones).

This style of managerial feedback kills employee engagement.

Why? Because it sets you up for failure.

Instead, try to figure out how often you can plan a feedback session during which you will not mention a single mistake or a problem.

The key to a successful appreciation feedback session is to come in aware of what the conversation will be about, prepared to avoid discussing the negatives and the problems, and ready to coax the employee to think about how to develop further and apply their strengths.

  • Identify the when and the who of the session — if you already have bi-weekly or monthly catch-up sessions with your team members, it’s easy to roll this into one of those. Simply take 20 minutes at the start to talk to them about what they did well (and how they did it) and the dynamics of your catch-up meeting with change, becoming more productive and easy-going.

  • Set up expectations and prep yourself — although it’s a positive thing, you want to be upfront and give them time to think of their strengths and the examples they want to mention. You also need to prepare by coming up with specific positive things you want to address.

  • Plan the agenda for the conversation — prepare the questions you want to ask. For example, ask them which challenges they were able to overcome, which they think are their strengths, how they wish to develop their skills further, etc. After the chat, thank them emphatically for their contributions and the skills they’re bringing to your team.

  • Consider a quick follow-up — check in with the employee a week or so after this session, and remember to comment on the progress of any specific actions you’ve both committed to during the meeting.

Above all else, be fair

It’s not fair...

In your time as a manager, you’ve had at least one time when an employee thought you weren’t being fair to them during a feedback session. Worst of all, they were probably right.

It happens to the best managers, and it happens often.

Why is that?

It’s because feedback sessions and reviews eschew fairness for the sake of correcting unwanted behaviors and ironing out performance kinks. Managers tend to dredge up the past to find incidents and problems to focus on. They tend to de-emphasize the employee’s more recent achievements, successes, and strengths in the process.

However, the link between (perceived) fair managerial feedback and employee engagement is so natural that it’s almost tangible. If an employee feels that they are treated differently or unfairly by their manager, they will also feel that they can do nothing to change that. They will be unmotivated, unproductive, and actively disengaged until that perception changes or they are fired or quit.

 

In many cases, managers are not even aware that they are perceived as giving unfair feedback. After all, what’s unfair to one person might be fair to another, right? 

Well, it turns out that feedback fairness is not so enigmatic after all.

According to a study published by Jennifer L. Sparr and Sabine Sonnentag1. here’s what you need to do for your feedback to be seen and experienced as fair and unbiased:

 

  • Rely on accurate information — refer only to verifiable information and facts that are documented or behaviors that you’ve witnessed first-hand.
  • Give your reasoning behind an assessment — tell employees why you’re telling them to change certain processes, behaviors, or ways they do things. If your reasons are ‘because I don’t do it that way’ or ‘because it’s not how we do it here’, you might want to reconsider raising the point.
  • Deliver your feedback succinctly, respectfully, and politely — treat people with respect, don’t waste their time — they’ll appreciate you more for it, and will make more of an effort to live up to your standards in the future.
  • Take into account the whole of an employee’s performance — during a yearly performance session, don’t focus only on employee slip-ups. Otherwise, they’ll walk out with the impression that you’re only waiting to call out their mistakes and that’s demoralizing.

Feedback is supposed to leave employees feeling positive

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can’t criticize an employee or their performance during a feedback session.

If they’re not pulling their weight, you can and you should.

It’s how you do it that’s important.

The tactics we’ve discussed here give you plenty of opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations with employees. And because you’re not approaching feedback as a once-a-year thing, addressing occasional slip-ups will not come off as you picking on employees or targeting them when they make a mistake.

The feedback that increases employee engagement and builds employees up is a process, not an event. Treat it as such and you will become a manager people are willing to work hard for.

 

if you wanna know more...

1 Fairness perceptions of supervisor feedback