The Worst Feedback You Can Give an Employee

Sharlyn Lauby, President, ITM Group
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(Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Sharlyn Lauby of HR Bartender and ITM Group.)

“Just keep doing what you’re doing.” is the worst feedback ever, according to Sara Whitman at Peppercomm, a strategic communications and marketing agency. Employees not only want feedback about the work they’re doing today but feedback about how to move to the next level.

Telling employees to keep with the status quo falls short in terms of sharing how employees can become more proficient with the task, how it leads to learning other things, and what opportunities can exist in the future. Here are some examples:

  • A hotel room attendant who is great at the task of cleaning rooms can learn how to become faster at their work without sacrificing quality.
  • An accounting clerk who does an awesome job with payables can be encouraged to learn payroll or receivables.
  • A HR coordinator who is currently focused on benefits administration can work toward being promoted to benefits manager.

The question becomes how can we deliver feedback that is valuable for both the short- and long-term. And not put the entire burden for feedback on the manager. It’s true, managers must deliver good feedback. However, expanding the circle of who can deliver feedback can be tremendously valuable. Whitman suggested taking some creative inspiration from two very popular communications mediums.

Encourage employees to journal. Keeping a journal isn’t as easy as it looks. Journaling is a practice that dates back centuries. Many famous people have kept journals. The advantage to journaling is that employees can make their journal what they want it to be. The focus can be on goals, passions, or lists.

By encouraging employees to journal, they can continuously process their feelings about work. In turn, this can transform feedback conversations into a rich two-way conversation.

Build a community. Reddit is a social community where users can post text or links of interest. Organizations can create internal Reddit-like communities, giving employees a chance to share their interests and encourage discussion.

Allowing employees to have community dialogue can not only help them to learn, it can pique their interest about things they might want to learn (and never knew existed.) They can also receive encouragement from their co-workers when they’re studying for a new certification, or something similar.

If your organization already has these activities in place, maybe the feedback that employees need to hear is about the benefits of using these methods to enhance their career. It could be beneficial to combine the two methods and have an internal community discussion on the positive effects of journaling.

Ultimately, organizations want to create feedback mechanisms that help employees grow. Comments like, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” holds employees back. Whitman says the best feedback is when employees ask for more; that let’s managers know the employee is ready to learn and grow.

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