what can managers do to improve the effec- tiveness of performance feedback? To answer this question, we provide nine research-based recom- mendations on how to deliver feedback focused on a strengths-based approach.
4. Research-based recommendations for implementing a strengths-based approach to performance feedback
Table 1 represents a summary of our nine recom- mendations. Based on earlier discussion, our first
recommendation is to focus on a strengths-based approach. The strengths-based approach involves identifying strengths, providing positive feedback on how employees are using their strengths to ex- hibit desirable behaviors and achieve beneficial results, and asking them to maintain or improve their behaviors or results by making continued or more intensive use of their strengths.
The second recommendation is to not completely abandon a discussion of weaknesses, but concentrate on employees’ knowledge (i.e., facts and lessons learned) and skills (i.e., steps of an activity) rather than talents (i.e., naturally or mainly innately recur- ring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior). The feedback should be focused thus because knowledge and skills can be learned and improved, while talents are typically inherent to the individual. Given this recommendation, what are managers to do when an employee’s inappropriate behaviors or inadequate results stem from weaknesses in certain talents rath- er than weaknesses in knowledge and skills? Our next recommendation addresses this issue.
The third recommendation is that managers adopt a strengths-based approach to managing their employees’ talent weaknesses. In doing so, manag- ers can follow Buckingham and Clifton’s (2001) five suggestions. The first suggestion is to help employ- ees improve a bit on the desired talents. But, keep in mind that employees are unlikely to substantially improve the talents that they lack. The second suggestion is that both managers and employees should design a support system that will serve as a crutch for talent weaknesses. For example, em- ployees who engage in public speaking can remain calm by imagining that the audience members are naked. According to Buckingham and Clifton’s third suggestion, managers should encourage their em- ployees to see how their strongest talents can compensate for their talent weaknesses. For exam- ple, if an employee possesses the talent of respon- sibility yet struggles in networking because he possesses few social talents, then help the employ- ee see that networking is an important responsibili- ty. To follow the fourth suggestion, make it easier for employees to work with partners who possess the talents that the employees lack. The fifth and final suggestion is to prevent employees from engaging in tasks that strongly require talents they lack. Ways to implement this last suggestion include re-designing jobs for employees who are deficient in certain talents or giving other employ- ees the responsibilities that require talents certain employees lack.
The fourth recommendation in Table 1 is that the person providing feedback needs to be familiar with the individual reviewee’s knowledge, skills, and
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Table 1. Nine recommendations for delivering effective performance feedback focusing on a strengths-based approach
Recommendation Short description
1. Adopt the strengths-based approach as the primary means of providing feedback
� Identify employees’ strengths. � Provide positive feedback on how employees are using their strengths
to exhibit desirable behaviors and achieve beneficial results. � Ask employees to maintain or improve their behaviors or results by making continued or more intensive use of their strengths.
2. Closely link any negative feedback to employees’ knowledge and skills rather than talents
� Focus weaknesses-based feedback on knowledge and skills (which are more changeable) rather than talents (which are more difficult to acquire).
3. Adopt a strengths-based approach to managing employees’ talent weaknesses
� Help employees improve a bit on the desired talents with an understanding that employees are unlikely to substantially improve the talents that they lack. � Create a support system that will serve as a crutch for a talent weakness. � Encourage employees to see how their strongest talents can compensate
for their talent weaknesses. � Make it easier for employees to work with partners who possess the
talents that they lack. � Re-design jobs for employees who are deficient in certain talents, and
give other employees the responsibilities that require talents that certain employees lack.
4. Make sure the person providing feedback is familiar with the employee and the employee’s job requirements
� Make sure you are familiar with the employee’s knowledge, skills, and talents. � Make sure you are familiar with the employee’s job requirements
and work context.
5. Choose an appropriate setting when giving feedback
� Deliver feedback in a private setting.
6. Deliver the feedback in a considerate manner
� Provide at least three pieces of positive feedback for every piece of negative feedback. � Start the feedback session by asking the employee what is working. � Allow employees to participate in the feedback process.
7. Provide feedback that is specific and accurate
� Avoid making general statements such as ‘‘Good job!’’ � Evaluate and give feedback closely based on concrete evidence.
8. Tie feedback to important consequences at various levels throughout the organization
� Explain that the behaviors exhibited and results achieved by the employee have an important impact not only on the employee in terms of rewards or disciplinary measures, but also on the team, unit, or even organization.
9. Follow up � Provide specific directions by including a development plan and checking up on any progress that is made after a certain period of time.
talents, as well as his or her job requirements (Fulk, Brief, & Barr, 1985; Kinicki, Prussia, Wu, & Mckee-Ryan, 2004; Landy, Barnes, & Murphy, 1978; Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004). This is important because the credibility of the feedback provider can be quickly lost if feedback is given improperly. An example of feedback coming from a source with insufficient familiarity is when a district manager, who is not involved in the day-to-day operations of a work group and does not know the job requirements and work context very well, visits a local office and
provides feedback that is based on hearsay or indi- rect third-party information.
Our fifth specific recommendation is to choose an appropriate setting when giving feedback, as the setting/location in which feedback is delivered truly matters. Specifically, feedback should be relayed in a private rather than public setting. Receiving feed- back in front of coworkers can be very demeaning and detrimental to the employee. Also, although most people do not have a problem receiving strengths-based feedback in public, managers
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should take into account that certain individuals may be uncomfortable in the spotlight of public praise or recognition. Regardless of the approach, public feedback will not result in positive conse- quences if given in the wrong setting.
Our sixth recommendation is to deliver feedback in a considerate manner (Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004). One way of doing so is to maintain an opti- mal ratio between strengths- and weaknesses-based feedback. That is, a manager should provide at least three pieces of positive feedback for every piece of negative feedback (Bouskila-Yam & Kluger, 2011). Another way of providing feedback in a considerate manner is to start the feedback by asking the em- ployee what is working (Foster & Lloyd, 2007). Doing so allows the employee to feel more hopeful regard- ing their future and remain less defensive when negative feedback is given (Foster & Lloyd, 2007). Finally, we also encourage managers to allow em- ployees to participate in the feedback process. Employees’ satisfaction with their given feedback increases and their defensiveness decreases when they have an active role in the feedback process (Cawley, Keeping, & Levy, 1998).
Our seventh recommendation is that feedback should be specific and accurate. It should center on certain work behaviors and results, as well as the situations in which these were observed (Goodman, Wood, & Hendrickx, 2004). Avoid making general statements such as ‘‘Good job,’’ ‘‘You’re struggling today,’’ or ‘‘Pick up the pace.’’ Lack of specificity will result in failure to get the message through (Aguinis, 2009). In addition to being specific, feedback must be accurate (Elicker, Levy, & Hall, 2006; Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004). One way to maximize accuracy is to rely on concrete evidence (Jawahar, 2010).
Under our eighth recommendation, we encour- age managers to give feedback that ties employee behaviors and results to other important conse- quences at various levels throughout the organization (Aguinis, 2009). Specifically, the person providing feedback should explain that the behaviors exhib- ited and results achieved by the employee have an important impact on not only the employee in terms of rewards or disciplinary measures, but also that person’s team, unit, and even organization (Aguinis, 2009). If employees’ behaviors and results are not explained as being closely linked to other important outcomes, employees might develop the impression that their positive behaviors and results produced by their strengths are not sufficiently beneficial or im- portant; they may similarly think that their negative behaviors and results are not particularly detrimental or significant.
Finally, our ninth recommendation is to follow up on feedback (Aguinis, 2009). Doing so entails
providing specific directions to the employee through a development plan, as well as checking up on any progress that is made after a certain period of time. Via such diligence, employees will recognize that the feedback should be taken seriously.
5. How it’s done: The nine principles of effective performance feedback at play
How would our recommended principles of feedback play out in an actual feedback session? Recall the conversation between Tony and Lisa that we used previously to provide an example of concepts related to feedback. Now, consider the following vignette in which Tony has been informally observ- ing Lisa’s performance and decides to provide feed- back, both because of things she did well and areas in which she could improve when interacting with customers: