In the last several posts, we have outlined ways to increase employee effectiveness through improved management practices. As a consultant friend of mine once said, "management is cause, all else is effect." While we may not like to admit it, she's more than a little right. Many issues that seem to be caused by employees actually stem from a reaction to management and/or organizational practices and policies. In this series we have discussed the first three ways to increase productivity: how to define and deliver clear objectives, remove roadblocks and train employees. The fourth way to increase performance is through motivation.
Employees need both rewards and consequences to perform well. An environment that is skewed heavily to either one or the other will result in dysfunction. Motivators come in many different forms including tangible rewards (i.e., merchandise, time off and money) and intangible rewards (i.e., being included, development opportunities and additional responsibility). Both can be highly effective. However, the least expensive, and often the most appreciated form of motivation, is performance feedback.
We have found that most employees want to be recognized, contributing members of a winning team. Achieving this requires feedback. But, in our experience, many managers find giving frequent, meaningful feedback difficult. To be most effective feedback should be tailored to the individual, well thought out, and delivered close to the event. Anything else will limit the motivational effect.
Let's tackle positive feedback first. The easiest way to get started is to catch employees doing something right and tell them about it. One manager I worked with made it a practice to praise her employees on at least one specific item each week. Thanking employees for a job well-done often results in the behavior being repeated. But, when praising employees make sure that you are (1) specific about what you liked and (2) link their behavior back to the goals of the organization. For example:
Mary, I wanted to thank you for helping Mr. Smith with his order this morning. You were polite and answered his questions quickly and thoroughly. When we serve our clients well, they come back and bring their friends. More customers equal more sales for the company and that is what we are all working toward. Again, thank you. Keep up the good work.
While it takes more words, specific praise will mean more to an employee than the usual, "good job" or "thanks for all you do." Unfortunately, praise which is not specific and not linked to the organization leaves employees wondering what they did right and unable to repeat the behavior.
Negative feedback is more difficult for most managers. But, here are a few tips. First, don't layer negative feedback in between positive comments:
Mary, you are a valuable employee and we really appreciate what you do for our team. But, you need to come to meetings on time more often. You know we really appreciate your contributions and value your input. Thanks.
Using this "Oreo" approach sends mixed messages and gives little guidance. Instead, the first time you have an issue with an employee's performance, let them know. Your comments do not have to be harsh. Rather, they should be assertive and factual. Begin with a neutral comment to reduce defensiveness. Then, while using a pleasant but firm tone of voice, explain how the employee's behavior affects you, your team or the company and why it is a problem. Next, ask for the behavior/performance you expect. Finish your feedback with a question asking the employee to fulfill with your request: Mary, I understand that we all have a lot on our plates. However, when employees are late for meetings it causes particular problems. We have to stop the meeting to fill them in on our discussions. This takes up valuable time and interrupts the flow of the meeting.
Mary, I would really appreciate your being on time to future team meetings. Can you do this for me? The question obliges the employee to either answer in the affirmative or give you an excuse as to why they are unable to comply. If you get a negative response, you can discuss the issue further and hopefully come to an understanding. Obviously, if the employee continues to perform poorly there are techniques for escalating your feedback. Giving employees negative feedback is uncomfortable for most managers. But, ignoring performance issues is unfair to both the employee and the organization. Remember, employees want to be recognized, contributing members of a winning team. To get them there, you must be willing to give both positive and negative feedback; both rewards and consequences. One without the other will fail to get you the response you desire.