In short, upward feedback is a performance appraisal method that allows direct reports to provide feedback to their manager. This approach is on an upward trend and increasingly adopted by some of the world's leading brands. How do we know? Because Google's doing it.
Google releases a 15-question/statement, mostly quantitative survey asking employees to rate their bosses. They base their questions on the eight factors they’ve seen consistently in their mostly highly effective managers — things like being a good coach, taking a personal interest, and being a good communicator and listener.
That might sound fitting for a company whose slogan is "Don't be evil", but does it make sense for everyone?
Google's upward feedback survey tackles a big business problem: Bad managers.
Bad managers have become such an office staple that they’re basically the face of corporate malaise in pop culture. (Well them, and the office printer.)
The only thing worse than working under a bad manager, is working under a bad manager who has absolutely no clue how bad they are, let alone how to get better. It just makes sense that business all-stars like Google would want to keep a finger on the pulse of what's happening on a managerial level. But there are some important things to consider before launching your own upward feedback initiative.
Google’s survey is a good example of how to ask about a manager’s soft skills as well as their specific, company-aligned strengths. Google gives 13 quantitative, strongly disagree to strongly agree statements that cover their eight goals.
For example, statements like, “My manager gives me actionable feedback on a regular basis” can effectively indicate how communicative a manager might be. Statements like “My manager assigns stretch opportunities to help me develop in my career” get at the more Google-specific desire to have managers present fun challenges and growth (stretch) opportunities for employees.
Then, Google uses two open-ended questions:
1. “What would you recommend your manager keep doing?”
2. "What would you have your manager change?"
These open-ended questions give the employee a chance for qualitative responses. It's interesting to note that Google’s questions are open, but also also slightly specific, similar to the types of feedback questions recommended by the Harvard Business Review.
In short, Google does a lot of things right with their upward feedback survey, but Google’s model isn’t the only one.
For some offices, it might not be comprehensive enough, or it might be too specific to Google’s values. The Society for Human Resource Management offers an example survey of their own that fits a bit more generally. They ask more questions and break their questions down into groupings that get at different managerial qualities, such as “valuing diversity.” These questions might be easier to align to your own business culture.
An employee survey like Google's could be a great way to get a real read on your managers. That said, surveys and quantitative data have problems of their own.
First, managers have an obvious power over employees and employees quite reasonably, fear that. In fact, Amy Gallo, editor at Harvard Business Review, recommends employees not give feedback to managers who can’t handle it. As much as we may want the feedback, it's unfair to ask an employee to risk their job in order to give it to us. While many workplaces surveys are anonymous, the “Ask a Manager” advice column over at Inc.com notes that the anonymity often feels, or is, see-through and doesn’t actually protect employees.
Second, not all data is good data — and having no data might be better than collecting bad data. Sir Andrew Likierman, Dean of the London Business School, wrote that it’s easy to fall into traps of over-trusting numbers, number-based systems, and metrics. Andrew points to the tendency for businesses to overvalue data that doesn’t actually say much, using popular but inapplicable scores and systems, and applying quantitative values to things that don’t have them.
Sometimes the best approach could be qualitative instead of quantitative. That could mean a brief qualitative survey, stopping in to sit with your teams for a while, or sitting down with employees for a private face-to-face meeting. There are many ways to train and develop strong managers. Just because the data isn’t there, doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be.
Here’s a surprising fact: 92% of respondents to a Zegner/Folkman survey agreed with the statement “Negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”
Even more surprising was that 57% of the respondents said they prefer negative feedback over positive feedback.
We all want feedback, we just don’t always like how it is delivered. Here are some quick tips to give higher quality feedback that employees will appreciate.
Don’t Wait: Positive feedback has the greatest effect when it’s immediate. There usually isn’t much prep or investigation needed before delivering positive feedback, so just go for it, don’t wait.
Be Meaningful: Reserve recognition and positive feedback for great performance. If you start celebrating mediocrity it will cheapen all the other recognition you’ve given in the past. That doesn’t have to mean less positive feedback, you can find things to celebrate big and small.
Give Details: Positive feedback should be more than just a celebration. Focus on what went right and why. That way we can feel good AND learn from our successes.
Do it Publicly: Public recognition can amplify the impact of positive feedback.
Be a Coach: It’s easy to point out what’s wrong, it’s much harder to show someone the path to what’s right. Engage around solutions and employees will be much more interested in hearing from you.
Focus on the Work: No one wants to be judged on their character, and frankly we shouldn’t be doing that at work anyways. Frame your feedback around the work and what’s going wrong, not around perceived character flaws. For example: don’t say “you’re unorganized,” say “you’re forgetting to call people back, and that’s a problem.”
Provide Examples: Negative feedback can become contentious, so be prepared with specific examples. Concrete examples will help make your feedback real for the employee. When we hear something negative our natural reaction is to recoil, bringing specific examples will help mitigate that.
Follow up: Negative feedback isn’t about calling people out, it’s about helping them develop. So plan to follow up on all negative feedback and discuss progress.
When Failure Says It All: Sometimes failure is all the feedback people need. There’s no need to pile on when someone is already devastated by a failure. Pick them up and move on.
When You’ve Lost Patience: When you can’t control your emotions, you’re not giving feedback, you’re having an outburst.
Have you heard Richard Branson's latest business mantra?
The airline/clean-energy/galactic-tourism mogul insists that "‘happy employees = happy customers". And while this is exactly the kind of cloying HR advice we tend to see as a luxury exclusive to celebrity CEOs like Branson, research tells us this is one piece of advice that is surprisingly practical. How your employees feel can absolutely impact the success of your business.
According to a study by The University of Warwick, happier workers were 20% more productive. And on the flipside, Gallup reported that unhappy, disengaged employees cost the US economy over $450 billion per year. But we’re all human, and everyone has good and bad days. The real issue is, when left unchecked, employee unhappiness can spread throughout the team and wreak havoc on organizational productivity.
Before we get to the questions, it's important to remember how easy it is to jump to conclusions about what's driving someone's behavior.
But what makes one employee unhappy, might not even affect another. Moreover, happiness isn’t a switch that gets turned on and off.
You need to take time to get to the root of what’s really going on. Does an employee feel unrecognized for their efforts? Is there a conflict with another member of the team? The problem may be completely unrelated to work, such as a family bereavement or relationship issue.
You can't know until you start the conversation.
Yes, it might be awkward. But there are few ways to approach employees without making them feel like you’re putting them on the spot. The first step is asking the right questions.
1. How have you been feeling lately?
Sometimes addressing a problem head-on is the best way to start a transparent and open dialogue.
Plus, you never know. What indicates "unhappiness" to you may be nothing more than a couple of stressful yet fleeting moments for your employee. State what you've observed in a non-judgmental manner and ask the employee if your observation is correct.
For example: "I noticed you were a little curt in this morning's standup. How have you been feeling lately?"
2. What do you enjoy most and least about your work?
Knowing what makes your employee happy is just as important as knowing what makes them unhappy.
By asking the individual about both the good and bad, you're prompting them to not only vent about their issues (something they're probably doing a lot of anyway), but also to pause and think about how those issues stack up against the benefits — those aspects that they truly love but have been too stressed to acknowledge lately.
3. Do you feel recognized and respected for your work?
Research shows that receiving regular praise can lead to higher employee retention. But according to Gallup’s analysis, only a third of workers said they received recognition for doing good work in the past seven days.
It's also important to remember that what counts as "recognition" to one person, may not be viewed as respectful recognition by another. For example, introverts might dread public announcements while extroverts might see anything less as not being recognized at all.
Find out where and when the unhappy individual last felt that their work was recognized and tailor your performance management and rewards approach accordingly.
4. Are you doing the things you really want to do?
A BIG complaint from employees is that managers just aren’t interested in them.
If you want to build trust and maintain a good working relationship, you need to really engage with your employees. Find out what their personal and professional interests are. Are they happy with their career choices? Are there issues in their personal life that are holding them back? Do they have a passion and are they able to pursue it at work?
Once you build that rapport, you’ll be able to communicate with a greater sense of clarity and purpose because you'll know what awesome work means to them. Plus, you can address issues faster and more effectively when you're able to frame them within the context of what matters to the employee.
5. Do you enjoy working in your current team?
Cultural toxicity can be an employee happiness and productivity killer. And the higher up the ladder you get, the less likely you are to recognize it.
This question can help you explore the team dynamics on a deeper level. Does the employee get along with their teammates? Do they have friends? If not, why not?
Pioneering researchers like Christina Maslach have pointed out that, "Social relationships in organizations can be the most positive feature, while also being the greatest source of stress. When researchers go into organizations, they often think that workload will be the main problem. In fact, people often say they can do the job and handle the workload, but they cannot cope with the competitiveness, politicking, put-downs, back-stabbing, gossip, unfairness and lack of recognition."
It may feel like a Pandora's box, but until you find out what's really going on at the team-level, you'll be paralyzed in affecting any real change.
6. How can I make things easier for you at work?
Don't underestimate the role you play in your employees' lives.
Even for employees dealing with personal issues like parenting challenges, divorce, or even harmful lifestyle choices like addiction, can benefit from time-off, flexible working options or access to the right tools or counseling.
But if you genuinely want to help, you need to be willing to ask what you can do to support them. Be ready to offer specific suggestions in case they're too overwhelmed to know what it is that they need.
7. What does your ideal work scenario look like?
Is your working culture too prescriptive or totally lacking structure? Does your employee need to have more input into how they work and when? Maybe remote working sounded like a good idea but is actually making them feel detached and isolated.
Again, don’t make assumptions.
To find the right solutions, you need to work together with your employee. And if it feels like too much work, remember that by taking the time to show your empathy and support, you’re investing in a happy, productive future for everyone.
Every business leader wants the kind of company where each and every employee feels like they have skin in the game. Where lightning-strike ideas turn into multi-million dollar revenue streams.
For most of us, it's a vision that just doesn't feel real.
Despite the myriad business books, scholarly articles and flowery Forbes editorials, the idea of a 'feedback culture' just doesn't feel viable at our companies — and we all have our "reasons". You can blame it on the industry, the economy or the team itself, but whatever the reason (or cough, cough excuse), you're sure this stuff won't work for you.
But what if it weren't really that complicated? What if the transition to a can-do culture were as simple as asking a question?
The annual review is the proverbial dead horse of HR topics. And our obsession with it is understandable. As humans, it's natural to crave a magic pill. Our brains want a simple solution that's easy to follow: give your employees feedback at this specific time and place each year and solve all your business problems.
But the truth is this: There's no stone-set rule stating there has to be a separate time for giving and receiving feedback.
At its core, performance management is shockingly simple. It's an ongoing exchange of feedback. A two-way street that's always open. Call it "continuous feedback." Call it building a "feedback culture." Call it whatever you want. What matters is that it's an intentional dialogue — one that spurs people into action.
Like it or not, your company already has a performance culture. And the feedback you're giving (or not giving) could be speaking louder than you realize.
A simple way to get past the analysis paralysis and start building a culture where 'feedback' isn't a dirty word is to get clear on when and how to deliver negative or corrective feedback.
One standout example of a company built completely on the value of candid, team-centered feedback is Pixar.
Pixar President and co-founder, Ed Catmull ran the company alongside Steve Jobs and John Lasseter for decades. Here's what he has to say on the importance of open dialogue.
"A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments. So how can a manager ensure that his or her working group, department, or company embraces candor? By putting mechanisms in place that explicitly say it is valuable."
Candor is a value held so tightly at Pixar that Catmull and his team created an elite collective feedback team called Braintrust. Braintrust is what Catmull describes as Pixar's "primary delivery system for straight talk". Every few months the team gets together to discuss the movie they're making and get clear on what works, what doesn't work, and why.
Sounds great, right? But here's where it gets hairy.
Business legend has it that Steve Jobs got some of his best ideas from his time working in Pixar's open and creative environment. (Some even credit his groundbreaking "Think different" campaign to the creative storytelling skills he learned while working there.)
But Jobs also had a nasty habit of giving harsh corrective feedback in a group setting — like the time he fired the head of Apple's MobileMe unit in front of a crowd of Apple employees. Group dialogue can be a powerful productivity tool — but only if you're clear on the ground rules.
First, know that there are some key moments when it's absolutely critical not to give feedback.
You can explore each of these circumstances in more detail here, but you get the gist.
If someone makes a mistake and doesn’t know it, that isn’t the time to have a team discussion about collective improvement. Your employees can read between the lines. So don't underestimate them.
Here are some better ways to start and maintain a performance-focused dialogue.
1. Use questions, candor and curiosity
HR leading companies like Asana use questions to help guide conversations, coaching and team-based decisions.
Asking questions, rather than prescribing answers, is a great way to both give and receive constructive feedback in a way that balances the positive and negative and keeps the dialogue focused on finding solutions.
2. Offset negative feedback with peer-to-peer recognition
Peer-to-peer recognition strengthens team unity and gives everyone a stake in the game. And as a major bonus, 41% of companies that use peer-to-peer recognition have seen positive increases in customer satisfaction.
3. Collect upward feedback
Last but not least, show your commitment to the importance of feedback by truly making it a two-way street. Companies like Google have developed a super smart way of approaching upward feedback, but if you just want a simple approach, try the SKS model which simply asks:
In a performance-driven culture, feedback is always about a team coming together to improve their performance as a whole and never about what one or a handful of individuals failed to do. Keep your eyes fixed on the bigger picture and your team will do the same.
Is this thing on? As leaders and HR managers, we've all felt the humiliation of being the only one on the company channel sending shoutouts.
And beyond the damage to our egos, that's pretty problematic for the company. If HR and managers are the only ones making sure the values of the company are acknowledged and upheld, they simply won't be.
While the vision of your employees singing kumbaya over your company mission statement may feel like just another fluffy HR trend, there are plenty of numbers drawing a clear line between profits and peer-to-peer recognition.
In a Harvard Business Review interview, Whole Foods Market co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey put words to what most of us instinctively know:
“Happy team members result in happy customers. Happy customers do more business with you. They become advocates for your enterprise, which results in happy investors. That is a win, win, win, win strategy.”
While there's been an increasing emphasis on employer-to-employee recognition in recent years, less has been said about the value of employees saying "thanks" to each other.
But peer-to-peer recognition matters in ways that top-down recognition never could. According to an SHRM report, 41% of companies that use peer-to-peer recognition have seen positive increases in customer satisfaction.
When your employees are actively uplifting each other, they're actively uplifting your customers, too. Maybe that's why companies who spend a minimum of 1% of payroll on recognition are 79% more likely to have better financial results.
Ok, so employees who give each other props have more fun at work and are also great for your bottom line. But how do you implement a peer-to-peer recognition program your employees will use?
Here are a few examples to help get your wheels turning.
1. Zappos Dollars - Classic rewards
Zappos is famous for being an epically awesome place to work and, as you'd expected, they have a set peer-to-peer recognition program in place. At Zappos, every employee can give a $50 reward to any other employee for a job well done.
The only catch is that managers, team leads and supervisors can't be recipients. Fair enough!
2. Jetblue - Public P2P recognition
JetBlue started their peer recognition program, “Lift” in 2012. Employees and team leaders can access the company's recognition platform via mobile, desktop, or tablet to call out each other's awesomeness — both for everyday tasks, as well as big, juicy game-changing acts. The stories are then shared throughout the company.
It seems to be a pretty productive approach — Lift has increased recognition satisfaction at Jetblue by 88%! JetBlue data also revealed that for every 10% increase in people who reported being recognized, the airline saw a 3% increase in retention and a 2% increase in engagement. Not too shabby!
3. Typeform - Keeping recognition spontaneous
If you're worried about not having the budget to rival the recognition programs of Zappos and JetBlue — don't fret.
In one of our favorite examples of peer-to-peer recognition, software company Typeform has what they call a "Spontaneous Applause clause". Employees are invited to start literally applauding an individual team member for a job well done. And because the whole company has embraced the quirky approach, once one person starts clapping, the whole office joins in.
This one takes the concept of slow clapping to a whole new, HR-friendly level.
4. Snacknation - Crushing it weekly
Afraid peer-to-peer recognition just won't happen on its own?
Why not take a page from Snacknation's playbook and make it a Friday thing?
The snack delivery startup has company-wide meetings every Friday where team members get call out someone they want to "crush", meaning "praise". Employees can crush each other for any task or activity, no matter how large or small. As long as it jives with the company’s core values, it's considered crushworthy.
5. Cloud 9 Living - Put it in writing
Cloud 9 Living is a gifting platform, so it makes sense that acts of appreciation are fundamental to the way they do things. The company has what they call the 'G' Book, standing for "Good Stuff." Team members are encouraged to recognize each other for any win big or small, business or personal by simply jotting their shoutouts down.
Here's how it works according to co-founder, Bobby Augst, "Every week at an all company meeting we read aloud the past week’s ‘G Book’ entries. It’s a great way to call out employee accomplishments that otherwise may go unnoticed, and it also empowers employees to recognize each other for accomplishments, as opposed to management always being the only ones providing recognition.”
If you're a regular here on the PerformYard blog, you know that we boldly reject the idea of a magic HR formula. While it's great to put your head above the water and take a look at the real-world recognition ideas that may work for you, the best answer will always be the one that's the most natural for your unique company and culture.
As you set out to create your own peer-to-peer recognition platform (and unleash all the awesome business benefits that come with it), we'll leave you with this great advice from Laura Hughes, HR Manager at adventure company, Geocaching in her contribution to Snacknation.
“Find out what forms of recognition resonate most with staff members. Often times, we equate a streamlined process with effectiveness – with recognition, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If we’re taking only one approach to recognition and thereby missing the mark in how we recognize others, it can be equivalent to not recognizing them at all. Encourage managers to ask employees how they most like to be recognized — you might be surprised at the answers that surface!"
If you’ve gone anywhere near the HR echo chamber, you’ve probably (perhaps even unconsciously) internalized the fact that feedback should be continuous.
The case for continuous feedback is grounded in solid data. For example, a 2015 Robert Half survey shows that just over half of employees want at least quarterly discussions about their career path and growth prospects.
In another survey, Deloitte found that 90% of companies that revamped their performance management model — usually to one featuring more regular feedback — saw improved employee engagement.
Clearly continuous feedback is the real deal. Yet, amid all the buzz, it’s easy to lose track of what continuous feedback actually is and whether or not it makes sense for your organization.
The term "continuous feedback" can mean different things to different companies. In a nutshell, continuous feedback is any feedback that is delivered on a regular basis.
For many companies, continuous feedback includes structured reviews. For others, it could mean an entirely informal system with no scheduled reviews whatsoever. At the end of the day, "continuous" is as subjective an adjective as "beautiful". Its value is held within the eye of the HR beholder.
Let’s take a quick look at how continuous feedback became the HR trend du jour and dive into some real-world examples that can help you decide if it's the right option for you.
Pinpointing the true start of any movement is always tough.
That said, Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis put a pretty solid effort into finding out how continuous feedback became king.
The HR experts split performance review systems into three types:
Data suggests consistent feedback is always good, but whether you focus on accountability, development or a hybrid depends on the situation you're in.
Over the last decade, labor markets fluctuated wildly. The financial crash meant layoffs and layoffs meant a thinner workforce. Then, as things picked up, the labor market got tighter. But "hiring" in the traditional sense has decreased as millennials entering the labor market rotated jobs more frequently and as the gig economy developed.
In comes continuous feedback, a hybrid tool focused on developing (and keeping) employees in a growing, but mobile labor market.
According to Peter and Anna, the earliest notable case of switching from annual to instant feedback was Colorcon, a big pharmaceutical company, back in 2002. The watershed moment however, came in a one-two punch when Kelly Services changed their review system in 2011 and then the big fish, Adobe switched to continuous feedback in 2012. Which leads us to our first example...
Adobe may have one of the most famous continuous feedback systems out there.
They even have a public Check-in Toolkit that can help you DIY your own strategy from their model. The Toolkit’s core recommendations can be boiled down to three stages of feedback:
At minimum, Adobe encourages quarterly formal check-ins of 60 to 90 minutes each. They also encourage giving informal feedback more often.
But the Rome of continuous feedback wasn't built in a day. Being such a large company, it took Adobe months of testing, planning and extensive manager-training to make everything come together.
The essence of Adobe's continuous feedback model focuses on strengths and setting SMART goals. They regularly update goals and progress and make practical plans based on those performance metrics. Documentation and ranking play a much smaller role than they did in the pre-2012 days.
Unlike Adobe, survey platform startup Typeform didn't have a huge ship to turn around.
In fact, when the company had just started, it was so small that regular check-ins and reviews happened organically, without any system at all. But when their workforce nearly tripled, they knew they needed to get a structure in place.
Today, they've literally "baked" employee feedback into their culture. “Feedback is not a dirty word. When experienced properly, it fosters growth and reinforces trust.” says Typeform Head of People Operations, Georgina de Solà.
Typeform's continuous feedback strategy includes:
It's worth noting that the young company also uses some more traditional feedback methods, like a suggestion box and opportunities to ask the founders questions.
They also improved the quality of feedback by hiring a communications specialist, taking on an HR platform to distribute bonuses, and doing feedback workshops called “The F-Word”.
Typeform is as "all-in" on feedback as Adobe, even if they're a bit less formal.
It's important to think about giving feedback not only continuously, but also critically. What aspects of these continuous feedback approaches would fit the natural rhythm of your industry? How drastic of a cultural change would you have to make? What system or approach will make the change as easy as possible?
Continuous feedback is great for good reason, but at the end of the day, no system is effective unless it meets the needs of your unique company and people.
Sometimes it can feel like we’re forced to choose; between a tightly managed stack and rank annual review system, or thoughtful in-the-moment feedback from manager coaches. Popular headlines are often about “Dropping the Performance Review” in favor of feedback, or “Why X Company is Going Back to Performance Reviews.”
The reality is that most organizations choose to land somewhere in the middle. HR finds ways to provide the right amount of structure to achieve the organization’s goals, while still giving managers and employees the flexibility to engage in one-to-one feedback. For more, we created a guide all about designing the performance management process for your organization.
With this in mind we asked 4 practicing HR influencers, from 4 very different organizations, to tell us how they think about structure and flexibility when setting up a performance management program.
Director of Human Resources at Compassion-First Pet Hospitals
It depends on your culture and needs. It’s not so much the structure as it is the comfort level of the people delivering the feedback and the utilization of the tools available that makes the difference. Prior to implementing any new system or tool, talk to your managers and find out what they are currently doing, and what is a pain point for them. If your shiny new system or process can address a pain point, that’s a win for everyone. What works for one organization may not work for another. No system will solve world peace – or even organizational peace, so have realistic expectations. Any new system or tool must be accessible, easy to use, and be perceived to make the manager’s job easier – not harder. HR can’t be the sole driver of the process. Your most influential people can be your greatest adopters and champions of your system if you utilize them as your pilot testers. Then HR isn’t telling others about this great new tool we love. Of course we love it, we’re HR. This is cool to us. If other managers love it, tell their peers, and adoption spreads, you will have more guaranteed long-term utilization.
Nicole is currently holding down her dream job, combining her love of animals and passion for HR, as Director of Human Resources at Compassion-First Pet Hospitals, a family of more than 30 emergency and specialty veterinary practices with locations across the country. Drawing upon more than 14 years of proven experience throughout Human Resources, specifically in the manufacturing, telecommunications, and veterinary medicine industries, Nicole has a proven record of establishing HR as a vital business partner with an earned reputation as an intuitive, wide-ranging HR Generalist. Nicole is a proud member of the SHRM A-Team, and she is on the Board of her local SHRM Chapter, GCHRA. Nicole has a blog, HR Without Ego, where her faithful sidekick, Maximus the Minimus – her 10 lb Shih Tzu serves as mascot.
Senior HR Business Partner at Otak Inc.
I recently joined a firm that is implementing a formal performance review system. It’s given me a great chance to reflect on the best way to give feedback.
As large corporations like GE, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix have ditched their annual performance reviews for a more fluid system, many HR professionals have been wondering whether unstructured feedback systems will result in decreased performance. How do we decide annual pay increases without a stack and rank system?
I prefer a performance management program that is a little of both structured and unstructured feedback. I suggest that managers have a casual goal-setting discussion once a quarter, with biweekly or monthly casual conversations. Then once a year, they can evaluate the year and progress toward goals. I’ve found that most employees still want a structured review, just not all the time.
This structure gives employees an opportunity to manage their time and create their own goals. Knowing they have an annual structured review helps motivate them to meet their goals.
This system provides the right balance of unstructured and structured feedback and has allowed our firm to grow and become more consistent while preparing for the future.
Keith works at Otak Inc., an architecture and civil engineering design firm that is headquartered in Portland, OR where he is a senior HR business partner. Keith obtained his bachelor’s degree at Portland State University and his MBA from the University of Phoenix. Keith is recognized as a leader in the HR industry and participates in the Portland Human Resources Management Society and SHRM and has SHRM-SCP and SPHR certifications.
Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing for the Key Family of Companies
Having a structured program in place to cover all the bases doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still engage in ongoing informal feedback. It is easy to fall into a trap of either setting up too many structured meetings that it becomes unrealistic or going the other way and making it so informal that nothing gets done. Having a baseline of structured meetings that incorporate ongoing informal feedback can be a good balance and creates a realistic expectation that both sides can manage.
Getting the managers on the same page early on and communicating the expectation for the performance review program and its delivery is key.
I would recommend just maintaining a good balance and defining the expectation for both managers and employees up front so that the process and delivery is consistent between departments and across the organization.
Craig Frazier is a lucky husband, proud dad, culture leader and small business advocate and works as the Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing for the Key Family of Companies. @craig_frazier
VP of Human Resources for Berner Food & Beverage
It is important to understand that a formal system is used for a certain purposes and frequent coaching is useful for other purposes. Sure there is a link but when you consider the reasons for both you will see that we are talking apples and oranges. A formal process is usually used to document and justify annual merit increases, satisfy some arcane need rank everyone and/or to continue a process that the ownership feels is how things should be done “because we’ve always done it that way” (yeah….that last one is fun). Frequent coaching feedback sessions are for improving the employee’s performance, growth, goals and engagement. We easily see which of those things are more impactful to both the employee and the organization, but reality is that most of the companies in this country are stuck in doing some type of formalized review process.
One creative way to accomplish both is to design your formal system that summarizes the frequent coaching sessions. If you have quarterly coaching sessions, the “annual” review form could be used to just summarize those coaching sessions. So rather than ranking on the five or ten qualities that represent performance, you can grade employees on progress toward their goals or just categorize them into groupings as needed. Be creative. It may not look like the old standard review form, but it can satisfy the need for both performance management concepts.
Ed Wood has been active in Human Resources for over 30 years. After receiving his degree from the University of Wisconsin Ed began his career as an officer in the U.S. Army. Over the years, he has held several positions in Human Resources in a variety of industries including manufacturing, hospitality, and media. With over 30+ years of a wide variety of HR and operational experience in numerous industries, I have found that regardless of the company or industry, it still comes down to leadership and people.
We talk a lot about feedback here at PerformYard — how to use it, how to give it and how important it is to the success of your business.
But there's one question we haven’t tackled: When shouldn't we give feedback?
No matter how great your intentions are, too much feedback can be just as bad as none at all. And it's a fine line to walk. Here's when you're better off keeping your feedback to yourself.
A clock can measure lateness and metrics can measure goals, but human qualities are MUCH harder to read.
Or, as employee engagement guru Marcus Buckingham puts it, “you can’t standardize human behavior.” Optimizing a person's individual style will alway be more effective than trying to standardize your own, but most managers expect their employees to behave exactly like them.
For example, if you’re a neat freak, a messy desk means even messier work. But is that true for all the people on your team? Maybe they don't clean the mess because it doesn’t even phase them, let alone hurt their performance. In this case, asking them to clean up would be personal, not professional. If they walk away feeling belittled, or confused about what outcomes matter most, you've done more to hurt their performance than help it.
Good feedback is introspective especially because it’s meant for someone else. In order to give truly helpful feedback, it’s up to us to take a step a back and ask whether we’re helping someone be their best, or our best.
Creativity is probably one of the most underrated business assets.
But business moguls like Mark Zuckerberg know innovation breeds profits. In a recent interview on the Freakonomics podcast, the social media giant explains why he regularly lets his employees do things he disagrees with.
"I think the most important thing is what decisions and what process, on a day to day basis, you choose to let people have the freedom to do, and just not get involved with. A huge part of how Facebook works is giving a large amount of freedom to our engineers, the company, and to people who use the product to make with it what they will, and trusting people to do that...I think having some restraint there ends up being very important."
Take it from Zuckerberg. Sometimes it pays to hold back. Make sure your employees know which tasks and outcomes are considered 'non-negotiable'. Then step back and let them figure out the rest for themselves.
If you want to help your people be the best they can be, sometimes you have to let them do their worst. Because, let's face it. Failure is often the best feedback.
And that’s not just folk wisdom, it’s science. In fact, a recent study of the brain from the University of Texas found that although you could rack your brain learning a new skill area, and actually grow the size of the cortex that deals with that skill, that "big brain" advantage will gradually fade.
The benefits only stick around when you've practiced the skill enough that you’ve worked the cortex past being big, and into being lean — and that means failure.
Expect your employees to fail and don’t jump to give them feedback when they do. Here are some crucial moments when you should let your employees fail feedback-free:
Some leaders, including Deloitte CEO, Jim Moffatt, even encourage giving feedback for failure, not against it. Jim recommends sharing your own stories of failure, helping people fail fast and recover faster, and coaching employees to think of failure as a long-term investment.
Fact is, we're all trying to do more with less. But delivering feedback is a compound time activity.
Do it right, and it will pay you back tenfold. Before approaching an employee with feedback, check in with yourself first:
If you’re overly-emotional, not fully clued-in, or asking for the impossible — your feedback will backfire.
Yes, we know. Good feedback is targeted, specific and timely. But if you have to choose between being quick or careful, it’s probably better to pick the latter.
Believe it or not, some things are better left alone. We know letting go can be hard, especially if you were wired to be critical, but trying to catch everything all the time is the best way to wear everyone down, not least yourself.
A great performance management system puts the feedback frenzy on autopilot. You'll know exactly when to deliver feedback, and what issues need addressing, so you can relax knowing your employees will get all the help they need (and none of the "help" they don't).
Employee rewards and recognition is a $45 billion dollar industry. And with companies like Google shelling out millions on employee awards and trips to Hawaii, even window shopping down recognition lane can be a stressful experience.
But great employee recognition doesn't have to include an expensive overhaul of your entire culture. And there's no need to wait until the "right time" to get started. These ten real-life stories and examples from actual managers, executives, and brilliant HR thinkers will show you just how simple and straightforward employee recognition can be.
One of Deloitte’s premier HR minds and one of the industry's leading voices, Josh Bersin definitely talks the talk. Among many other gems of HR wisdom, Josh tells us that, “[w]hen you recognize the right things in the right way, people work harder.”
But he also walks the walk. In 2012, Deloitte launched their employee recognition program using gratitude as a simple yet powerful foundation. And even in his article announcing the program, Josh gives thanks.“PS, I would like to thank Stacia Garr, our Principal Analyst in talent management, for this amazing work and all the value it will provide to our clients. We have already implemented many of the practices in this research in our company and the results have been fantastic.”
This example shows how a simple two-sentence P.S. at the end of a blog post can bridge the gap between a company's leaders and their employees, while showing a little love for the people who make it all possible.
Lars Schmidt is the founder of Amplify Talent and HR Open Source. Lars is all about transformative hiring and spreading next-level HR knowledge. One day in 2014, he found himself in a reflective mood. So he sat in front of his twitter for nearly 20 hours, tweeting out kind words to friends, coworkers, and even strangers.
His 'Random Tweets of Kindness' went viral and #RTOK was soon trending on Twitter with over 4,000 tweets from 35 countries expressing love and appreciation for their friends and teams.
And while you might not be able to spend twenty hours tweeting, the fundamentals of Lars’s Twitter recognition spree can apply to any kind of recognition program. His tweets were powerful because they were public, openly accessible declarations of genuine praise — almost like a tiny heartfelt recommendation letter.
Laszlo Bock is a big name in the HR world because of all the awesome work he did at Google—work that has inspired even more amazing HR policies at Google, and pretty much everywhere else.
In an interview with SHRM, Laszlo tells us what he learned while working under another legendary businessman, Jack Welch. Among other things, Laszlo learned, “how important it is to know your people” explaining that Jack spent half his time getting to know his workforce.
Laszlo points to how much better and more relevant an award can be when you actually know the person and what it is that they like. Laszlo makes a practice of personalizing employee recognition rewards as a way of showing, not only that you recognize an employee's awesome work, but also that you respect and celebrate their personal interests—an undeniable part of who they are on the whole.
Like Laszlo, business author and former CEO of Yum! Brands, David Novak believes awards must be specific to the individual you're recognizing. Even if that means getting a little weird with it sometimes.
During David's tenure at Yum!, employees were given some pretty strange gifts, such as rubber chickens, cheese heads, and those crazy wind-up walking teeth toys (to show that the person walked the talk, get it?).
David not only took out-of-the-box employee recognition to a whole new level, he also personalized his awards to recognize employees in a way that never felt shallow or routine. And come on, there’s no doubt a rubber chicken is a way more memorable than a gold plaque.
Ally Bunin is as an HR expert and leader in the medical industry. Passionate about creating an awesome employee experience, one of the first things Ally did when she joined Brighton Health Plan Solutions was create an employee recognition program.
She used a points-based system with built-in peer-to-peer recognition where employees could redeem points for any reward of their choice. What's great about Ally's approach isn't just that it uses the same principles that make gamified perks and recognition a hit with employees, but that she kept the program human and authentic by giving a handwritten card along with each reward.
In these days of all tech all the time, Ally’s story rocks because it shows how to launch a recognition program that keeps those small touches that can make every award feel sincere, personal and undeniably human.
Marcus Buckingham is a world-renowned work researcher for Gallup and a best-selling author on HR and leadership. He can tell you plenty of stories that make a clear case against a one-size-fits-all approach to employee recognition.
Marcus uses one of his own coworkers, Larry, as an example. Larry is a pretty unempathetic manager and can be a bit too direct. And while most HR managers would rush to get Larry enrolled in some kind of EQ training program, Marcus says stressing out about an employees perceived 'weakness' is a waste of time and money.
The way for Gallup to get the most out of Larry — and for Larry to get the most out of Gallup — is to focus on the strengths that set Larry apart, namely his strategic thinking and confidence. By Gallup letting Larry be Larry, they also let everyone else know they're free to be themselves at work without being "punished" for it. Accepting your people for who they are makes the entire workplace feel more natural, without ever having to force it.
Ben Eubanks is the cofounder of HR Revolution, a regular writer on all topics HR, and a BIG believer in innovation. In fact, Ben believes innovation is the master key to business success and when you read what he has to say about it, it's hard to disagree. But Ben also believes that innovation and recognition can easily go hand-in-hand.
In other words, to really recognize your employees, start by recognizing their innovations.
Ben shares one story that gets at the simple power of the suggestion box. In one of the companies where Ben worked, the employer actively encouraged employees to submit ideas well outside of the confines of their job. So one employee took the initiative and suggested they make one of their products open to licensing. That little folded up piece of paper in the suggestion box ended up being a “million dollar product line for the business.”
A truly epic employee recognition program lets the employee feel a sense of pride and ownership, and gives the business awesome new sources of revenue in the process. Talk about a win-win!
Tammy Bjelland is an education and talent development expert and the founder of Learning In Bloom. Tammy suggests bringing your employees into the training process by having a top salesperson write the sales script for new hire onboarding. “That practice,” she writes for FitSmallBusiness, “fulfills two functions: recognizing the employee for their strengths and developing valuable assets to compile in a company-wide training program.”
Tammy’s example shows how recognition done right can often kill two birds with one stone.
It also shows how recognition can be a growth opportunity, both for the individual employee and the organization as a whole. By giving the top salesperson a small, non-intrusive training task, you might just open them up to other opportunities in the company later, like leadership or management.
If you’ve done your reading on company culture, you’ve heard all about the awesome perks and policies of working at Netflix. Tawni Cranz was the head of HR at Netflix from 2007 to 2017, where she helped come up with some of the companies best ideas, including the widely hailed unlimited parental leave.
Tawni recognized the difficulty new parents face and made sure work wouldn’t be one of them. Employees who have recently adopted or given birth can come back part-time, full-time work, and take time off as they need.
This policy is great because it recognizes an age-old struggle many employers still ignore, while extending an unparalleled level of trust and autonomy to Netflix's employees.
Lucy Adams founded her own HR consultancy firm after slugging it out in the field and finding so much wrong with the way things were done. And one of Lucy’s biggest frustrations came from a blatant lack of humanity in the office.
Lucy shares two stories about humanity in the workplace, one good and one bad. In the good story, Adams witnessed a partner at a law firm spend his afternoon going desk to desk, after announcing their restructuring, to talk out frustrations directly with his people.
The bad one involved Lucy during her time working in HR at the BBC. Lucy received feedback that a company-wide email she sent out was “crap.” Rather than getting defensive, she tried to understand why she was getting this feedback. Lucy quickly realized that by the time her email had passed through all the different departments and compliance hurdles, any friendly, human language had been completely stripped out, leaving only stale corporate jargon. It was crap.
The workplace can sometimes leave little room for the basic humanity we should all be able to extend to each other. The stiff, overly formal nature of business can even commandeer the words we use to connect with each other. Whether it's binge-tweeting your love for your people, or simply saying "thank you" like you mean it, these stories are great because they show how simple employee recognition can be.
If you’ve ever received career counseling, you’re no stranger to the many personality tests out there. At this point, it feels harder to avoid the Myers-Briggs than to take it.
And actually, that makes sense. Humans naturally want to build patterns out of the information we take in, in order to make faster, easier decisions about how to adapt and thrive in our environments.
If you're looking for ways to help your people adapt and thrive in your shared work environment, it can definitely help to know a few things about who they are and how they tick.
From eagles to owls to INFPs to ENTJs, you can find tons of personality assessment tools to fit your team. But if you’re looking for a simple system that’s easy to learn, teach to others, and has a plenty of studies to back it up, look no further than the Big Five (a.k.a. the Five Factor Model).
The Big Five groups personality types using 5 core metrics:
And of course, it's all wrapped up for you in one tidy acronym: OCEAN.
The Big Five was created in the 1970’s by two independent groups of researchers and it’s still heavily studied today. According to research from executive coaches and psychologists Iain McCormick and Giles Burch there is personality-focused coaching using this model, can help managers and leaders get better performance from their employees, even if they didn't start with this approach from day one.
Before we dive into what "type" of people are on your team, it's worth pointing out that none of the Big Five traits are necessarily good or bad. They're simply an indication of how a person will behave.
The magic lies in understanding where your employees stand with these personality types so you can hire and coach for balance. (Believe it or not, neuroticism is useful sometimes!)
Here are the Big Five personality traits you're likely to see on your team.
Employees with high extraversion tend to be very relationship-focused. Extroverts make great glue for holding office relationships together. But beware, an office with too many extroverts could result in tons of talking, and not enough walking. Give your extroverts a chance to share their knowledge with other team members, and they'll LOVE your for it. Just make sure to always check in and keeping them accountable for the daily deliverables, too.
Employees with high agreeableness are similar, often serving as office diplomats. According to the coaches at Crowe Associates, agreeable employees are good at managing conflicts in a constructive way. Yet McCormick and Giles note that some studies show that people who are more agreeable don’t always make the best leaders. It can be hard for them to make the unpopular decisions leaders are often forced to make.
If you've got a highly agreeable team member in a senior or manager position, teach them how to deliver negative feedback in a constructive way, and remind them how important it is to both the organization and the team to make those harder calls.
High conscientiousness is the bigger social feature of good leaders. According to Live Science, these workers have a keen sense of duty and organization. Though conscientiousness often links to better job performance, it might hurt with less organized work environments where the natural rhythm and culture is to jump in and keep moving.
Ask your conscientious employees what tasks give them energy and be transparent about the aspects of your office that might be frustrating for them.
The trait for adaptability and creativity is openness. Researcher Courtney Ackerman writes that research links openness to “broad intellectual skills” such as creativity and knowledge, which can also lead workers high in openness to find their place in key leadership positions.
Yet, McCormick and Giles remind us that the flip-side of the open employee is that they sometimes come with an overly strong creative drive that often needs checking. Make sure you always take time to listen to your open employees and provide clear path for them to visualize their future within the company and be clear yet supportive when they have an idea that just won't work.
Neuroticism gets a bad rap. In fact, Ackerman links it to worse job performance and “added life difficulties.” Yikes. But all neuroticism really means is a propensity to feel and react to the negative things around you — letting things get to you.
And that's not always a bad thing. In a paper from Center for Applied Cognitive Studies in North Carolina, Pierce and Jane Howard explain that, “susceptibility to negative emotions” can make for strong social scientists, customer service professionals, and scholars. McCormick and Giles stress that neurotic workers need help to be resilient, manage their stress, and handle their negative emotions in constructive ways.
A varied team can be a blessing and a curse depending on how agreeable and open the disagreeing parties are. While personality tools like the Big Five can be a great guide, what matters most is that you stay open to getting the best out of everyone.
No matter where you look, you'll find a conversation about employee recognition.
Pepsico CEO, Indra Nooyi made headlines when she revealed that she writes 400 letters per year to the parents of her senior execs. And in his trending LinkedIn article, Global CTO at DailyMail Online and Metro.Co.Uk, Oleg Vishnepolsky makes a strong but surprisingly simple case for employee recognition.
His story is barely 300 words in length, yet it illustrates with perfect clarity just how easy it is to get employee recognition right.
So why do so many of us still miss the boat?
Don't get us wrong, we love tech, but HR is overflowing with it.
With tools for everything from sending automated birthday GIFs to doling out points on a Slack scoreboard every time someone restocks the toilet paper—let's just say, it's easy to lose sight of why these tools exist in the first place.
So what is employee recognition, really? Here's how some of our favorite HR thought leaders define it.
To Ben Eubanks, employee recognition is an essential driver of innovation.
The expert HR analyst and founder of upstartHR, explains that with the right approach to employee recognition, you can drive innovation across every department within the organization (not just the flashy R&D teams).
"It might not be your job as an HR leader to recognize employees, but it is your job to design/build the system that your employees and managers use. We know that recognition improves employee engagement, and innovation provides an opportunity to target those employees that are dreaming up new ideas and methods to improve the business."
By showing all your people that you value their input and ideas, you're opening up every system, process and product to new efficiencies that can take your organization to a whole other level. Here's Ben again:
"The outcomes for submitting ideas can be as simple as peer/social recognition or it could include financial incentives and rewards. Whatever the case, be sure to create a system and culture of recognition that makes employees want to find smarter ways to work. Don’t just attempt to motivate your people—inspire them."
An important piece of this is making sure you recognize employees by acting on their suggestions and ideas. Even if it's just on an experimental basis, showing your commitment to smart innovation will always take you farther than simply talking about it.
We love most things Kris Dunn has to say. The Kinetix CHRO and author of the HR Capitalist blog gave an epic shoutout to low-key recognition, using awesome examples of low-key ways to communicate your appreciation to employees who might not be comfortable with public recognition.
Kris points out that while we're used passing out awards and making big announcements in the white-collar world, this may not be the best approach for introverts or blue-collar workers.
"The broader point for any of us thinking about recognition is simple. To maximize your approach and the subsequent results, you’ll have to customize your recognition programs for different employee segments.Failure to consider when and how to recognize individual segments can and will be held against you in the court of employee sentiment. If you’re wondering why your managers don’t use the recognition tools you provide, it’s likely because you haven’t provided them with choices that work for the employee types they manage."
Employee recognition is an inherently personal thing. Set your managers up to win by taking the time to figure out what works best for each individual on the team.
One of our favorite stories of employee recognition in action, involves a manager and a millennial (obvious, right?).
Fistful of Talent author and former HR Manager Tim Sackett explains how, after conducting a performance review for a high-performing millennial, his executive sent a handwritten letter to the employee's parents thanking them for raising a rockstar.
Here's what happened next according to Tim:
"About a week later, I got a call from the front desk. It was the employee’s father, asking the front desk to talk to the executive and telling them they were the father of this employee. The front desk person called me, believing something bad must have happened, so I took the call.
I spoke with a man in his 50’s who had a hard time holding back tears of pride, thanking me (and our executive) for sharing such a wonderful story and how proud they were. The employee also came in to my office to thank me for doing this – believing I must have put the executive up to it (it’s an HR touchy-feely thing).
The employee said that they could never imagine a better place to work. A 3-minute hand written letter = powerful recognition and engagement."
How's that for appreciation?
At first glance, it's tempting to see this as just another story about performance strategies for millennials, but one of the most beautiful things about employee recognition is that a little truly goes a long way. Or as Tim says, "Employee recognition doesn’t have to be hard, or take a long time, or be a part of a process. It has to be genuine, in the moment and meaningful. Too many times we forget this on the organizational front."
By now, we know there's a reason Oleg's post has 31,454 likes (at the time of writing this article). And we know it has nothing to do with star-studded perks and rewards programs.
But surely we can't just throw employee recognition to the wind and hope that it magically happens, right? Right.
Or at least, mostly right.
The problem is work gets in the way. We get caught up in the day-to-day and forget all about the people who make work happen.
According to research from management consulting firm Cicero Group, employees found that a simple "well done" was more effective for engagement than a 5% increase in salary.
Do you need really need an employee recognition program to make sure these simple words are being exchanged?
Yes, you probably do. But it's important to note that, at the end of the day, you can have the trendiest employee recognition program this side of Silicon valley, but it will mean zilch to your employees if you don't lead with integrity.
But if the research on employee recognition is to be believed, any effort you put into making your people feel appreciated will definitely come back to you in the form of hard returns for the business. If you're ready to do it right, there is a very solid business case to be made for employee recognition.
We all love having something to look forward to and designing a program to reward and recognize your can definitely encourage the whole office to develop a deeper commitment to each other and the business.
Here's some math that makes a clear case for employee recognition:
If that's not enough to convince your CEO it's time to invest in an employee recognition program, try this:
Companies who spend a minimum of 1% of payroll on recognition are 79% more likely to have better financial results.
Despite the massive market for employee incentivization, employee recognition programs don’t have to cripple your budget.
Employee recognition programs are not what they used to be and as the experts note, real employee recognition has basically nothing to do with mass-manufactured trophies or bringing your pet to work, and everything to do with how you treat your people in the day-to-day.
Here are five simple ways to make your employees feel appreciated.
According to Harvard Business School professor, Francesca Gino, “Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too.”
Francesca and Wharton professor Adam Grant measured a groups of students’ sense of self-worth after receiving feedback on performance. They found that 25% of the group that received just an acknowledgment felt higher levels of self-worth, compared with 55% of the group that received thanks.
Apparently, there's a pretty big difference between "Good job" and "Thanks for doing a good job."
The days of tenure-based recognition and employees of the month are long gone. Those methods just don't work on younger employees, especially considering how often they change roles.
As Gallup’s chief scientist Jim Harter puts it, "recognition is a short-term need that has to be satisfied on an ongoing basis -- weekly, maybe daily."
And nothing says you care more than taking time out of your hectic schedule for a set one-on-one. There are a number of reasons to meet privately with your employees. If you're looking for a little inspiration (or questions to get the convo started), start here with our post on 11 Types of Employee One-on-ones.
We love managers, but sometimes their faces are just too close to the mirror to see what's really happening within the team.
Peers who work shoulder to shoulder on the business's frontline will always know when someone deserves a pat on the back. Peer-to-peer recognition can also help offset some of the rater effects that can skew a manager's perspective and contribute to a broader environment of support and recognition.
The best way to encourage peer-to-peer recognition is to simply lead by example. Don't be afraid to say something nice about a high-performing employee or manager, even if they're from a separate or "competing" department. You might be surprised at how quickly others follow suit.
According to Mercer, 78% of employees would stay with their current company if they knew there was a clear career path for advancement. In another survey, 53% of employees said respect for their knowledge and experience was their biggest expectation from management.
Performance reviews are the perfect opportunity to show your employees you appreciate their potential and you're ready to take advantage of it. Remember, recognition doesn't always have to be delivered in the form of a pay raise or promotion (though those things do help!)
What matters most is that you have a system in place to help them feel great by keeping that momentum toward the bigger picture.
If your employees are disgruntled and disengaged, it's usually due to a lack of follow-through on the part of the manager or exec team.
Any exec can call an employee into their office and ask for the next big idea, but not many can fearlessly hand over the trust, resources and autonomy it takes to let the employee run that idea past the finish line.
If you're committed to showing your employees you care, you must have a system in place for delivering and collecting feedback on both sides of the table, and actively follow up to measure your progress on shared goals.
There are millions of self-development books, articles and coaching programs with the aim of helping us learn how to "speak our truth", "live an authentic life" or "stand up for ourselves".
Take for example, social scientist and courage expert Brene Brown's latest book, Braving the Wilderness. The #1 New York Times best-seller sold 42,000 copies in the first week of its release (coming in second place for adult non-fiction after Hillary Clinton's, What Happened).
So why the obsession with speaking up?
In short, we feel awful when we don't. In fact, one of the five biggest regrets of the dying are: "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings." More than any office perk or benefit, giving your employees a voice is a sure way to make them feel great—both at work, and in life. Here's where to start.
Above all else, employees want to be recognized as individuals in the workplace. But the ability (or inability) to speak up is itself an extremely individual trait.
We all know the office extrovert never has a problem getting their point across, but just because a person is the loudest, doesn't mean they're right. Personality, character and upbringing all have a huge impact on a person's willingness to speak up and if you want to be an exceptional leader, you need to hear from everyone.
You may be surprised to uncover creative profit-driving insights sitting idle in the mind of your team's quiet stabilizer, or some very legitimate complaints building up resentment with one of your star performers who was brought up to "work things out yourself."
Step back and take an objective look at your team environment and all the different personalities within it. How can you balance the communication scale?
Let's face it. Leaders aren't always the best listeners.
After all, you're usually the one doing the talking. But if you truly value what your employees have to say, know that listening is a skill that can be learned and one that will make you a much more effective leader.
Start by taking stock of your current listening behaviors. How do your personal beliefs about listening and speaking up color your view of your employees? Do you tend to get bored, antsy or snappy when someone else is talking? Do you make eye contact or fidget with your computer?
According to Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication, 93% of communication comes in the form of nonverbal cues (38% tone of voice and 55% body language). Resist your distractions and focus on the person in front of you.
Acknowledge the nonverbal hints coming from both sides of the conversation. Are you letting your employee know that you're engaged or losing interest? Do they look excited or disappointed? It's okay to respond to these cues in the moment.
Once you've acknowledged the unique communication styles of your team members and yourself, focus on creating opportunities where everyone can feel comfortable contributing to the discussion.
For example, in group meetings, extroverts will always shine. Even if you already have weekly one-on-ones in place, you may want to schedule additional private meetings with certain team members to ensure they're voicing their opinions and suggestions before and after major team announcements and discussions.
Make it a point to check in with your employees who haven't spoken up in a while. Show them they can trust you by acting on the feedback you receive. Going the extra mile to make your employees feel heard may seem like a headache in the short term, but it's an effort your people will never forget.
From slides to cryogenics, there's no shortage of wild ideas for increasing employee engagement. And we get it. Engaged employees are more productive, less likely to quit and great for a company's bottom line.
But real employee engagement doesn't require an investment in meditation pods or Michelin star chefs. Inspiration, recognition and culture are the essential ingredients, and there's always a way to keep teams inspired and engaged, even if you're not a Silicon-valley startup.
Trite as it may sound, inspiration is probably the #1 key ingredient to a highly motivated workforce. Take a look at the best and brightest leaders today, and you can see they all have this one nailed.
And it all starts with a meaningful goal. Whether you use an OKR or KPI model for goal-setting, the most important thing is to make sure the goal can be directly tracked back to the individual contributions of every member on your team. And don't be afraid to get creative.
Coors Brewing Company successfully rallied their employees around a business goal through an internal campaign designed to win back market share from smaller micro-brews. Their #ReclaimColorado campaign offered employees a monthly stipend of $35 to buy beer with friends when they were out having drinks. Employees were asked to share their stories on the company's internal social network, and over 200 employees participated.
Most business leaders expect their employees to be as excited about their goals as they are. But in the real world, that's an unlikely scenario.
Your employees can of course care deeply about the business, but when push comes to shove, that business is someone else's baby. To truly increase employee engagement, you must acknowledge that each of your employees has personal and professional dreams of their own.
That's why leading companies like Deloitte, Asana, and many others, put a big emphasis on learning and development. Don't have the budget for life coaches and employee sabbaticals? Don't worry. If you’re like most offices with a multi-generational workforce, you probably have plenty of in-house coaches on hand. In fact, almost 9 in 10 Millennials see baby boomers as a great source of mentorship in the workplace. Companies like AdRoll are known for using senior staff as mentors.
Big picture inspiration and personal motivation are important, but they aren't always enough to keep your employees engaged year round.
Researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer found that managers of high-performing teams maintained a consistent, daily focus on progress. When we're stressed or under pressure, it can be easy to focus on how far behind we are, or how much work lies ahead of us. But according to the research, that's simply a waste of time. If you want your employees to maintain a winning trajectory, focus your attention on their strengths and acknowledge every step they take in the right direction.
On the subject of progress, it's worth noting that if it takes employees 20 minutes just to boot up their computers in the morning, they'll feel like they've hit a wall before they even log in.
Employees need seamless access to the right tools and info, or what experts refer to as an "enabling infrastructure", in order to feel empowered to do their best work every day. Take a look around your workplace. Is there anything in need of an upgrade?
Same goes for your software and systems tools. Where are the bottlenecks? How can you make it as painless as possible for employees to get the answers they need? Removing or replacing red tape may involve an investment up front, but it will definitely pay off in long-term employee productivity.
Contrary to popular belief, recognition isn't just about acknowledging top performers for hitting the right sales goals (though you should definitely do that).
True recognition is an active appreciation for your employees, both professionally and personally. It's not just about knowing who hit their numbers last month, but knowing whose kid just made the honor list.
Despite Dale Carnegie's best advice, most leaders are too busy to stop and recognize their employees, and most organizations are incredibly siloed. Bridge the gaps between teams and departments and encourage your employees to really get to know each other. This can be as simple as scheduling a company-wide coffee break (like they do over at Slack), or as sophisticated as creating an internal culture platform with a tool like Bonfyre.
Regular employee engagement surveys that flip the script by asking employees to rate the organization are a great way to improve engagement, simply by making employees feel heard.
In a recent article for TLNT, Ron Thomas of Strategy Focused suggests employers follow up with as much attention and frequency as a 5-star hotel—just replace "How was your stay?" with "How are we doing?". And you don't have to do this all the time, once a month is a great start.
Ron also recommends creating an engagement council to consistently request and monitor employee feedback—a move that will not only keep employees engaged, but also give you a great understanding of what is and isn't working over time.
The most common advice for improving employee engagement is to implement some kind of weekly performance check-in.
And we agree, frequent reviews can be incredibly effective for keeping employees motivated and on track. But beware. There's a thin line between continuous feedback and micromanagement.
Resist the temptation to use the weekly check-in to dive into project setbacks or details. Instead, take a page from Asana's book and focus your one-on-ones on your employee's personal goals, and the measurable progress they made on the big picture company goals. Rather than telling an employee how to do their job, managers should simply let employees know their doors are always open if they ever need help. After all, accountability is useless if it doesn't come with the kind of autonomy that empowers employees to make changes themselves.
In the wake of Olark CEO, Ben Congleton’s viral email, mental health is finally becoming a priority in the workplace. But unfortunately, most employees are still too uncomfortable to discuss their mental health in the office, which can have a devastating impact on a company's bottom line.
In fact, mental health issues cost 12 billion days in lost productivity for employers around the globe, prompting companies like Barclays, Amex, Starbucks, and many more to create internal initiatives aimed at improving employee mental well being. Employees who feel great inside and out just perform better. And if you lead the way, they'll follow. For example, Amex’s ‘Healthy Minds’ program has a 98% internal satisfaction rate.
One simple way to offer a quick boost of energy is to let employees take meetings outdoors.
Stale office air can actually make employees less productive, but on the flip side, getting outside is great for mental health. A University of Michigan study even found a 20% increase in short term memory performance for participants who walked among trees, compared to those those who walked down city streets. Employees at LinkedIn take regular ‘Walk and Talks’ to wake up their brains and make meetings more productive.
No one wants to read 10 pages of fine print on changes to their health policy. One great way to show your employees you're committed to engagement is to cut the jargon and start speaking their language. And these days, that means video.
According to Hubspot, a whopping 59% of company decision makers would rather watch a video than read an article or blog post. At Wistia, managers cater to the masses by making key announcements via weekly video updates. And no need to fret over production value. Even a simple smartphone-recorded video is a great way to liven up internal announcements and make sure employees actually see important updates. Video can also be used to help get new hires more amped up during the onboarding process, and even cut down on time lost due to frivolous meetings.
From star startups to Fortune 500s like GE and Johnson & Johnson, leading companies offer flex scheduling and remote work arrangements to help zap work/life stress and keep employees focused on outcomes.
And this is one engagement tool that will become even more crucial in the near future. By 2030, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce—and more than a million millennials are becoming parents each year.
It's no secret working parents are under extreme pressure and today's leading companies are competing hard on parental benefits—even going as far as offering onsite daycare facilities and free breastmilk shipping for traveling moms. But a simple flex scheduling policy is a great way to attract star talent, even if you don't have a billion-dollar budget. Just work a little extra flexibility into your existing flex scheduling, PTO, or WFH policy. For example, Capriotti's Sandwich Shop allows on-staff parents to take time off to attend their kids’ events and activities, no questions asked.
Most employers make the mistake of trying to dress work up as fun. But no matter how creative the ice-breakers, a team-building workshop is still a work activity.
Create events that bring employees together with the sole purpose of letting their hair down. For example, employees at Penguin Random House love books (obviously), so they created a summer reading club. For offices with a more diverse workforce, choose something a little more universal like last Friday pizza lunch. (Because, come on. Who doesn't love pizza?)
Socializing at work has an undeniably positive impact on employee performance. Having a set time and place can help cut down on the distractions of friendships at work, while still harnessing the benefits of increased engagement and productivity. Whether you opt for classic or creative, just make sure there's one clear rule: No talking shop.
There's no shortage of perks and tools out there promising to make your employees feel more engaged at work. But in truth, the single biggest thing you can do to improve employee engagement is to simply show your people you're committed to their success.
Because at the end of the day employee engagement isn't just an altruistic lip service initiative. It's the key to a profitable future for your business, and coincidentally, it's the right thing to do.
At PerformYard our goal is to build a flexible performance management solution that is also really easy to use.
That means we need to offer all the functionality of the big clunky enterprise tools, but maintain the ease-of-use found in overly simplified small business HR software. Our customers should be able to take any complex performance management strategy and run it effortlessly in PerformYard.
That is a never-ending challenge.
It was with this goal in mind that we recently rebuilt our recognition and notes features into the brand new (and totally amazing) Feedback feature. Feedback in PerformYard now allows you to recognize employees in front of the entire company, create private notes, or share feedback with your employees individually. All of this is accomplished through a single intuitive process, because we know managers don’t have time to learn another complicated piece of software.
Whatever feedback the employee chooses to give will then automatically be stored and shared with the appropriate people.
At review time, employee feedback from the previous year can be pulled up while filling out the review form to help inform a more complete picture of the employees performance.
Check out our customer support page to see more ways you could use Feedback at your organization.
The employee one-on-one is a classic example of something easy to do, but hard to do well.
A recurring calendar event is scheduled, the first few one-on-ones are dutifully attended, but then over time the poor dialog and lack of purpose lead to meetings getting pushed, other issues cannibalizing the time, and eventually the idea is just scrapped.
This article is not about getting started, it is about getting good and maintaining an effective employee check-in practice over the long-term.
One-on-one meetings should not use the same template each week. Ben Horowitz calls one-on-ones “the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.” If you are always asking the same four questions, the meeting is bound to get stale.
That does not mean you should go in without a plan. Instead of a static template, we are going to build a practice. That means instead of trying to create the perfect single meeting, we’ll try to optimize all the one-on-ones we’ll ever have with an employee as a whole. Think of it like using many different types of meetings, but in the same time slot each week.
Below we’ve listed out 11 types of employee one-on-one meetings. Each one does not need to take up the full 30 minute or one hour timeslot you’ve allotted and you’ll find that you often combine two or three into a single sitting. We listed them roughly in the order of how frequently they should be used, and generally you should get through all of them about every 6 months.
The first step in creating effective one-on-ones is to build trust. If your employees feel that you’re distant they won’t come to meetings open and willing to share. They also won’t feel connected and ready to work through things together.
The good news is that creating trust is relatively easy, the only step is to take an honest interest in someone as a person. Find out more about their personal life and their hobbies, be there for them when they face life’s challenges. If your employees know you’re there for them and care for them, all the other types of meetings below will go much more smoothly.
If you don’t already have a strong connection with an employee, don’t be afraid to spend the first few one-on-ones just building up a stronger rapport. Then over time take a few minutes to check in on them every meeting and periodically just let a whole meeting go by talking about them. Remember, we’re not judging the impact of any one meeting, we’re judging the impact of our one-on-one practice as a whole.
One-on-ones should be the employee’s meeting, as often as possible. This means they set the agenda. That said, you can still help guide them, and let them know it is ok to bring up certain issues.
For example, if your employee is having trouble working with another person at the office, they might not want to bring that issue up unless you first prompt them and let them know it is fair-game to discuss. Prompt the meeting with open-ended questions designed to unearth specific issues if they exist.
Often check-ins are just a discussion of what the employee is working on right now. They can be an opportunity to provide feedback, course corrections, additional support, or remove barriers.
An organization is by definition a group of people working towards a particular purpose. For that reason it is important to regularly check in on how your team is working with the rest of the organization.
Once you have built up some trust, use one-on-ones as a way for employees to share any issues they have with the way you work. Getting these out in the open is incredibly healthy, it gives you a chance to explain yourself, or make changes. Requesting feedback is also a great way to build additional trust before giving difficult feedback.
The regular and recurring nature of one-on-ones makes them a perfect place for continuous feedback. That said it is also important to cater feedback to the individual, so if you the employee wants to hear from you in the moment, waiting two weeks or a month until the next check-in might not be appreciated.
One of the most common complaints from employees is that no one is listening to their ideas. One-on-ones are the perfect platform to discuss what changes your team would like to see at the company. Front line team members can often be the best source of ideas, but also don’t be afraid to push back on ideas and give the employee more context when needed.
This one can be easily overlooked. Your team will often not have the same view of the company as you do and a regular meeting can be a great time to communicate any new initiatives, company level goals, and how an employee’s work fits into the big picture.
While it doesn’t make sense to discuss long-term goals every week, it is important to understand what motivates your employees and where they are looking to go in life. If you can find ways to align their personal goals with the company’s goals the results will be dramatic.
This one almost feels too big or maybe too simple? But, happy employees are better employees, and unhappy employees are at risk of disengaging or turning over. You won't know for sure until you ask.
Finally, don't forget to follow up. If you are doing one-on-ones well, then they should form an ongoing dialog where ideas get raised and you can discuss progress over time. Take notes and set reminders together to revisit the idea at a future date.
Wow, I feel like I need even more frequent check-ins to have time to talk about all these different things. Hopefully you feel the same way and will never have to wonder, “what could we possibly talk about this week?”
Pick and choose from the different types of meetings above to create your own one-on-one practice that is a fit for each employee and your organization. Before long one-on-ones will be a key part of your management tool belt.
Yes, the answer is just yes.
First, a quick clarification of terms. When we say negative feedback we’re talking about: suggestions for improvement, discussions of new and better ways to do things, and pointing out things that were done in a less than optimal way.
The types of communications we’re not including are: general expressions of dissatisfaction, negative characterizations or reprimands.
The problem with negative feedback is the divide between the number of managers who tend to avoid it and the number of employees who would like to receive it.
The leadership consulting firm Zegner/Folkman did a survey of close to one thousand individuals. They asked a few simple questions about giving and receiving feedback. As expected a large percentage of managers said they tended to avoid giving negative feedback. The surprising finding was when they asked employees about receiving negative feedback...57% of respondents said they prefered negative feedback over positive feedback. Over half of people not only wanted negative feedback, they wanted it more than positive feedback.
Even more amazing 92% agreed with the statement “Negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”
An employee who wants negative feedback, cares about their success and wants to grow.
Most of us want to be better, and we want advice on how to get there. Just look at the top selling non-fiction books on Amazon. The week I checked the #1 book offered “A counterintuitive approach to living a good life.” The #2 book offered “A scientifically proven approach to changing your life - for good.” In total, 9 of the top 20 books were offering some type of advice to help people improve their lives. The advice ranged from loving your spouse better, to principles for managing life and business, to winning friends and influencing people, to escaping addiction. There was even a book with advice on how to stop always wanting to be better!
The demand that sends these books to the top of the charts is the same demand that drove the results of the Zegner/Folkman study. People want to be better and they want help getting there.
Zegner/Folkman presented their data as if the answer was so simple. It was almost as if they were saying, “It’s ok managers, your employees want negative feedback, you don’t need to worry about giving it.” But is it really that easy?
I’m recently married, and my wife sometimes expresses a desire to get in even better shape than she already is (honey if you’re reading this, you’re in great shape!). She even sometimes expresses a desire for feedback and advice on how to do it. So one time I offered...
I can hear my fellow married folks yelling across the interwebs right now, “it’s a trap! Don’t do it!” I know, I know. We all need to learn these lesson on our own I guess.
“Maybe you could not eat dessert as much...”
Suffice it to say that I now have a VERY strong tendency to avoid negative feedback.
So, sure we all want negative feedback, we just don't take it very well. Managers know this too.
The other problem is that while we all generally want feedback to help us improve, we often don’t want to hear the specific feedback we end up getting. When was the last time you saw a diet book titled, “Stop Eating Too Much and Exercise More.”
So what do we know so far? There is almost universal agreement that negative feedback is a valuable tool for improving performance. Also, Employees want, at least theoretically, to receive feedback. The only thing holding us back is that moment when we give and receive the real feedback, that’s the part nobody likes.
Be a coach, not a critic - It is really easy to point out something that is wrong, it is much harder to show someone the path to what is right. Just letting someone know they’re doing something wrong is not good feedback. So position yourself to be an employee's coach, not their critic.
Don’t get emotional - If you’re uptight and stressed about giving feedback you’re going to make the person on the other side of the table uptight about receiving it.
Engage around solutions - No one is buying books from Amazon titled “What I Think Is Wrong With You.” People want solutions and they want to be part of finding those solutions.
Respect individual preferences - As we’ve already said, people want feedback. So try asking them how they’d like to receive it. Negative feedback is not about managers getting something off their chest, it is about employees learning and improving, so respect and accommodate what your employees need to be most successful.
Negative feedback is hard, but everyone is already in agreement that it is important. Invest some time in getting good at it, you're employees will thank you.
The carrot or the stick. Teaching a behavior is often a combination of feedback that rewards desired actions and punishes undesired outcomes. While this is an easy concept to understand, not all reinforcement is effectively delivered.
This is especially true in the workplace where recognizing a job well done is an important part of a high performance culture. Not only does it boost morale, it also helps define the behaviors and outcomes that your company values. However, if it isn’t done right or with the right frequency, your positive feedback might not be making an impact.
Next time you get the opportunity to reward a high-flying employee, remember these five characteristics of good positive feedback:
Be Timely: The most important aspect of giving positive reinforcement is that is it is delivered shortly after the action. As time passes, not only will it be harder to recall the details of the success, you will have missed the opportunity to allow your employee to reflect on their hard work.
Even if you are planning a more formal recognition, it is still important to follow up within at least a day or two with an appreciative note.
Be Honest: Rewarding the right employees for work that they actually did is important for your credibility and also for team morale. Giving too much credit to an employee on false grounds can lead to unintended consequences by showing that you value dishonesty over teamwork.
This may take some investigating, so be sure that your mid-level managers are on board and understand the importance of giving honest feedback.
Be Meaningful: Make sure to set a high enough threshold that employees and teams have to stretch to earn recognition. Rewarding a mediocre employee performance devalues the high performers on your team.
Additionally, sincere delivery of a reward for great work shows how much you appreciate exceptional effort. In some cases, a thoughtful, appreciative note can be just as effective and appreciated as a small gift.
Be Detailed: Make sure that your hard worker doesn’t lose the lesson when you feed them praise. Adding in specific details on the work they did and why their behavior was outstanding will help them repeat their performance in the future.
Be Attentive: It can be easy to overlook the quiet performers on your team. However, finding the diamond performances in the rough shows that you have a finger on the pulse of your company. Additionally, demonstrating that popularity isn’t a factor in rewarding a job well done will help better convey how you define exceptional performance.
Developing a talent for providing good positive feedback is an important part of growing a high performance culture at any organization. How do you handle recognizing your top performers?