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The Case for Feedback
by Suzanne Dyer-Gear, MAS, SPHR

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There’s an urban legend in Human Resource circles that goes something like this: A manager got a telephone call one day from a person asking about a job that had been advertised a couple of months before, and whether or not it had been filled. The manager replied that they had indeed hired someone for the position. The person on the other end of the phone then asked if it was a successful hire for the company, or if the manager thought that the position might be advertised again sometime in the near future. The manager informed the caller that the person was doing well, and that he was confident that they would not be recruiting for the position in the near future. The person making the inquiry thanked him, and hung up.

The caller? The actual new hire. Nearly desperate to know if he was going to be kept at the end of his three-month orientation period, he disguised his voice and called his manager in hopes of receiving some kind of feedback on how he was doing.

Silly story? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Anything but. 

Employees frequently report that they truly don’t know what their managers think of their performance. One person I was speaking to recently is relatively new in her job. When she asked her manager for feedback about her performance, she was told not to worry—that if she wasn’t doing well, she wouldn’t be working there for long. While the manager may have been trying to be funny, or even reassuring, the message had the opposite effect. The employee is now contemplating beginning a new job search, for fear that she might come to work one day and be terminated without any warning at all.

Almost the opposite can occur too. Sometimes managers hesitate to tell employees that they are considered “high potential” by the company. A worker may leave for what they believe to be a better opportunity somewhere else, not knowing that their organization had growth plans for them in the future. How could they not have known? Because no one bothered to tell them.

Why don’t some managers give employees feedback? Perhaps they’re hesitant to criticize or to broach sensitive topics. Maybe they’ve never had training in providing both positive and negative feedback. Whatever the cause, the results can be harmful.

If your employees are like most people, they’d rather know if their supervisor thinks they need to improve their performance or work habits in some way. If workers are not aware that they’re doing something wrong, how can we possibly expect them to improve? 

By the same token, while most of us want to know what we can improve upon, we’d also like to know what we’re doing well. A simple “You did a good job with that project” can do wonders for employee morale. And since we’re likely to repeat behaviors we’re rewarded for, a positive comment also lets employees know how we want them to behave. 

Providing frequent, specific feedback to employees about what they’re doing right and what they need to improve upon accomplishes two organizational objectives. First, letting employees know exactly where they stand helps to motivate and retain key contributors. Secondly, employee performance is only likely to improve if employees know what exactly they need to change. Sounds like a win-win to me. 

With more than twenty years experience in Human Resources and Organizational Development, Suzanne Dyer-Gear has a proven track record of developing and implementing systems that significantly reduce costs while enhancing organizational and employee productivity and satisfaction. Suzanne is widely regarded as a dynamic trainer, having developed and delivered hundreds of seminars on more than 30 different management and H.R. topics, and has presented at national and international conferences. In addition to her consultation practice, Suzanne teaches both undergraduate and graduate level college courses on a number of Management, Leadership, Human Resources and Organizational Development topics. She has published over 70 articles in newspapers and trade magazines, and is currently working on her first book, ‘Lost Employees: How Good Organizations Lose Good People—While Still Employing Them’.

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