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Feedback for Any Age Employee

By Mary Lloyd

Motivating your employees to do the best they can is one of the key pieces of effective management. Too often, that boils down to doing an annual "performance review" that's ineffective at best and demoralizing in many cases. Changing your own performance so that you're more of a coach than an "omnipotent ruler" can make a big difference in both morale and performance level.

First, a show of hands: How many of you have had a performance review that made you mad enough to want to quit? We've all experienced it-the manager who doesn't understand your job and who dings you on your formal review for not doing the things he does understand. The boss who "stockpiles" everything she doesn't like and dumps it on you during that one annual "chat." There is so much of this garbage masquerading as "performance review" that the concept itself is under fire. And it should be-at least the annual review process should be.

Waiting months to tell an employee-seasoned or new--about something he or she didn't do properly is like not turning around when you know you're on the wrong street. Getting employees to do their best work is an on-going process. If you're only addressing it once a year, you're not doing your own job very well.

So how do you give employees the feedback they need to do the best they can?

  • Make sure every employee knows what the job is. It's temping to rely on job descriptions or coworkers to inform new hires of their job responsibilities. Taking the time to explain your expectations, how the job fits into the overall work effort, and what you see as the most important things about getting that work done can gets the process off on the right foot.
  • Pay attention to how things are going. Often, the employee isn't the reason the job isn't getting done. Maybe a key tool is broken. Maybe information from another department hasn't been provided. Maybe the training needed hasn't been available. A good boss is an expeditor. And to expedite, you need to see problems before they arrive. Ongoing communication with your staff about how things are going is essential. They-old and young-are your team. Keep your head in the game.
  • Confirm priorities. If you don't communicate what's most important to do, what gets done may well be something else. This is particularly true if an employee is good at or favors a part of the job that's not as critical. You can do some of this with general communication to the entire workforce, but reinforce it in one-on-one conversations whenever you can.
  • Take an interest in your employees. If you don't care about them, they won't care about you-or the company. This is not BFF stuff. You don't need to go out drinking with them every Friday night. But do make an effort to make eye contact, say hello, ask about the family, etc. when you have the chance. You want these folks to like being at work. Being acknowledged is part of that.
  • Give feedback immediately when something goes wrong. Waiting even a week makes your feedback a lot less effective. Talk to the person as soon as you know something didn't go right. Whenever you can, give that person the chance to learn the right way immediately by redoing what was done wrong. (Yes, I know. It is easier to just fix it yourself-but only if you're looking at the immediate problem instead of at how to develop that employee.)
  • Give feedback about the work. Attacking an employee's character has no place in a manager's feedback efforts. Focus on what went wrong with the work. Help the employee see why doing it right is important. Put it in simple terms and use numbers to establish the magnitude. Be specific. And be calm. This is not the time to pull your hair and rant about how hard it is to get people to do things right. Save that for your audition at the community theatre.
  • Read the non-verbals. Over 90% of communication is non-verbal-everything from posture to tone of voice is part of the information package you get to work with if you are paying attention. Just looking at a person can tell you a lot about their stress level, job satisfaction, and work readiness. You miss these clues to problems in the making when you do everything via computer and cell phone.
  • Just DO it! We avoid giving negative feedback as if this important asset-your employee-were a misfit at a party. The irony is, the more you do of it, the more you improve your own performance right along with the employee's. So get on with it.

Is there any difference between older and younger workers on this? Not at all. Respect them and help them excel and they will, no matter how old they are.