Should we give our employees feedback in the same way we do for our children?

As you may have noticed from the past few posts, I like the analogy of home and organization life mirroring each other.  I also feel that the analogy really brings management topics to life in a way that it makes sense to the business people I have been speaking with.  Today’s post will focus on feedback; specifically how and when do we give feedback to the employees reporting to us.  In an effort to make this subject easier to grasp I would first like to explore how parents give feedback to their children.

Parenting books, magazines and articles all offer the same advice to parents, be clear and specific and timely when speaking with your children.  Great advice, but what does this look like?  Let’s look at a few basic examples:

  1. A.   Clean your room.
    1. Please take the clean clothes off the floor and put them in their assigned drawers and put the dirty clothes in the hamper, take all your toys lying around the room and put them in the toy boxes, make your bed, and throw away all the garbage that is lying around.

Do you see a difference between the two statements?  A few months back I told my 5 year old daughter to clean her room, the result, she cleaned her room.  However, later that evening as I was putting her to bed, I had to get something from her closet only to discover that I could not open her closet doors because she had taken everything that had been lying on the floor and her dresser and stuffed it onto the floor of her closet.  Is this what I meant? Any parent in the same situation as myself, knows that I wanted her things put away in their allocated spaces, not dumped on the floor of the closet.  Fast forward to a few weeks later and I gave both my children specific instructions on my expectations for how their rooms should be cleaned: dirty clothes in the laundry; toys in the toy bins and garbage in the garbage, and this time I was not disappointed! Their rooms were fabulous!  To add to my delight, my daughter has since been informing me at least once a week that she is doing her best to keep her room clean.  She is now exceeding my expectations! A mom bonus! So what might this look like in the business setting?

  1. A. Write a report on X.

B. Write a report on X, comparing the strategies of 2 of our competitors and how we can distinguish ourselves.  The report should be: presented in a formal way (more elaboration should be inserted here to define what formal means), minimum of 10 pages and is due no later than X.  Please note, this report has become a priority.

We can see a clear difference in the 2 statements above.  With the first, an employee is left to wonder what should be included in the report, that a draft form might be acceptable and has no idea when it is due and/or if it is a priority.  It is not the employee’s responsibility to ask the manager for the details they require.  Employees are not mind readers and the only way to increase the likelihood of your expectations being met and exceeded is to make your expectations known in a clear and specific manner.

  1. A. You are a bad boy.

B. Your behavior is not good.

C. Eating with your mouth open and not sitting at the table indicate poor table manners.

See the difference in the three statements above?  In the first statement, a child understands that they are bad, but does not know why.  In the second statement, the boy understands that they are not bad, but their behavior that is unacceptable but still does not know why and what to fix. The third statement tells the boy exactly what they are doing that is not right.  The child in turn has the information he needs to make a change.  What does this look like in an organizational setting?

  1. A. You are a bad employee.

B. You have failed to meet your sales quota 6 months in a row.

C. You have failed to meet your sales quota by over 10% 6 months in a row, anything over 5% is unacceptable sales performance.

The difference is clear in the three statements.  Many times I see managers giving B type information without following up on whether this is acceptable or not for the organization.  Frequently, I will speak with managers/supervisors who are surprised when their employees are upset after not receiving a raise or for being terminated for poor performance.  They tell me their employees usually say they did not realize how bad the situation had become.  They did not realize because they were not properly informed.  On the opposite side of the coin employees complain to me that they have been told their performance is not meeting expectations yet they do not know what to change.  The only way employees will be able to increase their performance is by giving them the information they require to make the desired changes.

Let’s take a moment and discuss cause and effect.  This idea is key when discussing the timing of feedback to change behavior and is also echoed in general parenting advice.  Parents are told they cannot expect to see a change in a child’s behavior if the feedback they receive is not directly linked to the timing of the incident in question.  For instance, if we want our children to stop throwing food on the floor a parent should implement an immediate consequence so that their child stops repeating the offending behavior.  Telling the child to not throw food on the ground a few hours later does not have the same impact.  Parents are also given this advice to reinforce positive behaviors, reward and praise your children as close to the positive event as possible so that they make the link and repeat the desired behavior in the future.  The same is true when giving feedback to our employees.  It is important to deliver it as close to the event as possible so that they make the link and it has optimum impact.  Whether the event is positive or negative, the best way to modify behavior is to reinforce, reward and offer consequences when required in a timely manner.

What do you think?

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