Gallup recently discovered that only 21% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they have received meaningful feedback in the last week. Whether managers are shying away from uncomfortable topics or are willing but ineffective feedback providers, few employees are hearing what they need. And managers are overlooking a very effective technique they could use to build a better culture.
Remember: Though managers drive the culture, employees fuel it. The workers' perspectives are crucial to the culture's outcomes. Managers can use the following guiding principles to help keep the employee perspective in mind.
Telling employees how to succeed — not how to stop failing — is more effective.
Though the seven guiding principles tend to refer to constructive feedback intended to improve performance, managers should remember that the best feedback is often praise. In fact, Gallup has found employees should be recognized for great work about once a week — highlighting what an employee does right encourages them to do more of it. (This is just one reason strengths-based feedback is so effective.) If an employee's performance is not recognized, they have trouble seeing how their work contributes to the success of the company, which can derail their desire to excel.
Praise, on the other hand, is like espresso: uplifting and invigorating. Specific and timely recognition reinforces an employee's belief in their own abilities and skills and motivates them to tackle even more difficult tasks.
Gallup has found employees should be recognized for great work about once a week — highlighting what an employee does right encourages them to do more of it.
Managers should be sincere — random pats on the back aren't inspiring — and clear about the praise they are giving. Details matter. For instance, hearing, "You researched this well, got to the heart of the problem and developed several potential solutions," affirms the employee's strengths, directs their future behavior, and expresses appreciation from the manager and the organization.
Feedback should always include the big picture, but be sure to consider the individual, as not all employees like to receive praise in the same manner. Some people want one-on-one feedback. Others prefer praise and recognition in front of the team or department, and others prefer recognition in writing. Ask employees how they prefer recognition. Ask them to describe times praise was especially meaningful — and times it made them uncomfortable. What you learn will help you understand what resonates with and motivates each employee.
Teams also benefit from positive feedback. Recognizing everyone involved motivates performance and nourishes a culture of positive feedback within the group. Praised employees praise each other and pay more attention to each other, too.
Any kind of feedback, if delivered well, establishes a culture of ongoing improvement and shared ownership: Employees are genuinely invested in getting better at their job. High-quality conversations between managers and employees are rarer than they should be, and leaders should ensure these conversations occur on a regular basis — and that they directly benefit the employee. That is, workers need to walk away from a conversation with their manager feeling like they got something out of it. Most people want to learn and grow personally and professionally; a manager's feedback proves their interest in the individual and their development.
Put simply, feedback doesn't just improve performance — it also feeds an important emotional need at work.
Two in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that they received meaningful feedback in the last week. Substantially increasing that percentage could significantly influence employee performance.
That isn't to say managers should brashly wade into sensitive topics. That could render employees even more resistant to constructive criticism. Rather, managers should provide feedback sensitively, skillfully and strategically — aware of their influence over their team's culture of feedback.
Managers shape that culture, but employees create the momentum. And quality feedback helps them arrive where they want to go.
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Marco Nink is Gallup's Director of Research and Analytics, EMEA.
Jennifer Robison is a Senior Editor at Gallup.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on self-administered web surveys conducted during February 2022, with a random sample of 14,705 adults working full time and part time for organizations in the United States, aged 18 and older, who are members of the Gallup Panel. Gallup uses probability-based, random sampling methods to recruit its Panel members.
Gallup weighted the obtained samples to correct for nonresponse. Nonresponse adjustments were made by adjusting the sample to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education and region. Demographic weighting targets were based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population.
For results based on the overall sample of U.S. adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
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