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4 Reasons Why Giving and Receiving Performance Feedback is Important


Very often, the discussions around government performance management (PM) programs focus on the annual performance appraisal. Discussions with senior HR leaders or agency PM SOPs usually focus on how to cascade organizational goals into performance elements, how to rate elements accurately, etc. While the annual performance appraisal is an important moment in the performance management process, federal agencies that are trying to maximize their limited resources would be well served by shifting the conversation from their annual performance review practices to how to give timely, high quality feedback in real-time.

Feedback Increases Motivation

Management in the public sector and government agencies is a different ball game compared to management in private sector. Government managers need their workforces to be highly engaged and motivated if they are to succeed. However, according to a Harvard Business Review study, motivating government staff is particularly challenging due to many factors—such as their hard-to-measure achievements. To ensure the agency and its mission are running as efficiently as possible, managers need to engage employees with regular and consistent feedback.

Continuous performance monitoring with regular, effective feedback will produce optimal outcomes. Through improved employee observation, managers can gain a full understanding of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, help them to grow and develop with the agency, and thus increase their motivation to succeed.

Feedback Enhances Performance 

Feedback is critical to improving performance. Although feedback can often be mistaken as criticism, well-delivered constructive criticism can help to produce better decisions and improve performance.

Two points can maximize the value of your constructive criticism: (1) manager feedback needs to be frequent and of high quality, and (2) managers need to be confident enough to provide honest feedback, even when it’s unpleasant or challenging. Falling short on timely, honest constructive criticism will either leave employees without the knowledge that their performance must improve, or stifle their efforts to change due to the lack of specific information on what will help them meet expectations.

This kind of candid, personal feedback is important to an employee’s growth, as well as the overall success of the agency. Nevertheless, the feedback needs to be delivered in a safe environment and the employee should not be taken by surprise.

Feedback can be a two-way street, too. Not only is it important for managers to provide feedback to employees regularly, but employees should offer their managers periodic feedback as well. Doing so helps everyone improve and succeed in their job performance. This also provides managers with clues to how they are hindering or supporting their subordinates’ work and how they can remove any obstacles to their success.

Feedback Elevates Engagement

Providing employees with regular feedback is essential to their professional growth, and most employees crave feedback. As such, consistent communication between employees and their managers is typically connected to higher engagement. When done right, it can motivate staff to perform better and can be a tool for building and maintaining communication with team members.

A strong performance management program, can assist in promoting and improving employee engagement, involving a continuous process in which managers and staff work together to plan, monitor and review individual contributions to the agency.

Feedback is a Tool for Career Development

Being a manager isn’t easy, and it requires a diverse skill set which includes the ability to communicate clearly. Sizeable government organizations—NASA and the FBI, for instance—are retooling their approach to performance management and the employee review process. According to the Harvard Business Review, they’ve concluded that “accountability should be collective and that supervisors need to do a better job of coaching and developing their subordinates.”

Using an efficient government HR system facilitates accurately tracked documentation, employee development and two-way communication. An HR system will encourage HR team members to be a resource for employees and managers in progress tracking and improving skills. They also aid managers in creating individual development plans which typically include training, career goals and helping employees learn role-supportive knowledge. Training programs, in particular, will contribute to developing the employee career track and increase their loyalty with the agency and their manager.

Finally, an effective performance management system empowers managers to set expectations, provide regular informal feedback and support employee development. When done well, a performance management program along with consistent communication between employees and managers, contributes to employee growth as well as achieving the agency’s mission.

George Kettner is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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richard regan

Business as Unusual

The NeuroLeadership Insitute is a global research organization that brings neuroscience to the art of leadership. At their 2016 summit, they launched a yearlong effort to reexamine the way feedback is given and received in the workplace.

Robert Kegan, a psychologist who teaches, researches, writes, and consults about adult development, adult learning, and professional development at Harvard University and one of the keynote speakers at the conference, got this discussion rolling with a 15 minute address on how we need to change the way we look at feedback.

He advocates for the creation of deliberately developmental organizations or DDOs. He claims that DDOs are based on 10 principles:

The organization and its people can be much greater contributors to each other’s thinking.

It is based on the formula of when I get better, I help you get better which makes us all better. He refers to this prescription as an organizational culture that is addicted to feedback much like a body builder is hooked on steroids.

We did not hire you because we thought you were perfect but because we thought you were good and could be better.

It is rooted in this notion that we feast on our weaknesses and starve our egos. Our weaknesses become assets as we develop through a growth mindset where failure is an opportunity to learn something, where feedback is constructive and people are not afraid to try new things.

Quit your second job.

Kegan calls this bad habit the tasks we do in the organization that we are not paid for. Where we cover up our weaknesses as opposed to bringing them into the light; Where we manage other people’s favorable impression of ourselves by sucking up to them at work and showing up as something other than our real selves. We should not worry about how good we are in the workplace but concern ourselves with the question, “How fast am I learning something.”

Fail frequently, fast and forward.

Kegan recommends we become familiar with failure. Understand that learning from mistakes is a good thing that gets us on the road to continuous scholarship and development. In other words you can become good at getting better because you are good at failing. Instead of trying to avoid making mistakes make lots them in order to get better at something that matters. Pain + reflection = progress.

Continuous feedback is supportive and challenging.

According to Kegan, continuous feedback organizations provide advice to its members continuously and in real time. This kind of culture forces people out of the comfort zones to practice things they may not be at ease with. An introvert may be tasked with leading a meeting while an extrovert may be reviewed on their ability to bite their tongue and not dominate the discussion.

Rank does not have its usual privileges.

Kegan notes that you don’t avoid feedback the higher up you go in the organization. If anything, the spotlight grows even hotter.

Don’t run from your backhand.

Feedback centric organizations play to their strengths but do not avoid their weaknesses. You may not turn your weaknesses into perfect strengths but you can ensure your limitations don’t become fatal. Tennis players understand that their backhand stroke will never be as strong as their forehand blow. They continuously practice their backhand to maximize its effectiveness when they need it.

Job role as a tow rope.

In a DDO, once you master your job it is no longer a good job for you. It is time to move on something else you can grow in.

Work as performance or work as practicing.

In a practicing work environment you want lots of feedback. You want to get better by practicing things you need to get better at. You feel safe to make an occasional mistake because you know you are going to have another chance at improvement.

Rethink the work reward equation.

DDOs know that work has to be about more than just getting a paycheck. It is not so much about financial and career security as it about how I can leave my mark on this organization by reaching my full potential.

Feedback-it is the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions.