Research: Fewer Than Half Of Employees Know If They're Doing A Good Job
Around nine out of ten managers have avoided giving constructive feedback to their employees for fear of the employees reacting poorly. Well, is it any wonder that an employee would react badly to getting constructive feedback when less than half of them know if they’re doing a good job? If you don’t know whether your performance is where it should be, there’s a good chance that you’re not going to be happy when your boss comes up to you and bashes you with some very tough feedback. Especially if it only happens once a year.
The following chart comes from my ongoing research at Leadership IQ, involving more than 30,000 employees. These folks answered more than one hundred questions about their jobs, including the question “I know whether my performance is where it should be.”
You can see from the chart that only 29% of employees say they “always” know whether their performance is where it should be. And frankly, that number should be really close to 100%. One of the core functions of leaders is to provide feedback about employees’ performance and the data shows clearly that this just isn’t happening.
One of the ironies is that if leaders were giving more regular feedback about employees’ performance, they could do it in small bite-sized chunks and avoid may of the big tough conversations that cause so much stress. And most employees would really like to know if they’re doing a good job. Because they know that it’s tough to be successful in their careers if they’re not receiving sufficient constructive feedback.
Another irony here is that when constructive feedback is given regularly, and not left to build up for a year or more, employees actually handle it pretty well. For example, we know from the online quiz “How Do You React To Constructive Criticism?” that around 39% of employees react to constructive criticism by systematically dissecting every step leading up to the thing they just got criticized for. They don’t freak out, instead, like a process engineer looking to root-cause a product defect, they just want to understand and correct the underlying issues.
One key to fixing this problem is to give feedback much more frequently. One of the worst things a manager can do is withhold feedback. First, it means that small issues build and build into bigger issues. If every leader gave constructive feedback within hours of a problem, each conversation would be pretty small and easy. But when we let issues pile up, leaders get angrier and that translates into a bigger, and more uncomfortable, conversation with the employee.
Second, when we withhold feedback, we’re depriving the employee of the chance to jump in and fix it. As I just mentioned, 39% of employees respond to constructive criticism by jumping in and correcting underlying problems. But how can they do that when they don’t even know that there is, in fact, a problem?
Here’s an interesting exercise; ask your employees how often they would like to receive feedback from you about their performance. Ask them if they’d like to get feedback yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly or even daily. I can virtually guarantee that no good employees will say they want feedback yearly; that’s way too infrequent. Hardly anyone will say quarterly, for the same reason. Most good employees will choose monthly or weekly, with some high-achiever types opting for daily.
Now, I did say that no ‘good’ employees will choose yearly feedback. The reality is that you might get one or two people who say ‘yearly’ just as you might get one or two employees that say they ‘never’ want feedback. Inevitably, those folks are not going to be your best people. In fact, the employees who give those kind of wiseacre responses are typically what I call Talented Terrors. These folks have great skills but lousy attitudes. They’re “emotional vampires”; they won’t actually suck your blood, but the frustration of dealing with them will suck the life out of you.
Once you discover how frequently the majority of your good employees want feedback, provide feedback that frequently. One of the better practices that high performing leaders often adopt is monthly coaching sessions with their employees. Each month have a sit down where you discuss the employee’s high and low points, learning opportunities and areas where they could elevate their performance. This conversation doesn’t obviate the need for a manager to still provide real-time performance feedback, but it does offer a guarantee that folks won’t have to wait all year to learn whether their performance is where it should be.
One final note; high performers generally love these conversations, but your low performers may not. If you’ve got a group of folks who know that their performance is subpar and they’re skating by hoping that no one else notices, calling them on their nonsense probably won’t make them happy. But that’s all the more reason to let them know that you are aware of their performance and that you’re going to be paying much closer attention and addressing this issue much more frequently.
Mark Murphy is a NY Times bestseller, author of Hiring For Attitude, and founder of the leadership training firm Leadership IQ.