How to Get Employees to Improve? Issues with Feedback

Performance Management (Appraisals)
Knowledge Center


Best Practices
Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

How to Get Employees to Improve? Issues with Feedback

As a manager, you are trying to improve the performance of your team members. And so you should. It's quite common to think that giving your employees critical yet constructive feedback on their weaknesses is valuable to them and to their employer. And indeed for a simple, factual task this actually works.

But science is teaching us that such thinking is actually wrong if we are talking about complex stuff like strategic thinking, managing, decision-making, leading, conducting job interviews, planning, marketing, selling, purchasing, negotiating, coaching, assertiveness, etc.

In an article worth reading, Buckingham and Goodall explain there are 3 reasons why telling people what we think of their performance and how they should do it better does not work for complex jobs, tasks or skills:
  1. Telling people what we think of their performance and how they should improve it does not enable, but actually hinders them to learn and grow. Because we are poor at objectively observing and rating others. So we are unlikely to provide the right information.
  2. You can not teach other persons abilities they are missing. Simply telling what we think is missing and should be improved is not conducive to learning:
    • Neurologically, people learn easier in areas in which they already have good ability.
    • Also, a person learns easier towards what he believes he is already doing well.
    • And if we receive attention to our strengths from others this catalyzes learning, but if we receive such attention from others to our weaknesses it smothers it. We resists information from other people that tell us we are doing something wrong.
  3. Great performance (in complex tasks) is not universal, but personal. The way excellence is achieved is different for different people. Each person achieves it in a unique, individual way.
💡How CAN you get your employees to improve? Take 4 steps:

  1. Look for excellent outcomes (results) and highlight/signal it. Say something like: "That! Yes, that!" or simply "That! Wow!" In this way, you focus the attention of the employee on what she is already doing well.
  2. Share what you saw from him and how it made you feel (do not judge, rate). Say something like: "This is what you made me realize", or even better: "Did you see what you just did?" Again, you focus the attention of the employee on what he is already doing well. This also works the other way around when you are receiving feedback: If your boss says: "Well done!" then ask: "What precisely?" This allows you to distinguish and focus on what was so excellent.
  3. Consider spotting excellent behavior/results from team members your top priority. Unless you want to run your department all by yourself...
  4. Use the present, past and future (in that order). Ask: "What did you just do that worked so fantastic?" And: "In the past, what did you do that worked well?" And: "What do you already know that will probably work?"
Giving feedback in the right way is an essential skill for any manager and leader. Focusing the attention of the receiver on what he/she is already doing well is much more effective than trying to teach skills he/she is perhaps missing.
Source: Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, "The Feedback Fallacy", HBR Mar-Apr 2019, pp.92-101.


Dr. Sapna Dadwal
Professor, India

Recognition & Motivation of Employees

A manager or a leader can improve his employees' performance by giving them recognition, even for th... Sign up

Jeff Washburn
Strategy Consultant, United States

Coué's Law: Imagination Wins over Willpower

Forty years ago, I learned about Coué's Law - perhaps the only law in the field of psychology. The ... Sign up

Tom Wilson
HR Consultant, United States

Catch Them Doing Something Right

The more authentic your spontaneous recognition of an individual's efficacy congruent to the task as... Sign up

Charles P. Keith
Management Consultant, United States

Time for Applied Behavioral Science: DCOM

Understanding the motivators of an individual is key in developing others. With a "problem" employee... Sign up

Johan Billow
Student (Other), Sweden

Difference Between Improve and Correct

Thank you for interesting reading! I really need to start work more with this in my job as coach at ... Sign up

Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Correcting a la Buckingham and Goodall

@Johan Billow: Good question, thanks. Sometimes clear instructions or corrections to perform a simpl... Sign up

Financial Consultant, Netherlands

Recommendations in Relation to Performance Management System

The majority of large companies have a performance management system in place, that connects perform... Sign up

Jeff Washburn
Strategy Consultant, United States

How do you let a person find out what s/he can do best?

You can turn the question around (Editor: “How can you get your employees to improve?”) into: - How... Sign up

Charles P. Keith
Management Consultant, United States

Be Careful of Mis-alignment in the Search

@Jeff Washburn: The questions are quite interesting but I would be cautious in trying to simplify pe... Sign up

Paramathmuni srinivas Kumar

Inner Being ⇨ Focus ⇨ Performance

You would agree that performance depends on the focus level of a person's mind. Focus levels in turn... Sign up

Jeff Washburn
Strategy Consultant, United States

Complex and Ambiguous Circumstances

@Charles P. Keith: You describe some of the variables involved which demonstrate that the employee a... Sign up

Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

Itemised Response for Self Feedback

@Charles P. Keith: Charles an excellent example of coaching i.e. based in questions enabling the per... Sign up

DC Blosser
Analyst, United States

My Favorite Question

I have found questioning to be a powerful management tool. My favorite is "Why is that?" It helps ge... Sign up


More on Performance Management (Appraisals):
Discussion Topics
Checklist of 50+ Common Errors in Performance Appraisals
How to Give Constructive Feedback? Models and Tips
How to Achieve Fair Performance Appraisals?
Avoid Routine Annual Performance Appraisals
Concerns not Previously Discussed During Performance Reviews
How to Deal with Average Performers?
👀How to Get Employees to Improve? Issues with Feedback
Open Communication? Try Coffee Talks
Wrong Use of Employee Appraisals
Three Types of Performance Appraisals
Obsession with Quantifying Human Performance
Broken Confidentiality of Performance Appraisals
Don't Forget Practical Appraisal Follow-up
How to Deal with Poor Performers and Non Performers?
Conditions for Successful Performance Appraisals
Outcomes of Performance Appraisals
How to Receive Personal Feedback? Tips
🔥What to do if NO Annual Appraisal Interview is Scheduled?
How to React When You are Undervalued?
The Performance-Values Match Matrix (Jack Welch)
Appraise the Past, Develop for the Future
How to Prepare for a Performance Appraisal as Appraiser
Tips for Ensuring Performance Appraisals Hold Up in Court
Appraisal for Future Job?
Avoiding Biases in Performance Appraisals
How to Identify and Manage Workplace Favoritism
Consider the Job Situation in Appraisals
Post COVID-19 Performance Evaluations
Decentralized Performance Appraisals
Cascading the Business Objectives to Performance Appraisals
Disparaging Appraisal Terms
Performance Appraisals versus Student Examinations. A Comparison
Bonuses.. what is Fair to All Within Large Corporations
Feedback Should be Like a Mirror: Neutral
How Role Clarity and Employee Performance Management can help with Strategic Focus
Mismatch in Performance Appraisals: Actions from Last Year are Rewarded/Punished This Year
Optimize on the Strengths of your Employees
Use of Of Employee Appraisals to Validate the Remuneration System
Special Interest Group

Do you know a lot about Performance Management (Appraisals)? Become our SIG Leader

Performance Management (Appraisals)
Knowledge Center

About 12manage | Advertising | Link to us / Cite us | Privacy | Suggestions | Terms of Service
© 2023 12manage - The Executive Fast Track. V16.0 - Last updated: 1-2-2023. All names ™ of their owners.