Improve Staff Morale By Giving Quality Feedback

Bert Troughton, MSW, Director, SFSPCA / ASPCA Strategic Alliance

 

Let Them Eat More Than Cake!
Improve Staff Morale By Giving Quality Feedback
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In my work with humane societies and other nonprofits I have observed that nearly everyone understands that morale is a critical ingredient to staff productivity and organizational success. Unfortunately, all too often the methods employed by managers and organizations to improve morale are merely surface fixes…such as staff parties, food, and sharing comic strips. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these perks, on their own they do little to improve morale because they don’t resolve any of the issues that cause poor morale nor do they build any capacity within staff teams to assume responsibility for positive morale. Over time, these well-intended gestures can even have a detrimental effect as people grow weary from unaddressed problems and feel patronized by simplistic, ineffectual “morale boosters”.


A Systemic Morale Solution

Human beings thrive on attention. We like to know that others see and appreciate our contributions. Particularly in the nonprofit sector where the success of the mission is often valued more highly than cash rewards, most of us want to know that our efforts are making a difference. For managers, this means spending less time arranging pizza deliveries and more time giving staff members feedback.

Not only does increasing the frequency and quality of feedback have an immediate significant impact on morale, but it also directly enhances work performance. This enhanced performance, in turn, feeds both individual and group self esteem, which, in turn, does even more to improve morale. Thus, unlike the band-aid approach to morale [food and parties], regular [quality] feedback goes to the heart of morale building and institutes a self-perpetuating system for fostering healthy morale.

Quality feedback, that is, feedback that is most useful to the recipient, is marked by two essential features: 1) the feedback is highly specific, and 2) the feedback clearly delineates the impact of the behavior (on the team, the work, and/or the mission). Additionally, the practice of giving quality feedback follows four guiding principles related to learning, respect, balance, and partnership.

Learning
The goal of feedback is learning. Quality feedback does not involve emotion, venting, or reprimand.

Respect
Giving feedback (positive and negative) demonstrates to your employees that you care both about them and the work of the organization. Take the time to find out from each of your staff what their personal preferences are for when they like to receive feedback. (Some people like feedback immediately, some prefer to hear feedback after a break or at the end of the day, still others like their feedback during regularly scheduled supervision.)

Balance
Effective managers dole out equal amounts of positive and negative feedback. (In other words, effective managers don’t shy away from problems, nor do they only pay attention to their staff when problems occur.)

Partnership
Practicing quality feedback requires work from both parties. The manager (or sender) must pay attention to employees and their learning needs, and plan feedback that will be useful. The staff member (or receiver) must practice receiving feedback and using information to improve her/his performance.

*Feedback … 2 the return of information about the result of a process or activity; an evaluative response. 3 the process by which a system…is modulated, controlled, or changed by the product, output, or response it produces.

American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 2000, p. 648.


Giving Positive Feedback

Since giving thorough, quality feedback entails new learning for managers, it’s a good idea to start by developing and practicing positive feedback first, because positive feedback is easier for both the sender and the receiver. There are four steps to giving positive feedback:

  1. Let the person know you would like to give them some feedback, check for a good time (sooner rather than later) and place.
  2. Tell the person specifically what they did right.
  3. Tell the person the impact of their behavior — in other words, tell them how their behavior helps the organization to fulfill it’s mission.
  4. Remain for a moment to let them absorb the information.

So, it would go something like this: “Dana, I’d like to give you some feedback, is now a good time?” [checking for a good time] “Your conversation with Mrs. Smith yesterday was great. Your tone was respectful, your body language was open and reassuring, and the information you gave her was right on.” [specific detail of what Dana did right] “This kind of customer service will not only ensure that Mrs. Smith returns to us for help in the future, but will help us by making more successful placements. Good for you!” [the impact of Dana's behavior on the organization's efforts]

Note that this approach to feedback involves longer, more thoughtful interactions than simply giving a complement or “thank you” to your staff. The extra time and effort pays for itself, however, because staff learn specifically what they should be doing more of and why it’s important. With this information, staff members develop a better understanding of how the day to day work in an animal shelter accomplishes the overall mission as well as the significance of their individual efforts.

click here for Helpful Hints for Giving Quality Feedback


Giving Negative Feedback

Once you’ve practiced giving positive feedback enough to feel comfortable with it, it’s time to develop the other side of the equation. It may seem surprising, but as long as feedback is fair and balanced [that is, supervisors take care to give all of their staff feedback and to make sure that people receive positive feedback (and not just negative feedback) whenever possible], people often appreciate receiving negative feedback. This is because negative feedback under this model is not punitive. Negative feedback provides an opportunity for the manager and staff member to work together to solve a problem. Additionally, as with positive feedback, negative feedback creates a learning opportunity for the employee.

The first three steps to giving negative feedback are the same as those for giving positive feedback:

  1. Let the person know you would like to give them some feedback, check for a good time (sooner rather than later) and place.
  2. Tell the person specifically what they did wrong or what the problem is.
  3. Tell the person the impact of their behavior — in other words, tell them how their behavior hinders the organization’s efforts or progress.
  4. Ask the person why they are behaving in this way? The fourth step of giving negative feedback creates an opportunity for you to understand your staff member and her/his behavior better. By listening with an open mind, you will learn what your staff member needs to improve her/his skills, and/or you will learn how a policy or procedure is actually encouraging staff to act in ways that are counter to your goals.
  5. Work together to develop a plan for how to correct/resolve the problem. Be specific. Plan a time to check-in to see how the person is doing in correcting/resolving the problem. Taking the time to do step 5 creates a number of positive outcomes, including: the staff member… feels that s/he is worthy of your time, develops more trust in you (largely because you treat mistakes as learning opportunities rather than occasions to dole out reprimands), learns a better way to behave under the specific circumstance, sees the importance of their contribution in relation to the overall mission, and understands that you are open to learning about and correcting inherent problems in existing policies and procedures (which is another important way of enhancing trust).

So, it would go something like this: “Jan, I’d like to give you some feedback, is now a good time?” [checking for a good time] “When I was giving a tour this morning, I noticed that you were hosing solid wastes into the drain in front of the kennels. It’s very important to scoop solid wastes and discard them before hosing, both to limit the spread of disease and to prevent the drains from clogging.” [specific detail of what Jan did wrong] “How come you were cleaning this way?” [request for an explanantion] (At this point, we might learn that Jan was in a particular hurry, that Jan was trained to hose the solids, that Jan hasn’t been taught anything about the spread of disease, etc. We’ll assume Jan was trained improperly.) “Wow, that’s an important piece of information for us to have – obviously, we need to change our training procedures. In the meantime, always scoop solids into a plastic lined bucket before hosing the kennels. Let me get you a procedure sheet on this and also some written information about the spread of disease in the kennels.”

By remembering that the goal is learning, giving negative feedback does not have to be emotionally charged. That is not to say that staff will immediately be comfortable with receiving negative (or even positive) feedback. As with any new skill, learning to use quality feedback requires a good deal of planning and practice. Set some realistic expectations for yourself and your staff, and start with easy scenarios. See the “Helpful Hints for Giving Quality Feedback” at the end of this article.


If you’ve read some of the popular books on management, you have probably noticed several variations between their suggestions and my approach to feedback. One variation, for example, is that I recommend that the feedback sender explain the impact of the employee’s behavior on the operation or mission, and not how the behavior made the sender feel. My reasoning here is to capitalize on the learning opportunities within the feedback process. As a manager, I am more interested in helping my staff understand how to advance the mission than how to make me happy (as well as the converse: how a problem blocks our progress rather than how a problem disappoints me). By focusing on the learning opportunities, the feedback experience isn’t laden with emotion and therefore the supervisor and staff member are more able to partner around the work (or problem) at hand.

Ironically, this is one area where the less we focus on feelings (and the more we focus on how to be effective and productive) the better everybody feels. Regular, balanced, quality feedback fosters a safe, productive work environment where people are motivated by learning and achievement. Save the cake for birthday parties. Where morale is concerned, frequent, healthy servings of feedback will be your most effective management tool.

click here for Helpful Hints for Giving Quality Feedback


Helpful Hints for Giving Quality Feedback


Hint #1

Learning to Give Quality Feedback will require time and energy. Set the stage for a positive learning experience for you and your staff.

  1. Begin by sharing with your staff that you’re planning to learn and implement this new tool. Share your goals with them. For example, you might want to emphasize one or more of the following goals: * to help each of them learn and succeed; * to improve team performance and progress towards organizational goals; * to have a closer relationship with each of them; * to improve staff morale.
  2. Start by practicing the easy stuff, i.e.: positive feedback.
  3. Set some realistic expectations for yourself. For example, to give one piece of positive feedback every day.
  4. Have some fun with this new skill! Establish a “practice period” of a couple of weeks during which time you and your staff can role play positive feedback just to get used to this new style of interacting. (This approach to learning new things will also have a positive effect on morale.)


Hint #2

Be sure to find out from each of your staff their preferences for receiving feedback (i.e.: immediately, at the end of the day, during weekly supervision sessions, etc.) before you begin practicing and using feedback.


Hint #3

Many people have as much (or more) difficulty receiving positive feedback as negative feedback. To help your staff digest the positives, establish a “rule” that the only thing people can say for the first 60 seconds in response to positive feedback is, “thank you”.


Hint #4

Print out the following steps and guidelines for giving feedback, and shrink them to fit into your day planner or paste them over your desk as a ready reference and reminder for yourself.


Giving Positive Feedback

  1. Let the person know you would like to give them some feedback, check for a good time (sooner rather than later) and place.
  2. Tell the person specifically what they did right.
  3. Tell the person the impact of their behavior — in other words, tell them how their behavior helps the organization to fulfill it’s mission.
  4. Remain for a moment to let them absorb the information.

Giving Negative Feedback

  1. Let the person know you would like to give them some feedback, check for a good time (sooner rather than later) and place.
  2. Tell the person specifically what they did wrong or what the problem is.
  3. Tell the person the impact of their behavior — in other words, tell them how their behavior hinders the organization’s efforts or progress.
  4. Ask the person why they are behaving in this way.
  5. Work together to develop a plan for how to correct/resolve the problem. Be specific. Plan a time to check-in to see how the person is doing in correcting/resolving the problem.

Guidelines for Giving Quality Feedback

  • Be specific.
  • Emphasize the impact of the behavior on the team, the work, and/or the mission.
  • The goal of feedback is learning. Quality feedback does not involve emotion, venting, or reprimand.
  • Respect your staff by learning when they prefer to receive their feedback.
  • Be balanced! Dole out equal amounts of positive and negative feedback.
  • Remember that in a partnership, both parties have to work and both parties have things to learn.


© 2001 Bert Troughton
Re-prints with permission. Contact Bert at bertt@aspca.org


Courtesy of

bertt@aspca.org

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