Four Ways to Leverage Employees’ Feedback to Drive Performance

To retain employees, you should engage them and create a working environment that lets employees perform at their best. A thoughtfully-designed L&D strategy can help you with that.

However, to build a learning strategy that will encompass the specifics of how employees learn and to construct a learning environment that will encourage them to learn and improve performance, to achieve discretionary effort, businesses should take into account several nuances of effective learning: emerging technologies, neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, etc.

In this article, we’ll talk about the mechanisms of reward and motivation in the corporate culture and how to use them properly to provide feedback that will motivate your employees to reach their full potential in learning and performance.

Rewards matter—and feedback can be one of them.  

There is a whole part of our brain that called the reward system which is responsible for motivation, learning, and positive emotions. This system operates on the anticipation of a reward stimulus: it could be any object, event, activity, or situation that can make you want to reach it and act on it. “Good” and “bad” rewards make humans flexible and adaptive to different situations.

The human brain is almost always working on the principles of anticipating a reward: it’s constantly calculating ways to get good things and avoid bad things and measures the time needed to do this. The state of anticipation is connected to humans’ natural ability to predict the future on the basis of their experience. Anticipation has a profound impact on emotions: expectation on how things will be in the future are as much real in our mind as in our current situation. When you expect to get a reward, you feel positive emotions. If you think that you won’t get one, you feel distressed.

People tend to act on their expectations and become emotional over them. Often, they fall into the trap of automatic thoughts which make them believe in their predictions, despite the fact they may be vague, unrealistic, or generalized. This is when cognitive mistakes start to occur.

Despite the fact that feedback isn’t always seen as a rewarding thing, it still can make learning and performance more effective and faster. If employees are willing to learn and perform better, feedback is a way to uncover employees’ performance results and validate their efforts.

To make employees perceive feedback as rewarding and helpful one, you have to make it comprehensive, on-demand, and practical. Let’s consider the four main rules that will help you to set up effective feedback practices.

1. Make feedback clear, actionable, and related to performance  

In 2014, researchers found that to have the most positive effect on the learning process, feedback should be “timely, regular, sufficiently detailed, comprehensible, consistent, and pitched at an appropriate level.” It should describe and evaluate employees’ performance and guide their future performance. It was also shown that praises (“Oh, you did such a great job”) and punishments (talking in a loud voice or punishing insults) worked poorly as forms of feedback, whereas information-oriented messages with insights on previous tasks were effective for employees’ further performance.

You can provide your workers with an informal, analytical review of their performance through your learning experience platform. If a salesperson correctly answers every question in a test or scenario-based training on the cold emails, she’s shown her full marks and/or with a repeated explanation as to why the chosen answers fit in the best way. If she completes a test with mistakes, a system shows where she was wrong and what exactly she needs to focus on to fill the found skill gap. This kind of just-in-time feedback is called reactive feedback: employees who receive it can immediately act on it and fix their mistakes. It can be provided by an automatic engine within a platform or by the managers themselves. In LXP, managers will be able to see if their workers struggle with a given task and can offer assistance right there.

2. Construct nonjudgmental feedback

Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll only use e-learning systems to provide your employees with feedback; moreover, managers, mentors, and team leads also give their opinions on how their colleagues should work—it’s feedback as well. Along with the above-mentioned principles of clarity and consistency, feedback should be objective and nonjudgmental. The human factor often gets in the way of feedback, and managers start connecting, for instance, employees’ poor performance with their personal qualities. This is a counterproductive way to provide feedback, only increasing the levels of workplace stress.

To avoid such a situation, you can implement soft skills courses in a microlearning format and explain to your employees what feedback is and why it has to be evidence-driven and not emotion-driven.

3. Encourage feedback-seeking behavior

In the past, one-third of feedback interventions (attempts to make feedback one of driving forces to improve employees’ performance) wasn’t successful. Not only was it formal and impersonal (i.e., “this is good” / “this is bad”), but also considered to be ineffective; such a lack of attention to feedback had negative consequences on performance. Research by Ashford and Cummings showed that it’s important to prepare receivers for getting feedback and reacting to it with some actions. They summarized that a culture of the feedback-seeking behavior should be established in organizations.

The specifics of humans’ reactions to different stimuli vary: it could be an anticipation of a reward, as we’ve already mentioned, or the anticipation of a threat. In the latter case, people have “fight or flight” stress responses that often limit their cognitive abilities and, therefore, the ability to learn effectively. So it’s vital for people to not perceive constructive criticism, performance reviews, learning scores in your LXP, etc. as something that threatens their position. To ensure this, encourage feedback-seeking behavior: support employees who want to get feedback and raise awareness for feedback as an important communication mechanism that can drastically improve performance and increase job satisfaction.

4. Try shifting from giving to asking  

Research from the Neuroleadership Institute showed that there’s a substantial gap between how much feedback employees need and how much they receive. According to its findings, the problem is in the grown-up culture of “giving feedback”. Despite the fact some companies encourage feedback-seeking behavior, the culture of “giving feedback” often prevails above the culture of “asking for feedback”. As we mentioned in our installment on neuroscience, people get the most results out of any actions if there is a volition, a will to act. This works for the case of feedback too: “A focus on asking for feedback offers cognitive benefits that are more likely to lead to higher quality and quantity feedback.” Asking for feedback as an encouragement of feedback-seeking behavior also removes the fear of feedback and the stress response we’ve talked about.

Mechanisms of collecting feedback can be surveys and polls published within a learning platform to give you ideas on how to improve your working environment—take a look at a survey Google runs every six months. However, there are other approaches to collecting feedback from employees.

Microsoft implements a gathering “perspectives” approach instead of traditional “feedback”. The company established a new way of communication between its employees. The point is to put control of asking for feedback in the employees’ hands. Kristen R. Dimlow, corporate Vice President of Microsoft, says:

“We’re embracing the goodness that each person we work with brings a unique point of view that can teach us something new, and when you put together a collection of perspectives, you may uncover valuable trends or themes that can help you grow in new ways.”

In such a way, Microsoft gets insights on what employees want to improve and which challenges they stumble upon most frequently. They’re collecting this information with a new online tool, a new online channel where real examples of employees’ behaviors, struggles, and successes in the workplace are. This has become a valuable source of data that Microsoft uses to improve their learning and business processes.

5. Transform your learning platform into an ecosystem for a reactive feedback

A learning platform is a great place to collect data. You can see this from the Microsoft’s example of how software helps in creating a feedback culture in an organization, encouraging feedback-seeking behavior and a habit of asking for feedback in the workplace.

A data-driven learning experience platform (LXP) is the next step in LMS evolution and is a powerful tool not only to collect data but also to analyze data and turn it into actionable insights. Through LXP, L&D specialists can run surveys and polls for all employees across the whole company, no matter where its offices are situated. As all the data is within the platform, it’s easy to analyze it and see trends, as Microsoft does. Tracking the process of tasks completion allows managers to monitor their workers’ performance and offer assistance if they see employees getting stuck. At the same time, workers can always ask for the feedback themselves within the LXP if they stumble upon any challenge at work.

Feedback matters both for companies and their employees as it helps in building a productive and healthy work environment. Make sure you know how to collect and provide feedback and then turn it into actionable measures.

Want to know how Rallyware’s analytics engine can help you with creating effective feedback practices? Request a free demo!