Over the years, I’ve had many pet retailers and business owners complain to me about performance issues on the part of their staff. From employees coming in late or taking too long at lunch, to others who don’t communicate effectively with customers and everything in between.
When I hear these complaints, my first question is, “So, what did you do about it?”
What I find is, the response to poor employee behavior is often ineffective or non-existent. The bottom line is most people struggle with providing negative feedback to others. They don’t want to be critical, hurt someone’s feelings, or cause conflict. I totally understand that, and I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to do any of that.
A few years back, I coined the phrase Performance Improvement Feedback. It wasn’t an attempt to invent a politically correct term for criticism. I just felt that the phrase better represented what I wanted to give others and what I wanted to receive in return. Here are some examples of why Performance Improvement Feedback is so great:
- It helps you approach the feedback in a more positive way.
When you think of criticizing someone, you’re going to be in a negative mindset. You know they’re not going to want to hear it and you don’t want to be the one to give it. However, when you think about providing someone with “Performance Improvement Feedback,” you’ll likely feel more positively. You’re simply sharing information with someone that will help them do their job more effectively, more quickly, or with less stress.
- It helps you determine when feedback is actually needed.
Anyone can find something to criticize about another person, from their hair to their shoes and everything in between. However, when you limit your feedback to only that which will improve another person’s performance, you’re leaving out unnecessary criticism.
Ask yourself, “Will providing this information help improve this person’s performance?” and “Will providing this information help this person do the job more quickly, effectively, or with less stress?” If the answer is “yes,” then you know you should open your mouth and provide the information. If the answer is “no,” then what you were going to say was likely just criticism and you should probably keep it to yourself.
- It helps the recipient see the feedback as the gift that it is.
Imagine you are an employee and your manager walks up to you and says, “I noticed that customer was really giving you a hard time about that broken leash he was returning. I have some ideas on how you can make those interactions less stressful. Are you interested in hearing them?”
Who would say no to that? If it were me, I wouldn’t dread that conversation. I’d actually be eager to hear what tips my manager was going to give me to make those interactions easier.
Performance Improvement Feedback isn’t just a new term for criticism, it’s a change in mindset and approach for both the feedback provider and the feedback recipient that will make it a more pleasant experience for both of them.
So how do you provide Performance Improvement Feedback in a way that is clear and positive, not vague and critical?
The answer is a simple, four-step statement.
- Describe the person’s behavior as specifically and factually as possible.
It’s important that you be able to tell someone exactly what they did that needs improvement. What you can’t do is confront someone with your opinion or interpretation of what they’ve done. Telling employees, “You were rude to that customer,” doesn’t tell them what they DID or SAID (behavior), but your opinion or judgement of their behavior. Even if they agreed with you, how does someone fix “rude” or “not being a team player”?
A specific, factual, statement of behavior would be as follows:
“Derek, I noticed when you were entering orders in the computer, a customer came up to your counter and asked for help. You said, ‘just a sec,’ but continued entering three more orders before helping him.”
Being very specific leaves little room for argument. If you actually saw and heard the exchange between the customer and employee, and saw the employee put in three more orders before helping the customer, it would be difficult for the employee to get defensive and deny the behavior.
- Explain the consequences of the behavior.
It’s important that your employees know that their behavior has consequences for themselves, for their coworkers, for their customers, and for your business.
“When customers have to wait for more than a few minutes, they get impatient and start complaining. They don’t understand that putting in orders is a priority as well.”
- Ask the employee what he or she could do differently next time to get a better outcome.
In this step, you have a choice to make. Sometimes it’s simpler and more straightforward to just tell employees the “right” thing to do the next time they face a similar situation. In other instances, it’s better to ask them how they’re going to change their behavior. Asking provides a learning opportunity because it requires the employee to figure out what needs to be done differently.
Ask: “What do you think you could do differently next time to avoid having a customer complain and ask to speak to me?”
Tell: “The next time this happens, I’d like you to stop as soon as you finish entering the order you’re currently working on and help the customer.”
- Share the positive consequences of the new, “better” behavior.
Just as we want employees to understand the consequences of poor behavior, we also want them to understand the positive outcomes and consequences when they handle things correctly, which helps reinforce the importance of doing things the right way.
“I think that’s a great idea Derek. If you stop doing order entry quickly and help customers right away, it shows them that they are our priority and keeps them happy.”
Did you notice in Step 4 that the phrase begins with praise for the employee? That’s one of the benefits of asking employees to provide you with new and better behavior in Step 3 instead of just telling them the right thing to do. It gives you the opportunity to praise the employee for solving the problem and allows you to end the conversation on a positive note.
Performance Improvement Feedback may be simple, but it’s not always easy. It can be a challenge for some to “think on their feet,” and come up with the right words on the spot. Therefore, unless the feedback is incredibly time sensitive, it’s okay to take some time to think about the conversation and plan what you’ll say before delivering it. Doing so will increase the chances your feedback will be more effective and received by others as the gift you intended it to be.