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How Effective Feedback Fuels Performance

How Effective Feedback Fuels Performance

by Denise McLain and Bailey Nelson

Story Highlights

  • Employees who receive regular feedback are more engaged
  • Effective feedback is timely and relevant
  • Great managers use feedback to create a development-focused culture

"How am I doing?" "Did that go well?" "What could I do differently next time?"

Employees are hungry for performance feedback from their leaders, managers and peers. They want to gain insights that advance their abilities and future potential. And more than ever, employee feedback is pivotal for engagement. Gallup data show that 80% of employees who say they have received meaningful feedback in the past week are fully engaged.

Yet with business moving at warp speed, it's tempting to move on to the next task or objective after a client presentation or a busy shift. But meaningful feedback doesn't hinder performance -- it fuels it.

The operative word here is meaningful: Not all feedback is equal. In performance feedback examples from Gallup clients, feedback is often a lengthy employee-manager discussion that requires pre-work for managers to rate the employee's performance over recent months. In today's fast-paced world, this scenario is impractical, ineffective and difficult to execute.


A more meaningful -- and approachable -- way to give feedback is quickly and frequently, which is why organizations might find it helpful to rebrand their approach to "Fast Feedback."

The Fast Feedback approach makes giving feedback easier and more straightforward for managers, who often find the activity intimidating and overwhelming. When receiving manager feedback is easy and commonplace, everyone can feel at ease and walk away knowing what and how to improve. And as Fast Feedback becomes part of the norm, a culture of meaningful feedback -- the ultimate goal -- will emerge.


The benefits of a culture of meaningful feedback are numerous. A work environment where feedback is fast and frequent:

In our experience, many organizations know continuous feedback is best but struggle with activating the ongoing behaviors needed to achieve it at scale. So, they stick to traditional approaches (like annual reviews) in which managers delay feedback until they find the "right time."

Leaders can address this problem by cultivating a culture where feedback is frequently and effectively exchanged. Our work with clients reveals the smartest first step: empowering your managers to give inspiring feedback.

The Manager's Central Role in a Feedback Culture

Managers who continually listen, ask questions, gain context and promote dialogue have progressed to a coaching mindset. These best-in-class managers use ongoing conversations to deliver energizing feedback that celebrates successes and calibrates performance.

How Managers Can Give Meaningful and Fast Feedback

Based on Gallup's science, here's what distinguishes feedback that's time-consuming from Fast Feedback that drives outcomes.

Meaningful feedback is frequent.
Effective feedback has an expiration date. Feedback should be a common occurrence -- for most jobs, a few times per week. People remember their most recent experiences best, so feedback is most valuable when it occurs immediately after an action.

Managers should maintain an ongoing dialogue with employees -- using conversations that offer timely, in-the-moment feedback that's inspiring, instructive and actionable. For example, a manager might conclude a team meeting with a comment about how much they appreciated the team coming to the meeting with well-thought-out ideas on the new initiative. The manager's comment highlights the benefits of the team's preparation and suggests strategies for making the next meeting even more efficient.

Best-in-class managers use ongoing conversations to deliver energizing feedback that celebrates successes and calibrates performance.

The best managers also prioritize active listening, making feedback a two-way street rather than simply declaring their subjective observations. When a manager asks an employee about their perspective, the employee is more likely to own their part, become an outstanding collaborator and do what's best for the organization.

Meaningful feedback is focused.
Ineffective feedback is vague and doesn't inform change. For instance, ranking all team members on the same general measures won't capture each individual's unique strengths and day-to-day work.

The best managers individualize feedback to employees' natural talents and performance needs. They ensure feedback is relevant to the individual's contributions and the organization's purpose -- showing employees how their day-to-day efforts influence the big picture.

When feedback is focused, it feels fair and authentic to employees because it's reflective of their contributions and within their ability to control. And by clarifying expectations, managers help employees aim their efforts toward the right goals and KPIs.

Meaningful feedback is future-oriented.
Harping on an employee's prior blunders is anything but motivating. Managers can inspire growth by emphasizing the current moment and what's ahead -- recognizing employees' accomplishments and removing roadblocks for tomorrow. What can we do to get even better? How can we prepare for the future? What did you learn from this phase?

That's not to say managers shouldn't acknowledge the past: Reflection facilitates learning. Top talent workers aren't looking only for "feel-good" feedback -- they want to be pushed to be their best.

The best managers individualize feedback to employees' natural talents and performance needs.

Managers can address shortcomings and incorporate negative feedback in a constructive manner by focusing on discernable behaviors rather than employees' characteristics. They must keep employee development as their goal.

Here are some employee feedback examples:

  • Unhelpful feedback: "That client presentation you gave last quarter really hurt us … honestly, I'm not sure we can recover the relationship."
  • Meaningful feedback (right after the presentation or later that day): "How do you think the presentation went? I noticed that the client had a few questions that seemed to indicate they were not following along. What can we do next time to overcome that?"

Leaders Need to Create a Development-Focused, Performance-Oriented Culture

Here are three actions leaders should take today to create an atmosphere in which meaningful feedback resounds:

1. Transform your managers into coaches.


Coaching is a unique skill set that managers need to cultivate. Fortunately, the right manager development demystifies coaching and evolves a manager's mindset -- giving them exactly what they need to become coaching aficionados who provide excellent feedback.

2. Adjust your management practices and performance metrics.

It's time to abandon annual reviews in favor of the five coaching conversations that are scientifically shown to improve performance. Leaders should assess their current performance management approach, then implement the necessary changes to shift to feedback-rich performance development.

3. Become a feedback evangelist.

In a development-focused work culture, feedback isn't a one-way, top-down event. Individuals, managers and leaders should all give and receive feedback -- showing appreciation for one another's efforts through an honest, open, ongoing dialogue. Peer-to-peer feedback strengthens relationships and cross-departmental collaboration.

Leaders should take the first step: Model the behaviors you want your managers to display by sharing "Fast Feedback" with them. Help your managers provide meaningful feedback by prioritizing manager development. Then watch as your feedback culture accelerates workplace productivity and engagement.

Build a development-focused culture that values feedback.

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Denise McLain is a Senior Strategic Consultant and Practice Expert at Gallup.

Iseult Morgan contributed to this article.

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