Don’t use the ‘F’ word at work

Nas Cretivs/Shutterstock

‘F’ is for ‘Feedback’.

‘Feedback’ is a word used all the time in organisations.

It refers to situations where one person – usually a manager, provides another person (usually a subordinate), with information about their performance or behaviour to help them to improve in some way.[ref]The word feedback has its origins in Systems Theory. It refers to the reciprocal action of elements in a system upon one another. The idea is that the system must be viewed holistically if it is to be understood. Although it implies reciprocal action, this meaning is generally not attributed to it in the context of  giving employees corrective information.[/ref]

In practice, feedback (as I have defined it above), is generally an ineffectual way of helping employees to improve.

Why should this be so?

Don’t criticise – coach!

The word feedback has come to mean a one-way flow of corrective information from the feedback giver to the receiver.

Employees often interpret corrective feedback as unconstructive criticism (it often is), and an attempt to assert authority (it often is), rather than a genuine attempt to help them.



Alex Brylov/Shutterstock

One reason for this is managers often put too much emphasis on the employee’s state of mind when evaluating their performance.

However, there are many influences on an employee that affect the way they behave or perform in their role.

These influences generally include their manager’s behaviour towards them, as well as relationships with co-workers, and other workplace factors. For more information about the factors that influence employee behaviour, please see this link Fundamental Attribution Error.

Many managers tend not to take these other influences into account but still expect their reports to accept corrective feedback graciously.

If employees try to explain that there are other factors influencing their behaviour, they are accused of being ‘defensive’.

This only causes resistance and resentment.[ref] see for example, Miller, W. R., Rollnick, S. (2002) Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People for Change. New York: Guilford Press[/ref]

It is precisely because the cause of employee behaviour is so complex that managers should discuss performance with their reports, rather than giving them one-way corrective feedback.


Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

If managers and their reports have a constructive discussion, the employee has the opportunity to explain how factors in their environment are influencing their behaviour.

This is more useful since it can encourage managers to modify their own behaviour as needed, and where appropriate, make other changes to the employee’s work context.

So instead of saying:

“I want to give you some feedback about your performance”, (or something similar), it would be better for a manager to say something like:

“can we get together to talk about your progress. This will be an opportunity for you to raise any issues with me that you feel may be affecting your performance.”

This is a more constructive way to approach an employee who needs some help.

Employees who are given the chance to discuss their performance constructively will be motivated to change.


Nas Cretivs/Shutterstock

So remember, the next time you want to improve an employee’s performance, rather than use the ‘F’ word try using the ‘C’ word instead.

‘C’ is for conversation.


Andy Milward

Andy Milward Ph.D. is founder and principal of Milward, a consulting and research firm specialising in Strategic Leadership.

©Andy Milward and Milward: Consulting in Strategic Leadership: Latest Thinking, 2014-2015.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andy Milward PhD and Milward: Consulting in Strategic Leadership: Latest Thinking with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *