Negative performance feedback

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Is giving negative performance feedback really negative?

Negative performance feedback is a difficult topic to talk about. Does it help the performance? This feature throws light on it.

Negative performance feedback involves a communication between the supervisors and subordinate, where the former appears to contradict the latter’s belief system of task accomplishment. In other words, it is a kind of knowledge share, where one is being informed that one’s performance has fallen short of the desired work expectations.

Why is negative feedback avoided?

“If not a bad practice, though it is indeed a difficult one. Especially in a culture like ours, where too much of emphasis is laid on building relationships, delivering negative feedback can strain interpersonal relationships. Who wants to bell the cat? That is why there is a certain reluctance in giving negative feedback.”

It calls for an effort to tell a person that one has not performed well. Many fear the reactions of the recipient, which results in upward distortion of performance review. Practitioners shy away from calling it “negative”, and instead, use words such as “constructive” or “developmental” feedback, because the term negative may create a negative impact. With all humanitarian principles in place, positive performance feedback remains to be the best tool for performance management.

However, contrary to our assumptions and beliefs, negative feedback helps in dealing with performance. By generating different alternatives, it helps to expand one’s mental map. Negative feedback maintains higher task standards.

Regular feedback

Just to survive in today’s cut-throat competition; all organizations have adapted themselves to aggressively follow a performance-driven work culture. In such a scenario, where individuals and teams are being urged by their management to “think out of the box”, not making them aware of their own performance and competencies, can severely reduce the quality of work output. A feedback culture bridges this gap.

Organizations today are doing away with the annual performance review system, and are shifting towards a continuous performance review process. For example, companies like Accenture, KPMG, Microsoft, and Dell, to name a few, have scrapped their once-in-a-year ranking mechanism; and are focusing more on giving instant feedback after the completion of a task.

The idea behind this regularity is to foster a culture of continuous learning within the organization, resulting in superior work performance. The managers now have an important role to play by being more responsible and trained while delivering feedback to their subordinates. Here, negative feedback becomes an important instrument to bring out their best performance. Negative performance feedback is like a coaching process, where task gaps are identified and suggestions are given to improve on them.

Positive impact of negative feedback

A substantial body of research in the field of feedback revealed that negative feedback is more beneficial than positive feedback. It was found that for individuals high on self-efficacy and who believed in their abilities, the negative feedback did not appear negative at all. The belief that one is in control of being able to improve one’s performance helped in accepting a negative feedback.

Interviews with supervisors across different industries, with moderate years of experience in supervising, reported that negative feedback is an opportunity for growth. It helps to challenge one’s work standard. Negative feedback is required for personal development, and it leads to high performance.

“Though negative feedback appears to be a trump card in performance management, it has its own limitations. When self becomes the measure of performance standard, negative feedback can thwart one’s self-image.”

Supervisors listed out certain cautionary measures that should be taken while delivering negative performance feedback:
Too much of negative feedback should be avoided. It may lead to quitting tasks
Supervisors can use sandwich method. In other words, giving both positive and negative performance feedback
Negative feedbacks should be evidence-based. Supervisors should record facts before giving negative feedback
Negative feedback should be given on a real-time basis
A proper setting is required while delivering negative feedback. A calm environment should be selected before giving negative feedback
A feedback giver must spend a considerable amount of time with the recipient without diluting the impact of the feedback
Negative feedback should never be made personal
Negative feedback should be given in a positive style like one can use empathy while giving negative feedback
A feedback giver should have a proper understanding of the characteristics of the recipient.

With the huge emphasis on performance management, supervisors in organizations should make use of negative feedback and reap its benefits. A well-crafted negative feedback does more good than harm. In conclusion, negative feedback is definitely not a bad practice, and if used diligently, it can be one of the best tools in performance management.

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