Try this positive five-step process to propel employees’ performance, confidence and commitment to your company mission.

We've all seen Olympic athletes or "American Idol" contestants anxiously await their scores from the judges. We, too, look for approval and ways to improve. As children, we'd watch our parents' faces when we stood on an elementary school stage. In business, we ask for comments on customer satisfaction surveys.

All are forms of feedback, and we watch for it and want it. Whether the feedback is good or bad, we want to know how we are doing. We use this information to determine how to respond or what to do next. It's one of the most powerful tools a manager has to influence employee performance.

Employees are key in developing strong customer relationships. Therefore, employees need to have the best skills, use sound judgment, and feel competent in their job. They must always be learning, thinking and improving. They also need information about the quality of their work. That means managers have to keep an eye out for employees doing great things and provide positive feedback to sustain their performance. They also must watch for problems and use teachable moments to help employees improve and develop stronger skills. Feedback is the way to guide, coach and educate employees to improve performance.

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Effective performance feedback has rules because, done poorly, it can damage the manager/employee relationship. Employees don't want to be scolded or told what to do. They want meaningful information to help them improve. Following this process guarantees all feedback - good and bad - will focus on behaviors and performance.

Step 1: Start with a "cookie."

No one likes to hear about something that needs improving through a strong or harsh statement. Feedback is about people, behaviors and emotions. Start each performance review or feedback session with a positive comment (a "cookie"), something that shows respect and understanding of the employee and encourages a dialog.

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Step 2: Describe current behaviors and situations.

Give great details. Describe what is happening, the behavior that you want to reinforce and the behavior or situations that need improvement. Be specific, brief and direct. Remember, the goal is to change behavior that needs changing and encourage good behavior to continue.

Step 3: Describe their impact and consequences.

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Again, be specific. Note the effect a behavior had on results, customers or other employees. The more detailed and accurate the information, the more meaningful the feedback will be. No adult changes behavior unless there's a personal reason to change. So the impact of the behavior should not only deal with the company, but should also be a personal "attention-getter" for the employee.

Step 4: Create a plan.

Work with the employee to suggest options that would improve a negative situation or keep a good one going. Be sure the employee has a voice in the process; the more the employee invents the solution to a problem, the more they own the results.

Step 5: End with a "cookie."

Regardless of the nature of the feedback, employees will receive the message better when the feedback session starts and ends with a positive, personal tone. Reassure the employee of the value of the discussion. It sets the stage for an open, honest relationship and ongoing dialog about performance.


To show how the process works, let's say your employee, Jean, was not very helpful to a customer on the phone. You heard the exchange and now must provide feedback so Jean can improve her understanding, confidence and performance:

Step 1: Cookie. "Jean, you have some of the best customer service skills in our company. Our customers are always very impressed with our service when they deal with you."

Step 2: Describe current behavior. "Jean, I heard you on the phone with Stanton Company. You were short with them, told them to call back when they knew the part numbers they wanted, and hung up without saying thank you. Did I hear this correctly?" Give Jean an opportunity to respond.

Step 3: Describe the impact. "Jean, Stanton is one of our best customers. They continually send other customers to us, and if we do not treat them with our best service, they will not refer others to us. They were critical in helping us achieve our profit targets, which resulted in bonuses for everyone — including you. Our relationship with them is critical to our success."

Step 4: Identify alternative behaviors. "Jean, what do you think you should do with Stanton right now?" Allow Jean to offer ideas and own the solution. "Great, Jean, I like that idea; please get right on it. Remember how important the relationship is with each of our customers. They call us because we know what we're doing, and we treat them better than anyone else ... it's how we do business."

Step 5: Cookie. "Jean, you are an important part of the great service we give our customers. Thanks for making a difference; please keep doing your best to help us be the best in the industry. Thanks."


Feedback is not an outlet for the manager to vent. It should focus on behaviors that need to be continued or improved. Though this approach is more "human," it doesn't coddle employees. It defines expectations and holds employees accountable. It ensures that employees learn, are treated fairly, and are responsible for their actions.

Feedback is an important tool managers have to help employees grow, make the extra effort, and improve performance. Employees want feedback; be sure to provide the kind that builds their skills, confidence and commitment to perform at their best.

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