Workplace Feedback: More Is Not Always Better

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When used correctly, workplace feedback is an effective driver of employee engagement, motivation, and development. The structure, content, and timing of feedback all play a role in how useful it is to an employee and to the organization.

In an award-winning paper Is More Always Better? Simulating Feedback Exchange In Organizations, Michael Rivera, Thinaer’s EVP of Analytics and Innovation, studied the characteristics of effective workplace feedback. In this paper, Rivera evaluated the impact of feedback frequency and feedback length. He discovered the sweet spot between frequency and length that best supports employee learning and performance improvement.

Regular feedback supports employee development.

In recent years, companies have shifted away from the annual performance review. Instead, they are opting for continuous, tech-focused performance review methods. Many workers prefer continuous learning, regular coaching, and faster-paced, ongoing conversations about their performance from their superiors and peers. 

Moreover, regular conversations about performance change the focus from past performance to employee development for future success. More agile methods of performance review are thus critical for the long-term survival of an organization. Continuous employee learning and development ensures a company workforce can always fit company needs in an ever-changing business environment. 

Workplace feedback should strike a balance.

When giving feedback, there are a few practices that routinely make feedback more likely to be understood and implemented immediately by employees. “While the current demand for more and more feedback could lead one to believe more is always better, our research shows a more nuanced view,” says Rivera. “Organizations need to balance the length and balance of feedback to ensure a positive ROI.”

The study in Is More Always Better? Simulating Feedback Exchange In Organizations reveals that the effectiveness of feedback varies depending on specificity, length, and frequency of feedback. 

Provide specific, focused feedback.

Workplace feedback that is highly specific is more likely to result in performance improvement, and keeping feedback focused makes it more likely that the employee will read the feedback and take time to understand it. 

“Feedback that is specific reduces ambiguity for the receiver and helps ensure that the feedback is actionable,” says Rivera. “Without the proper context, the receiver might not know how to change in the future even though they may be perfectly willing to do so.”

Find a feedback frequency that works for everyone.

Varying combinations of frequency and length of feedback can impact its effectiveness. Generally, less frequent feedback is not as effective as feedback that is given on a regular, continuous basis. However, higher-frequency workplace feedback is only effective if the employee consents to it. If an employee opts for less frequent feedback, then highly-detailed, less frequent feedback is most effective. 

High-frequency feedback should stay at a medium length, between 200 and 400 words. This is long enough to give detailed explanation and instruction, but short enough so that employees do not feel discouraged or lose focus. If the feedback is lower-frequency, it becomes more effective if it is longer, between 800 and 1,000 words. 

Keeping this sweet spot in mind when giving feedback is key to ensuring your feedback is received well, understood, and implemented by your colleagues. 

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