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More Feedback Isn’t Necessarily Better

The biggest takeaway from our research is this: The vast majority of managers do not provide feedback often enough. For the most part, micromanagement is a rare occurrence. However, while most managers should be giving more feedback, this should not mean “the more often, the better.” Managers in this position give feedback at intervals so short that they hardly feel like intervals—a problem that can easily lead to micromanagement.

 

By focusing on the more scientific definitions of frequency, we come much closer to understanding how often is often enough. At first glance, these definitions seem to have little to do with feedback. For example:

  • The number of cycles per second of an alternating electric current
  • The number of complete oscillations per second of an electromagnetic wave
  • The number of sound waves per second produced by a sounding body

 

But together, these definitions draw attention to the relative nature of frequency, the fact that it differs from case to case. They also convey that frequency is measurable.

 

In terms of managerial feedback, frequency means “the number of feedback opportunities generated by an employee’s performance.” This means that every employee has a unique frequency when it comes to needing feedback. Consequently, managers should give feedback which is “in tune” with the employee’s unique frequency.

 

Keep in mind: Feedback is, by definition, a process that employees initiate, and they will naturally try to regulate the frequency of their feedback requests depending on their changing needs and the extent to which managers are responding to those needs.

 

When employees receive feedback that is given at the proper frequency, they grow more capable and confident. As they do, they are likely to earn responsibility for tasks and projects requiring longer work periods and further deadlines. Such development usually coincides with a gradual decrease in the amount of feedback necessary.


1. Recognize every employee’s unique frequency.

All of your employees come to work with different levels of ability and skill: Different backgrounds, personalities, styles, ways of communicating, work habits, and motivations. Some of them need more guidance than others. One employee needs details spelled out, while another has the details memorized. One responds best if you ask questions, while another prefers you tell him all the answers. Some need lots of reminders, while others need you to check in just once a week. The only way to cope with the incredible diversity among your employees is to figure out what works with each person and then customize your management style accordingly.

 

The best way to keep fine-tuning your approach to each person is to continually ask yourself six key questions about each employee:

  • Who is this person at work?
  • Why do I need to manage this person?
  • What do I need to talk about with this person?
  • How should I talk with this person?
  • Where should I talk with this person?
  • When should I talk with this person?

 

If you become obsessed with asking and answering these questions, you won’t be able to avoid customizing your approach with each person.

 

2. Note that tasks and responsibilities yield feedback opportunities.

There are abundant opportunities to give feedback. Every task, responsibility, and touchpoint along the way affords you a chance to give the employee a constructive response.

 

Keep in mind that feedback can be…

  • Scheduled or unscheduled
  • Given one-on-one or in the presence of others (e.g., during a team meeting)
  • Offered in person or via other methods, such as text or email

 

3. Tune into feedback opportunities.

Each employee’s frequency is determined by their key tasks, responsibilities, and other relevant inputs. Some tasks, responsibilities, and other inputs require feedback more often than others; at different times than others; in different forms than others. Seize the opportunities that work best in each situation.

 

4. When in doubt, give feedback. Then pay close attention to the result.

Don’t let doubt stop you—give the feedback you think is needed, see how the employee responds, and then adjust the feedback accordingly. It may take a little time to get in tune with each employee, but eventually you will.

 

Remember, you can always ask for feedback on your feedback.

 

5. Customize, but don’t cater to every whim.

I’m not suggesting that you cater to the whims of each employee. But also consider that whims are not all bad. When you know the whims of an employee, you know what that person wants, and therefore how to gain leverage with them.

 

Certainly, don’t coddle people, but if an employee needs you to hold their hand and spoon-feed them assignments, you as the manager need to know that. In the end, you need to decide whether you are willing to do that for this employee. But don’t pretend they don’t need it, or that the problem will go away if it is ignored.

 

Finally, do not ask each employee how they want to be managed. What an employee wants from you is not always the same as what they need.

 

ATTUNE TO FEEDBACK FREQUENCY:

  • If an employee makes an unreasonable request, don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep. Explain what you can reasonably do for an employee and why.
  • Stop coddling an employee as soon as you have a reasonable track record of performance to refer to. Of course, this means regular performance tracking is even more imperative.
  • Don’t cater to employee whims or trending fads: Stick with the management methods you have proven to work in the past.

 

Make better use of your management time

Improving the quality of your leadership, no matter your role, is one of the best career investments you can make:

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