Information

Problems With Feedback On Problems

By Jan H. Katz Phd., Cornell School of Hotel Administration

May 18, 2016

Most of us like to receive positive feedback, but negative feedback….? It is the bane of most employees’ work lives because, well…it’s so negative. For the most part, it’s uncomfortable to give and very uncomfortable to hear.

Still, it’s important to provide feedback that helps employees improve and brings them into alignment with company interests.

So, what to do? First, change supervisors’ perspective: it’s not positive and negative feedback, it’s positive and developmental feedback. Managers need to see feedback as a means to develop better employees, not as a way to dole out verbal rewards and punishments. To be successful, though, the change can’t be viewed as the latest management fad. It has to be real change. There are two key parts to that:

1.Teach supervisors to phrase negative feedback in developmental terms. Ask them for the five most common employee problems. Then, help them rephrase that into this format:

a) You need to do this specific thing because

b) It will benefit you (and possibly the company).

For example, help them turn, “Don’t ignore customers” into, “If you’re attentive to customers and give them menus, water and bread quickly and take drink orders soon afterwards, they usually complain less and leave better tips.”  It’s longer, but it provides useful guidance (i.e. tells staff specifically what to do) and it shows how the employee will benefit, putting the supervisor on their side rather than in opposition, lowering employee resistance.

2. Celebrate successes. Too often, employees improve and instead of positive comments, they hear the next complaint. Before moving on to the next developmental comment, supervisors need to celebrate improvements. “You’ve done very well attending to customers. I’ve seen they’ve been happier. Thanks.” A day or two later, they can move to the next developmental topic.

It takes time to change feedback behavior because the old style is much easier and faster. As well, in the high pressure atmosphere of busy hospitality companies, supervisors often respond emotionally rather than rationally – complaints rather than directions. That’s why it’s important to work with people in advance to rephrase common comments. Then, they’ll have the right wording in their minds and be more likely to be the employee developers they need to become.

Contact Jan H. Katz Phd. if you have any questions or for more information:  jan.katz@cornell.edu

So, what to do? First, change supervisors’ perspective: it’s not positive and negative feedback, it’s positive and developmental feedback. Managers need to see feedback as a means to develop better employees, not as a way to dole out verbal rewards and punishments. To be successful, though, the change can’t be viewed as the latest management fad. It has to be real change. There are two key parts to that:

1.Teach supervisors to phrase negative feedback in developmental terms. Ask them for the five most common employee problems. Then, help them rephrase that into this format:

a) You need to do this specific thing because

b) It will benefit you (and possibly the company).

For example, help them turn, “Don’t ignore customers” into, “If you’re attentive to customers and give them menus, water and bread quickly and take drink orders soon afterwards, they usually complain less and leave better tips.”  It’s longer, but it provides useful guidance (i.e. tells staff specifically what to do) and it shows how the employee will benefit, putting the supervisor on their side rather than in opposition, lowering employee resistance.

2. Celebrate successes. Too often, employees improve and instead of positive comments, they hear the next complaint. Before moving on to the next developmental comment, supervisors need to celebrate improvements. “You’ve done very well attending to customers. I’ve seen they’ve been happier. Thanks.” A day or two later, they can move to the next developmental topic.

It takes time to change feedback behavior because the old style is much easier and faster. As well, in the high pressure atmosphere of busy hospitality companies, supervisors often respond emotionally rather than rationally – complaints rather than directions. That’s why it’s important to work with people in advance to rephrase common comments. Then, they’ll have the right wording in their minds and be more likely to be the employee developers they need to become.

Contact Jan H. Katz Phd. if you have any questions or for more information:  jan.katz@cornell.edu


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