It is sometimes said that employees don’t leave the company they work for; they leave the managers they report to. Not surprisingly, manager behaviour is an important predictor of an employee’s satisfaction and success at work.  A critical element of employee management is providing effective feedback to employees.  Providing the right kind of feedback at the right time is a significant motivating factor for an employee that translates into productive outcomes that benefit the employer’s operations.

In my over fifteen years of advising management as a labour and employment lawyer, I can attest to the fact that feedback is critical to an employee’s willingness and ability to contribute to an organization’s success.  Maintaining an ongoing dialogue of reciprocal feedback provides an employee with an identity of function, leading to increased productivity and achievement of team objectives. Moreover, it provides a feeling of empowerment that compels the employee to contribute positively to the overall culture of the workplace.

Many managers identify the formal appraisal process as the sole opportunity to provide employee feedback. What is not realized is that the failure to provide regular, constructive feedback can actually trigger the poor performance cycle: The manager becomes frustrated with the employee’s performance but fails to communicate why, or how the employee can improve. The employee senses the manager’s frustration but has no idea how to address the frustration thus perpetuating the performance issue. The manager’s frustration level increases.  The manager stops communicating with the employee and delegates the employee’s responsibilities to other team members. This causes the employee to disengage from the team and, in some cases, become disruptive by sabotaging the manager’s effectiveness. The manager’s frustration increases … and on it goes.

By being too focussed on planning, organizing and staffing the work, managers can overlook the key responsibly of sound employee management: cultivating productive relationships with employees.

Productive workplace relationships are founded upon trust. In a manager/employee relationship, trust is built by the manager creating open channels of communication and by providing ongoing and regular feedback on how the employee is performing in his or her role. With relatively few exceptions, employees need to know that they are valuable, competent and that they can positively contribute to their environment. Managers can only meet those needs and foster productive workplace outcomes through providing positive and/or constructive feedback.

With this in mind here are 5 strategies for how managers can use effective feedback to create productive, trust-based relationships with their team members:

1.   Be Accessible

Effective feedback thrives in an environment of open communication. Managers need to be approachable, and to take the time required to build relationships with their employees so that feedback is viewed as coming from a place of support rather than criticism.

2.   Communicate Feedback Appropriately

Ensuring that critical feedback is constructive and understood is very important. Don’t trust such delicate communication to email or other impersonal means which are susceptible to misinterpretation of tone and intention.  Performance concerns should be communicated face-to-face with opportunity for the employee to raise question or provide input.

3.   Provide Performance Feedback Continuously

The performance review should not be the first time that performance issues are raised. When an employee arrives at his or her performance review he or she should already have a good idea of what issues will be raised. The performance review should be the occasion where progress is measured or a strategy for improvement is discussed.

4.   Listen to Employees and Solicit Feedback

Trust is fostered in environments where feedback is a two-way street. This means actively listening to employees and making them feel that they have influence in their role. Moreover, employees should be invited to provide feedback on a manager’s style, for better or for worse. A manager’s efforts to improve are a solid trust-builder and are appreciated by the team.

5.   Be Solution Rather Than Problem-Focussed

Feedback on performance concerns should be constructive, with the focus being on how the employee can be supported towards improvement, where possible.

The above suggested strategies are proven techniques to building trust, and establishing respectful, productive workplace relationships.  Feedback is one of the keys to meting objectives and reducing turnover.