by Paul O. Radde |
Feedback, and the guidance it provides to an employee, is one of the quintessential responsibilities of an employer, supervisor, or manager. The initial employee conference should emphasize the importance of feedback as a requirement of the organization and as a resource to the employee. This sets the stage for future exchanges during which feedback will be provided. 

There are basically four types of feedback:

1) Affirming: Validating performance by saying specifically what was done correctly.
2) Corrective: Refocusing on what is required; providing direction and guidance.
3) General: "Good job!" with no specifics.
4) Punitive: "You are too short," or addressing something that cannot be changed.

Affirming feedback will acknowledge and reinforce performance, and make it more likely that the recipient will repeat that practice; it validates the employee's performance. 

Corrective feedback requires observing employee performance and results, determining shortfalls or errors in performance, and then being clear about what steps need to be taken, what skills must be acquired or practices added, in order to improve performance. The provider needs to do sufficient preparation to redirect energy, guide, or refocus employee activity. Think of being a movie director: What do you want them to do?

These first two types of feedback are appropriate in both personal and professional relationships.

General feedback, meanwhile, is typically unfocused and a throw-away comment. It provides little specificity, so that the recipient has little sense of what he or she did correctly. It's like saying "warm" without indicating how the recipient is on target. Specific information is required, as well as more guideposts and points of reference, in order for the recipient to know what to stop, repeat, or increase.

Punitive or deprecating feedback essentially condemns the recipient by citing a situation or condition with which the recipient cannot comply. For example, "if you were taller, older, or brown eyed, we could promote you." The recipient is left bewildered and essentially helpless to remedy the dismissive, deprecating, or punitive comments. This type of feedback stymies and negates the individual.

General feedback "blows off" or "distances" the recipient with a useless statement. Deprecating feedback carries a destructive intent. Neither has a beneficial role in any relationship.  

General feedback is called "positive" because it is easy to give and not unpleasant to receive. Meanwhile, many mislabel "corrective" feedback as "negative," when in fact it is often a contractual requirement of management to provide and essential to the employee in improving performance. Refer to it as "negative" and the entire feedback operation takes on a sort of writhing, squirming, uncomfortable sense. Describing feedback as negative refers more to your comfort level in giving and/or receiving it. You have to take time to determine what the better practices would be and then direct the recipient toward that objective.

It is important to have these "supervisory conferences" every four to six weeks during the year. This is when the correction and re-directing is most useful in providing opportunity to improve performance. The year-end performance review is a time for cumulative or summative feedback and general direction for the coming year. Affirming and corrective feedback needs be given closer to the actual performances that are either being affirmed or falling short and must be corrected. 

Paul O. Radde, Ph.D., Esq. is the author of Supervising: A Guide for All Levels, used corporate-wide by 3M, as well as The Supervision Transition, for employees moving into supervising. He has trained more than 5,000 supervisors and managers in industry, the federal government. and in Latin America. Radde keynotes on "Finding Your Higher Ground," and "Sustaining a Thrival Presence: You Must be Present to Win, Lead and Succeed." He also founded The Thrival Institute in Boulder, CO. He can be reached at [email protected] and at www.thrival.com.