Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Nano Tools for Leaders XIII

In Leadership, Nano Tools, Wharton on September 12, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Pull, Don’t Push: Designing Effective Feedback Systems

Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.

Contributor: Katherine Klein, Edward H. Bowman Professor of Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

The Goal:

Create feedback systems that improve, rather than diminish, performance.

Nano Tool:

It’s a commonly held belief, one that gets played out daily in organizations around the world: Employees who receive performance feedback are much more likely to improve their performance than those who don’t get feedback. But research tells us that it’s simply not true. Typically, performance after feedback improves only modestly—and over one third of the time, it actually gets worse. People who receive positive feedback often see no need for change, and those who receive negative feedback often react with skepticism, discouragement, and anger, dismissing the evaluation as inaccurate, unhelpful, or unfair.

But if feedback doesn’t always and easily improve performance, what should managers do? Research suggests that “pulling” is a better idea than “pushing.” Pulling entails teaching, coaching, and developing employees rather than pushing—or correcting—them. Pulling says, “Here’s how to get ahead in this company; we’ll provide you with guidelines and coaching to help you master these skills and behaviors.” Pushing says “You’re not doing very well.” In employees’ eyes, it’s likely to be the difference between a motivating challenge and a demoralizing reprimand.

To get favorable results from performance evaluations, evaluators must set positive expectations, showing that they believe improvements can be made, and that the feedback itself—even negative feedback—is an opportunity to learn rather than a punitive final word. They should also be willing to assist with concrete steps toward the suggested improvements, including coaching and goal-setting. Done correctly, performance feedback can lead to improvements—but don’t forget to “pull” for those improvements by making the desired skills and behaviors clear and helping people acquire them.


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