The feedback gap

Apr 20 2011 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Providing honest feedback ought to be one of the fundamental elements of managing other people. But in reality, many managers dislike giving feedback and when they do, it is often less than effective.

So just how wide is "the feedback gap"? According to a new survey by UK-based communications specialists Threshold, the answer is "yawning", with fewer than half (45 per cent) of employees with a line manager saying that they receive helpful feedback from their line manager on a regular enough basis or that any feedback they do get helps them to do their job better.

The research, which quizzed just under 1000 employees, found that only around half (52 per cent) of employees felt that their managers clearly described the performance standards that they expected and even fewer Ė just 42 per cent - felt that the standards by which they were being evaluated had been communicated to them.

Only half of respondents felt that their line manager was, or would be good, at helping them to solve a problem if there were any obstacles to their performance and just 37 per cent said that they were encouraged to talk about their strengths.

"Senior managers in corporations across the UK should not assume that line managers are actively managing performance," said James Brooke, a director of Threshold.

"This is an issue that needs addressing because if performance is managed well, it is quite clear that employees are more likely to commit additional discretionary effort to their work Ė that has a direct and positive impact on the bottom line."

The proportion of staff who are prepared to go the extra mile Ė the high discretionary effort group - represented just one in 10 (11 per cent) of the sample. Critically, however, there was a clear link between their motivation and the communication they enjoyed with their line manager, with eight out of 10 of them saying that their line manager was good at giving straight, honest feedback.

When asked if they received support and helpful training at work in how to give honest feedback to others, only a third of the sample group said that they did. But in the high discretionary effort group, seven out of 10 respondents were being supported.

James Brooke said that unless organisations invest in training of their managers to have honest performance conversations, they are in danger of leaving staff feeling isolated, lacking in direction and demotivated.

"Constructive feedback generates clear messages and allows employees to address weaknesses and build on strengths," he added.

"Employees need to feel that they are can address any issues and they will be supported and listened to and our research indicates that this is not happening enough."