There is a long-held belief in the management world that negative performance feedback – ‘constructive criticism’, for want of a better term – can help employees correct their flaws and improve their output at work. After all, won’t pointing out what someone is doing wrong help them to identify their shortcomings and make steps toward improvement?
A recent study based in the US strongly suggests that this is far from the case, and even if they are conducted with the best of intentions, performance reviews that highlight the negatives can be incredibly damaging. The research, led by Kansas State University’s Satoris Culbertson, shows a critical assessment of job performance can harm employees at any level.
The main finding from the study – which surprised the researchers – was that all types of employee, their motivation is to learn on the job or to perform well are discouraged by receiving negative feedback. In fact, such feedback can affect a range of employee engagement factors such as motivation, commitment to the job and performance.
“Nobody likes to get negative feedback – even those individuals who aren’t trying to prove anything to others, but instead are just trying to learn as much as possible,” Professor Culbertson explained.
“We should be careful that negative feedback is provided in a way that is more constructive because it can help people try to improve.”
She also pointed out the dangers of putting numbers on people, as number-based performance reviews are subjective at best, with different people having different interpretations of scores.
Employing a 360 degree feedback survey that doesn’t revolve around what managers are doing right or doing wrong is a better tactic. The 360 Leader/Manager Survey™ is just such a method. It asks respondents to focus on what is working well, and guides managers to “do more” or “do less” of good practice behaviours in a non-threatening way.
This strengths-based approach takes the fear out of receiving feedback – and is much more conducive to performance improvement than dwelling on the problems.