The saying goes, “Feedback is a gift.” At work, we believe feedback should help those receiving it. But many times when it comes to feedback, like those ugly socks or worthless gadgets we get at birthdays or holidays, we want to return those gifts as soon as we receive them. That is, if feedback is even given to us in the first place.
There are many thoughts and opinions about feedback: what it is, how to give it, how often these “gifts” must be given, and the benefits of only giving positive feedback. To better understand the intricacies of feedback in the workplace, we surveyed 235 leaders in organizations around the world. Our findings will clarify the process of giving and receiving feedback, including:
- How often we typically get feedback from our bosses;
- What types of feedback (positive vs. negative, process vs. outcome) we actually get from our bosses;
- What types of feedback we would actually prefer to get from our bosses;
- How often we give feedback to our direct reports (and what types);
- Best practices for giving and receiving feedback.
Our research will increase awareness of what feedback is and what it is not. By doing so, we will dispel popular myths about the kind of feedback that employees really want to have to develop and improve.
What Is Feedback and Why Is it Important?
Many people assume that feedback is just being told that you did a good job on a task or that you did poorly on something. Yet, researchers at the University of Akron have found that feedback involves more than just a simple evaluation of whether someone performed well or poorly (Medvedeff, Gregory, & Levy, 2008).
Specifically, there are four types of feedback that employees can receive on their work performance:
- Positive Outcome Feedback – a favorable evaluation of a completed task (e.g., “Good work!”)
- Negative Outcome Feedback – an unfavorable evaluation of a completed task (e.g., “This work is not acceptable.”)
- Positive Process Feedback – real-time feedback on what is going well as a task is being completed (e.g., “Good work! You are spending the right amount of time working on this task.”)
- Negative Process Feedback – real-time feedback on what is not going well as a task is being completed (e.g., “This work is not acceptable. You are not spending the right amount of time working on this task.”)
In a recent study with college students, University of Akron researchers found that positive outcome feedback and negative process feedback motivate individuals the most. People were most likely to seek more feedback when they received negative process feedback that told them what they were doing wrong and what they could do to increase performance as they worked on a task.
Receiving positive outcome feedback also made individuals want to seek additional feedback but not as much as negative process feedback did. Positive outcome feedback was rewarding, and negative process feedback provided useful information to help individuals improve. In short, these types of feedback were most motivating but for different reasons. The academic research clearly shows that negative feedback in fact is important, and if used correctly, can be a tool for managers to use in performance management. People gain self-awareness and understand their strengths when they get positive feedback and become aware of opportunities for development when they get negative feedback. And contrary to popular belief, negative feedback (particularly negative process feedback) can be a powerful tool for leaders to use when working to motivate employees to get better — if delivered constructively.
We, however, wanted to learn more behind the realities and practicalities of feedback at work. We wanted to see how feedback actually plays out in the workplace with leaders. We therefore ask 235 leaders from around the world specific questions about the frequency and type of feedback they tend to give and receive. The purpose of the current study is to benchmark these feedback practices in a sample of global leaders so that organizations and their leaders can become more aware of the different types of feedback they should be providing employees. What follows are the results and some ideas for best practices around feedback in the workplace.Download White Paper