When Bernie asked me to guest blog on The Practical Manager, at first I thought, I’m not a manager, never have been, never will. But I have had experiences with dozens of managers over my 30+ year career, so I feel somewhat qualified to shed some light on a topic that I’d like every manager to know about.
Being in a job fulfills several base needs for most people. Although Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model from the 1950’s only had 5 levels, the newly adapted hierarchy for the 1990’s has 8. So getting back to what does a job fulfill in most people – a pay cheque for starters, certainly helps attain the Biological and Physiological needs, as well as a sense of stability (ordinarily) from the Safety tier. It also provides them with a social environment (work group) from the Belongingness tier.
If you understand Maslow’s hierarchy, you know that the base needs are required to be fulfilled before the higher needs can. The next level is Esteem needs. Achievement and status are core parts of that tier. This is just my roundabout way of suggesting that one thing your employees really crave that they may not be getting, is decent feedback.
I can only speak for myself, but this is the one thing that I have always found lacking in one way or another in the workplace. How am I doing? I often don’t have a clue. I might think I know how I’m doing using my own yard stick, but how likely is that going to match what the manager expects? When do I get to find out how I’m doing? Typically once per year, at assessment time. So a year’s worth of feedback is about to come raining down on me and if it’s not in line with how I’ve evaluated myself to this point, I’m going to be seriously affected. If I’ve been rated better than I think I actually am, I may wonder if my own standards are too high or if my superiors are competent enough or have enough exposure to my daily work to evaluate me. If I’ve been rated lower than my self-perception, I may also wonder if my superiors understand the impact of my contributions, but I’m also likely to be demoralized into thinking that my efforts have been wasted. I’ll probably feel that I could have done better if they had only told me sooner that I wasn’t measuring up. Employees will rationalize that if their work was sub-standard, why didn’t anyone say anything before?
All of this can be avoided if you provide feedback more than once per year. I think everyone at least secretly wants to know how they’re doing on a regular basis. If you tell them they’re doing great – and why, this motivates them to maintain the effort and feeds their self-esteem. If you tell them where they need to improve, they are motivated to do better. If they don’t improve, you now have solid justification for their annual assessment that cannot be argued.
Employees want to be sure that even though you’re going to identify their ‘areas for improvement’, they also insist that you recognize their successes and growth. Since most managers are too busy to itemize every pro and con, every success and failure of each employee, one powerful tool is to ask employees to keep track of their work over the year. This not only helps them to remember all of their accomplishments that they can list in the section of their assessment where they evaluate themselves, but it also helps you to recognize and acknowledge them.
Because this is exactly what they need.