Monday, November 12, 2012

Driving Higher Performance

Feedback loops are essential for the growth, development and regulation of every living organism. Without messages from one cell to another, none of our body processes would stay in kilter, we wouldn’t be able to respond to new challenges and any growth would be dangerously chaotic.

In many ways our growth and development as an effective manager or leader is similarly dependent on getting the right feedback. I recently came across research from the Corporate Leadership Council* looking at the top 10 ways to drive higher employee performance. One probably obvious but vital insight is that managers can drive or destroy employee performance – by around plus or minus 40%.

Top of the list for things that drive better performance is effective informal feedback. To be effective, the informal feedback should:

  1. be fair and accurate
  2. be from a source knowledgeable about the employee’s performance 
  3. contain feedback that helps the employee do the job better

The greatest negative effective on performance was experienced when a lot of emphasis is placed on weaknesses in the employee’s performance of the job – rather than targeted on what the employee could do better.

Apart from the very important implications about how to train managers to give feedback and performance reviews, it struck me how important these lessons are for our own self-feedback loops. Every one of us experiences a degree of self-talk in our heads – for many it’s their greatest critic! This self-talk certainly qualifies as regular and informal feedback. But how well does our self-talk score in terms of accuracy, fairness, and being focused on how we could do the job better?

In my coaching discussions with effective leaders, I am struck by how well they manage their self-talk. They link their actions to clear outcomes and measure their own success in achieving these. Their inner self-talk is used to review their performance fairly, accurately and openly, aware that some things might have been done better another way. Most importantly, they give themselves the feedback they need to perform better without letting it dent their confidence in themselves.

So if we want to drive higher performance, a very good place to start is training our own inner voice to give us the quality of feedback we need: fair, accurate and focused on how we can do the job better.

* “Improving Talent Management Outcomes” by Corporate Leadership Council

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