Feedback Is the Key to Improving Employee Performance, Just Not the Kind You Think

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to motivate employees and create an environment where positive attitudes are the norm?

Human motivation is a multi-faceted conundrum.

And, it’s not static.

What motivates someone today may not motivate them tomorrow.

People are fickle you say. Maybe so, but maybe it’s just that life circumstances change and people’s focus changes to something else that is now more important that it was yesterday.

It happens to all of us.

So what is a small business CEO to do to maintain employee motivation, morale and performance?

The simple solution is to talk about it.

Although the solution to talk about it is “simple” it seems that it’s not that easy or everyone would be doing it, and few are.

If communication is labeled a “soft skill” can you identify a harder skill in the workplace to get right?

So, if, as a CEO you are to talk about employee motivation, morale and performance what do you talk about?

Well, it’s really not so much talking as it is asking.

CEOs who want to build employee motivation, morale and performance to create a positive, productive and more profitable work environment in their small business need to get comfortable asking questions about those issues.

Get curious.

What questions should you ask? Start with the easy to hear answers to questions, such as:

  • What motivates you about working here?
  • What do you like about the company?
  • What are we doing right that keeps you working here?
  • What things should we keep doing that helps make this a great place to work?

Then, after you’ve gotten answers to those say, “thank you for that feedback, now I want to ask you a couple of more difficult questions, and I want your honest, most truthful answers. I promise that no matter what you tell me there will be no negative consequences, you have my word on that. What you tell me will be kept in strictest confidence and will be used only so that I can improve what I’m doing leading this company.”

Then, ask these questions:

  • What obstacles are getting in your way of being able to do an even better job that I can help remove for you?
  • What are some things I, as a leader or manager, should stop doing that is not helpful for you in getting your job done, or making you more motivated to work here?
  • What are some things I should start doing that would help you do your job even better that I’m not presently doing?

It may take awhile for your employees to open up to you.

You can ask these questions in small groups or have one-on-one meetings with your people, or both.

The key is consistency and frequency in asking these types of questions.

In 1999 I had the privilege of seeing the late General Norman Schwarzkopf give a keynote address on leadership. I still have the notes from that session in my journal, but I don’t have to pull it off the shelf to remember the biggest takeaway I had from his speech.

Schwarzkopf said, “No organization will ever improve until its leaders are open to looking at what is wrong with it.”

That was 16 years ago and yet there are still so many organizational leaders who are not willing to take the risk of being vulnerable in front of their employees and ask these very questions.

It doesn’t make sense.

Small business CEOs have no problem demanding their direct reports be open to “constructive” feedback and then express surprise when so many people get defensive or offended at the suggestions in how they can improve.

If you expect to be able to give “constructive” feedback to your people, you must be open to receiving it from your people.

Doing so creates an upward spiral of performance, individually and collectively, as everyone in the organization builds higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence by becoming comfortable both in giving and receiving constructive (and positive) feedback in a mutually respectful manner.

This is how small business CEOs create a culture that leads to championship caliber performance and results.