Improving Team Performance Through Feedback

In my experience, most leaders struggle in regulating their team’s performance. It is difficult for them to understand - how at one time a team member does exceptional work and how at other times the same person slips up and drops the ball.

Imagine this scenario – Your team member did something really well and you also gave him a “Well Done, Keep It Up,” and a few days later you experience that your encouragement had no impact on him. On the contrary, you see that he is very inconsistent with his performance. I am sure you have from time to time wondered if that original good performance was a fluke. Most managers I have met keep telling me that, “encouragement has very low buying power”

Here are a few concepts that leaders need to understand and use to make a difference with this situation.

Relationship Between Results and Actions

Most leaders need to understand that results are produced by actions. Actions that are consistent, almost natural expression of the person and very predictable are called behaviors.

Praise and criticism have very little impact

There is a huge difference between praise and criticism on one side and feedback on the other side. Praise or Criticism is like letting people know what you liked or did not like. Feedback is letting them know, what did they DO, that was right or not and should they continue doing it or stop doing it. Feedback is about action and not results. Most managers end up praising or criticizing their team members. Here are a few examples of these:

“Amazingly well executed. Keep It Up!”

“Is this what we pay you for? I expect a lot more form you! This is a shabby job”

“This is not how you handle a client! You don’t even this much”

“The client has really appreciated the way you handled the project. Good Job. Everyone let’s give him a round of applause”

All the above are examples of Praise or Criticism. Before you think, I am saying that praising someone is not good, let me clarify that praising has its own place and pumps people up. It increases their self-worth and confidence and gets them motivated too – even if it is for a short while. I am not undermining the importance of praise.

What I am saying is praise doesn’t guarantee that people will be able to repeat the same performance. This is because most people while working are not very consciously aware of their actions and the impact those actions have on situations and on other people. So when they get a “well done,” they receive and process it the way they deem fit. Whenever things are up for interpretation, chances are that they will be interpreted differently based on individual perceptions and prejudices and hence there are no guarantees of a repeat performance.

Understand Feedback

To understand how feedback is different, let me define feedback for you –

Feedback is letting someone know what specific actions or behaviors have produced what results & whether the behavior is to be repeated or not.

Here is how feedback is different – at least the way I am suggesting you to do. It talks about a specific action and the impact that specific action has had. The feedback needs to be delivered in the following format:

S B I + A

Situation Behavior Impact + Alternative Action

Let’s look at an example:

(Situation) Yesterday, when the client had called up, you responded swiftly and calmed the client down. You took ownership of the situation when you said you will personally look in to it (Behavior). That was well done. It allowed for the situation to calm down, saved us from embarrassment and I personally didn’t have to intervene. It gave me the confidence to let you handle such cases so that I can concentrate on other things (Impact your behavior had on the situation, on you, on me & on the organization). Keep it up! (Continue or Alternative Action).

Let’s look at another example:

(Situation)In the weekly review meeting, you came unprepared. (Behavior)Your data slides were not accurate and you did not have answers to the questions that were asked. (Impact) This makes you look bad in front of the team. They make comments about this behind your back. I lose confidence and am not sure you are on top of things. Also, the team thinks this is acceptable behavior. The whole team begins to be casual about these reviews. I want you to be absolutely prepared for these reviews. I recommend (Alternative Action)that you and I go through your presentation a day before the weekly review. It will help you be more prepared and we can plug any holes. (Action Plan)Please set a recurring meeting invite for Monday 12.00 noon for our (Review Date) review for the next 3 weeks and if all goes well, we won’t have to do this post 3 weeks.

For the sake of illustration the examples above look like monologue, but you can have the same discussion as a dialogue and together set up the action plan and alternative behavior.

Any feedback given in this way will be far more acceptable and be very clear about what behaviors need to be done or not done.

In this article I am only focusing on the feedback, but by all means there are some factors you will need to manage to make every feedback session count. They are listed here:

  1. Do the feedback regularly and not only when people make mistakes. This way people know that you are interested in their performance improvement
  2. Make it as safe and neutral as possible. Make it non-threatening.
  3. Always have a context of performance development towards feedback
  4. Don’t make it a reprimand session. Have the outcome be constructive
  5. Make these sessions a dialogue and not one way
  6. Always leave your team member with an actionable access to improve
  7. Always have a review date and review it

Giving feedback can be challenging and sometimes daunting but if your team members know that you are on their side and are genuinely interested in them improving their performance, they will appreciate what you are doing.

Performance feedback Feedback Situation Behavior Impact Alternative Action

About the author

Sanjay Wadhwa

Independently Certified Leadership Trainer


An expert facilitator, trainer, coach and keynote speaker with an experience of over 20 years in enhancing organizational effectiveness by improving people capability.

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