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Using Feedback to Motivate the Staff
By Rick Kilton, President, RWK Enterprises

Think Motivation

Any 'dream team' is comprised of a talented and highly motivated person, leading a talented and highly motivated team. Without motivation, talent is nothing more than wasted potential. So, before exploring feedback techniques, let's look at motivation. The idea of motivation alone is an interesting subject. The word, motivation, is often misused and/or misunderstood.

Motivation is a feeling of interest that makes you want to do something, a reason for doing something or behaving in a certain way. Motivation comes from within, so it is up to each individual to motivate him/herself.

Motivate is a transitive verb, which means to give somebody an incentive, to give somebody a reason or incentive to do something. The exceptional leader realizes it is his/her responsibility to provide a highly motivating environment for employees.

Providing a highly motivational environment is challenging because "one size does not fit all." Each person has unique biological, emotional, cognitive, or social forces that activate and direct behavior. So it is important to remember, what clearly motivates one may de-motivate another. Fortunately, there are a number of motivating actions and activities that appeal to a class of individuals, such as support personnel.

Why Positive, Effective Feedback is So Important

In the 50's, Frederick Herzberg performed an important study on motivational factors. Today, we can refer to his study in a Harvard Business School of Publishing, "One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?"

Herzberg determined that the most powerful motivational factor is Self Achievement. It is our internal sense of achievement and being valued (by our self and others) that is our primary driver. (Let's assume, for this discussion that we are above Maslow's lower level needs of food, shelter, security, etc.) The need to be valued is very strong in humans and we will go to great lengths to get this need satisfied. We wish to be valued by our families, social friends and our workmates.

Unfortunately, we do not seem to be able to fully sustain our internal sense of value without the occasional external reinforcement. You may have noticed that some people require a lot more validation than others. We can call that external validation - Recognition. Effective positive feedback is meant to fulfill that internal sense of value. In this case, feedback demonstrates interest, reinforces desirable behaviors and redirects undesirable or misdirected behaviors. With this understanding, it becomes easier to see the value in providing feedback that is Relevant, Specific, Timely, Valuable, and Accurate.

Relevant - The feedback from the leader must be relevant to the person's career, mission, goals, objectives, or tasks.

Specific - Feedback like, "You're doing a great job" isn't bad, but "You are doing a great job in meeting your quarterly objectives" or "You did a great job handling that upset customer this morning" is more useful.

Timely - Providing feedback that is current is far more effective than waiting for next month's one-on-one or the performance review. The quicker a desirable behavior is reinforced, or valued, the more likely it will be repeated.

Valuable - The feedback must fulfill that internal sense of being valued in that individual.

Accurate - If feedback is inaccurate, the receiver will negate the positive effects since it seems the leader does not care about the situation and may be acting falsely.

Most of the time, feedback is based on the performance or actions of the employee. Using objective performance measurements is valuable since, most of the time, they are not arguable or vague. Without specific performance metrics, it is easy for recognition from a leader to appear as favoritism. Whenever employees believe that their leader is showing favoritism, they easily become de-motivated. Whenever the word favoritism shows up in a support center, you can bet that there are deeper troubles.

Feedback to Demonstrate Interest

One of our most precious resources is time. When a leader shares some with another person - an employee - the message is sent that he/she is important. Everyone wants/needs/deserves to feel important. Exceptional leaders understand this and find the time to get face to face with the staff. This goes beyond the perfunctory weekly meeting. This is about lingering a moment at the coffee bar to make eye contact and slip in a genuine positive comment to one of the employees. It's about sticking your head in their office/cube to tell them something that will make them know you value them and their contributions to the team.

Feedback to Reinforce Desirable Behaviors

One of the best and most valued forms of feedback is the occasional "pat on the back." As discussed above, recognition that is timely (immediate) is the most valid. It feeds the employee's sense of value and quickly reinforces the desired behaviors. It's even better when others see what the leader finds valuable in performance. One positive comment on an employee's great work can impact many others. Practice catching employees performing great work. That requires the old leadership activity of "Managing by walking around." The more a leader can encourage, reward, and coach the team, the more the team will perform at peak effectiveness and weakness can be ferreted out more quickly.

Support Centers are rife with metrics like: number of calls per (something or someone), time per call, time to solve, productivity, speed of answer (service level), etc. All are valuable in understanding the support business. But be careful, as support personnel can be very cleaver in giving the management the numbers they want. There is a saying, "What you measure is what you get." Usually that kind of performance is at the expense of something else. For example, a customer can be given a cavalier or poorly thought-out solution and told to go away and try it. That will make the call brief, and when the customer calls back, that adds another call to the tally. But, what happened to the poor customer? What does the customer think about your company (or department) and it's quality (or lack) of service?

It is wise to balance quantitative measurements with qualitative measurements. The best qualitative measurement is how does the customer FEEL about the support. Let's remember, that their perception is their reality. Customer satisfaction surveys, on-line and off-line call monitoring/coaching, service level agreements, and management's random sampling of calls (or support e-mails) can all be very valuable in providing qualitative measurement feedback. Using customer satisfaction survey results to recognize support employees is nearly perfect since support centers are in the customer satisfaction business. The results of these tools can either reinforce desirable behaviors with rewards or can be used to shore up weaknesses with training or coaching.

The more attention given to customer feedback, the more employees will understand its value and in turn work to please your customers. Publishing "raving fans" customers' letters, e-mails, etc, reinforces the importance of satisfying customers, recognizes the employee who did the excellent job, and helps all employees feel proud of the organization. When a leader publicizes positive customer feedback, the individual being praised gets the message, "you are great and everyone should know it!" Everyone else in the organization gets the indirect feedback that satisfying the customer is "star" performance.

Again, it's important to remember, "one size does not fit all. In fact it." Feedback is an important form of recognition. It is good for the team to know exceptional performers will be noticed. How they are noticed can make a big difference to the individual striving to perform. Everyone wants to be appreciated, but not everyone is comfortable in receiving "feedback" in a public arena. In fact it can be de-motivating. For example, there was a company that had a practice of honoring exceptional performers by bringing them in front of their peers for recognition and applause. (Some readers may be cringing at that thought) While there are many who would appreciate being recognized in such a manner, there are many who do not. Unfortunately such a recognition activity can, in fact, cause certain employees to NOT reach performance standards because they do not want to be recognized in that manner and be embarrassed. That was a recognition program the de-motivated some employees!

So it is very important to create recognition programs that the employees appreciate. One way to do this is to get them involved. Not only in helping set standards, but also, in the way they are recognized. Some would like money, some like plaques, some like having their name on the wall, etc. A popular reward choice is "time off." Getting the occasional three-day weekend is often desirable. When the employees are able to help determine reward programs, they will have ownership and work more enthusiastically toward meeting the goals. In addition, it is easier to get everyone onboard with the programs when they are involved and it makes communications easier.

Formal Feedback to Direct and Redirect Behavior

Another effective and typical form of feedback is the performance review. Ideally, there should be no surprises during the review if the two parties have been communicating well all year. The best process seems to be where the leader writes the review and the employee writes a self-evaluation independently. Then when the two come together for the review, there can be additional documentation written where there is a difference of opinion. It is also helpful for both parties to create yearly objectives, again independently, and then merge their thoughts into an agreed upon objectives list. Here is another opportunity for the leaders to show interest in the employee. This method will prevent the often seen process where the leader asks the employees to write their own self-evaluation and then the finished product is essentially the employees' writing. Employees who experience this are certain that their leader has no clue what they do or have done. The leader quickly loses respect and credibility.

When setting goals or performance objectives using the acronym SMART will help keep them on track.

Create SMART goals and performance objectives

Specific - Objectives must be very specific so each person understands what is expected.

Measurable - There must be quantitative measurements attached.

Achievable - Employees must be able to reach the objectives. If they can't they likely will not try.

Relevant - Objectives must be relevant to their wants, needs, and beliefs.

Time bound - Use time elements to ensure objectives are completed in a timely manner or deadline.

Employees deserve to know how they are doing in reference to their job description and their individual career goals. Most people really do want to do a good job. Often they just don't understand what is expected of them or may find themselves in a job they don't value or enjoy. Honest (and kind) feedback will provide motivation to improve performance or re-evaluate the current job fit.

Feedback in performance appraisals can easily be positive if the great work is recognized and the shortcomings turn into development activities in the form of training or coaching. After a performance review, the employee should be charged and re-energized to do even better in the next year. If it turns out that the employee is not really happy in the position, then the next step could be career re-direction inside or outside the company. Trying to force an employee to do a great job in a position they dislike is futile. Don't waste yours and their time.

There are two rules a good leader should remember:

    1. "Praise in public, criticize in private" - Leaders who criticize in public lose respect from the whole team, not just the target employee. Employees are often embarrassed when they witness a peer being criticized by the leader.

    2. "Team gets praise for success, boss gets credit for failure" - Leaders must accept responsibility for the team's lack of success. If they don't, they are not really the leader. When the leader receives praise for the team's performance, he/she must give credit to the team members.

Remember that employees need a sense of accomplishment in order to perform at high levels. They must feel valuable, have a sense of "moving up," are able to gain more responsibility, and most want to see career progress. The leader's feedback, in all its various forms, can provide the environment where the employee can be self-motivated.

About the Author
Rick Kilton provides business analysis, consulting services and employee development workshops to customer support operations. They are designed to improve the environment that can lead to improved customer loyalty and retention of valuable employees while providing for a rich, rewarding, and motivational career opportunity. The very best way to invest in employees is to improve their knowledge and skills. Employees are more loyal to companies that understand and provide this investment. Call 303-823-6448 or email for a free consultation.

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