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People Don’t Change – Or Do They?

Creating a Culture of Feedback

---by Gene Benson

Once, as a middle-manager, I had a boss who was adamant that people did not change. He was very firm in his belief that any employee exhibiting undesirable traits should be replaced without any effort to improve the employee’s performance. That policy would not be acceptable today with our litigious society and the present shortage of qualified workers. But at the time, we terminated several employees who potentially could have been salvaged.


Today’s HR departments use formal performance reviews and have counselling or retraining programs at the ready. There are detailed employee manuals and metrics to support decisions. Companies with thousands or even hundreds of employees must rely on documented evidence and supporting metrics. But sometimes, perhaps often, opportunities to improve employee performance and therefore employee retention, are missed.


Very few people begin a new job with the intention of performing poorly. Almost everyone possesses the human trait of desiring to perform well. Yet, when an employee’s performance is disappointing, we tend to believe that the employee is not trying hard enough to succeed or is not capable of doing the job. Once we get that idea, our cognitive bias of confirmation blindness kicks in and we seek additional evidence of poor performance and ignore instances of success. Any feedback we provide the employee now will probably be negative. We can be better than that.


Changing our own behavior is difficult and changing the culture of a company is even harder. But tremendous gains can be achieved for all parties if we make the effort to create a culture of providing and accepting helpful feedback. The key here is that the feedback must be provided in a spirit of helpfulness. It can be positive or negative but it must be intended to be helpful and expressed in that way. It can go both ways on the chain of command. Everyone must feel empowered to provide feedback to everyone else. New employees will benefit the most from receiving feedback on their performance, but older employees will also benefit and be less likely to become complacent. And yes, upper management can also benefit from helpful feedback.


There are several ways to incorporate a program encouraging feedback into a company. The same method will not work for everyone. A “top-down” approach might be the best method for a company in which upper management is respected and trusted. Other companies might find greater success by introducing a program for one department and then helping it spread to other departments. Still others might benefit from a grass-roots effort spreading upward. It will not happen overnight but will grow into the company culture if it is properly introduced, monitored, and managed.


Contact Bright Spot, Inc. if you would like assistance in creating and introducing a program into your company.

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