Feedback: Could it be harmful for development?

Employees that did not receive feedback on their performance showed greater career development. But how could this be? This is a serious issue and it is one that organisations should seek to tackle head-on.


This week I read a piece of research that shocked me. Amongst other things, the researcher explored how feedback could hinder a person’s development. Their results showed that employees who did not receive feedback on their performance showed greater career development. 

But how could this be? This is a serious issue and it is one that organisations should seek to tackle head-on. 

The rationale behind this bold claim (according to this researcher) was that employees associate feedback with criticism and not being ‘good enough’ in the eyes of their manager. Therefore employees are not receptive to feedback and some view it as a telling off. Sounds familiar?

So, how do you identify if your managers are effective in developing your people? Here’s my thoughts:

  1. Do your line managers understand the aims of a feedback and performance management process? This can be tough. You have to strive hard to make sure that performance development practices are not perceived as paper-filling exercises and that your managers understand their impact in this process. Get them on board – they’re your champions and ambassadors with your people. Communicate with them. Show them how effective feedback can be for self-discovery and development. Furthermore, make sure that your workforce understands that feedback is delivered by everyone, not just your line managers.

  2. Do your line managers know how to deliver feedback effectively for development? This is key and should be part of any on-boarding strategy. You must identify whether your managers know how to deliver feedback for development purposes. If they don’t then you need to address it and develop them accordingly. Having a company-wide structure of how to give feedback works brilliantly in ensuring everyone is on the same page.

  3. Do your managers make feedback part of everyday working life? Put feedback practices on the forefront of your employee agenda. Prime your employees and line managers so that they value the importance of feedback and understand what is going to happen. Allow employees to regularly give and receive feedback as a natural part of their working life. This disassociates feedback from being just an activity that is carried out in a yearly appraisal.

  4. Do your managers give feedback that comes from a good place? Your employees and line managers should be clear that feedback is being given so that the individual can perform more effectively in the future. It’s role is not to reprimand or manage someone but to fully support an individual.

  5. Do your managers give feedback on strengths (more so than weaknesses)? I’m a firm believer in developing strengths over weaknesses. Unless our weaknesses turn into threats then it is easier and more beneficial for us to develop what we are good at. It is surprising how many line managers tend to forget to feedback about strengths and immediately focus on ‘areas of development’. Of course weaknesses should not be forgotten but don’t let them take centre stage in your performance discussion.

So, in essence, do your people embrace the aim of feedback and are they trained accordingly? Do they consider feedback as an everyday thing, making sure it comes from a good place and focus predominantly on strengths? If so, then you’re on the right track. If not, then you need some more work to do.

Feedback is a key part of our training programmes and we specifically work on a workshop that allows line managers to obtain feedback on their abilities and also understand the role it has in a person’s development. 

How do you ensure that your people are utilising feedback effectively and that it is not hindering their engagement and development? Let us know!

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