Not all feedback will have a positive effect on employee’s performance. A recent meta-analysis of over 23,000 feedback interactions found that performance actually declined in more than 38% of these interactions. Therefore it is critical that managers not only understand what constitutes effective feedback, but also how their employees cognitively process feedback in order for it to have the most desired effect.
3 factors that affect how employees process feedback:
Characteristics of the recipientThe employee’s personality characteristics such as self-esteem and self-efficacy can determine their readiness to receive feedback. Employees with low self-efficacy and low self-esteem don’t actively seek feedback and those with high self-efficacy and high self-esteem generally do seek feedback.
The employee’s personality characteristics also have an effect on how they process feedback. For example, an employee with low self-esteem and self-efficacy may perceive critical feedback as too harsh. This will have an impact on their subsequent performance. They will likely feel less capable of executing the job task and as a result, their performance will decline.
The employee’s needs and goals also affect their openness to feedback. Individuals with a high need for achievement respond more favorably to feedback than those who do not. For example, individuals who have a high need for achievement are more open to receiving feedback and are more likely to seek feedback on important tasks.
The employee’s desire for feedback also affects how they receive and process feedback. This desire involves the employee’s:
- Self-reliance (e.g. “I know I did it well so I’m not concerned with what others think.”)
- Self-assessment ability (e.g. “I have a clear idea of how I performed.”)
- Preference for receiving external information (e.g. “I like hearing how well I did.”)
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Perception of how the feedback is delivered
The type of feedback (positive or negative) has an effect on how accurately the employee recalls the feedback, motivational influence of the feedback and self-efficacy.
In general, employees recall positive feedback more accurately than negative feedback.
Negative feedback can have a positive motivational influence whereas positive feedback has less of a motivational impact. This is because individuals receiving negative feedback view it as a challenge and increase their goals. Those receiving positive feedback have no need to pursue higher goals.
The type of feedback also has a different impact depending on the level of self-efficacy of the Individual. Individuals with lower self-efficacy can be more hurt by negative feedback and thus feel less capable of performing their job. Positive feedback can facilitate higher self-efficacy.
The content of the feedback message and the manner in which feedback is delivered both affect how the employee receives the feedback.
Consider this example: two managers are dissatisfied with an employee’s performance. One yells at the employee and says they are incompetent. The other discusses with the employee in private the reasons they are dissatisfied with the employee. These very different approaches to providing feedback will have a major impact on how the employee receives the feedback and how they are likely to respond.
When receiving feedback, the employee considers factors such as the perceived feedback accuracy, credibility of the giver of feedback and fairness of the feedback system or company. All of these factors affect how the employee receives the feedback.
For example, feedback from a manager who is perceived as not trustworthy or credible will likely have less on an impact on an employee than feedback from a manager who is well-regarded.
The three factors that affect how employees receive and process feedback also have a direct effect on behavioral outcomes such as effort, persistence, resistance to feedback and the direction of the employees. It is therefore critical for managers to identify how each employee processes feedback based on these factors and adjust their approach to giving feedback accordingly.
Kluger, Avraham N., and Angelo DeNisi. “The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory.” Psychological bulletin 119.2 (1996): 254.