What I learned from a lack of feedback

In 1970 I started my first official job. I worked nine hours a week at a small grocery store. For the next two years I grossed $11.25 a week.

Only once did I receive any feedback on my performance. The manager told me that I was working too slowly. He said that his son did the tasks faster.

I wasn’t quite sure how to take this. His son soon told me that his dad wasn’t paying him, so he finished the job as fast as he could, paying little attention to quality. He just wanted to get back to having fun and not to be working for free.

The job was nice to have and I did the best I could. By watching how the manger acted, I saw that there was no bite following his bark.

With the acquisition of a California Drivers License, I jumped at the chance to earn a whopping $1.55 an hour at McDonald’s.

All employees were reviewed every 90 days. At the next evaluation I earned a raise to $1.60 an hour. I was elated but never heard the rationale behind the increase.

Was it because I clocked in on time? That I followed directions? That I could correctly count change out from the cash register? Was it my work ethic? All of the above? Or none of the above?

All hourly employee pay rates were public. I liked knowing what my peers made so I could benchmark how I was doing. Over the next year, I received more raises but never received feedback.

What happened at these two first jobs appears to be the norm: Most companies don’t
handle performance evaluations well.

Why do I say this?

In many cases, the employee doesn’t know what they are accountable for. At my first evaluation at Nestle I was handed a document listing responsibilities that had never been discussed with me. I had been graded on each one of them.

The rule should be no surprises. If a reviewer cannot provide effective feedback during the entire evaluation period, they aren’t equipped to make the assessment.

The criteria should be as objective as possible. In sales and service positions, this is likely easier to do. Detached from client interaction, it can be more difficult to measure. This is a leadership challenge for the reviewer to deal with and overcome.

One person in the company needs to be charged with making certain that every employee has been evaluated at least annually. I hear stories of individuals who haven’t had a formal evaluation in years. This breeds anger, resentment and disengagement.

Reviewers must understand how important feedback is to an employee. While money is important to most people, hearing specific feedback is, in my opinion, more valuable. Employees want to know what they are doing well, what they are doing that needs to be worked on, and what the plan is for improvement.

Every organization needs a clear policy about pay increases. This statement should include who is eligible for a raise, what it takes to get a raise, when the raise will be effective and the range of raises that will be given. It has to be communicated to every employee.

I have found many owners to be horrible at performing evaluations. They provide generic praise, and go out of their way to avoid having difficult conversations with those that underperform.

Owners create and build goodwill in their businesses by having character traits of being well-liked and being seen as a nice person. But that goodwill can quickly be diminished by turning a blind eye and a deaf ear by ignoring the needs of employees seeking specific feedback to improve the company they work for.