The Benefits of Informal Feedback on Business Performance

    “Performance review.”

    And breathe.

    When feedback is saved up and delivered in one formal grenade, everything you did ‘wrong’ that year comes back to bite you (disguised as ‘constructive criticism’) and it makes you feel awful for the rest of the day, week, month – who knows how long?

    True feedback is about informal, effective communication, and that’s an essential ingredient in any relationship – and any sustainable, successful organization.

    However, 32% of employees wait over three months to receive feedback and are left unsure of how their performance measures up to expectations (Officevibe). 

    This is where providing informal feedback comes into play. Like all skills, providing informal feedback takes practice, but when delivered in the right way, it can be an invaluable tool for learning, continuous improvement, implementing changes and encouraging open and honest two-way communication.

    What is Informal Feedback? 

    It’s important for leaders to understand the differences between formal and informal feedback sessions.

    Formal feedback occurs in the form of annual performance reviews, scheduled meetings, and employee surveys. All are important, but did you know work performance can improve by 12% with informal feedback? (Gartner). 

    Informal feedback is an intentionally delivered conversation that happens a short time after something good or bad has happened.

    Humans can only assume what they are doing is working, but assuming is not knowing. You will continue to do things status quo, but if someone says what you are doing is working, you'll do more of it. If they say it’s not working, you'll do it less. That is the simplest way to view feedback. It's the purest way to inspire continuous improvement.

    When leaders provide informal feedback, it helps to set development goals and create unique employee experiences – which sees an average of 31% higher productivity and 37% higher sales, too (Harvard Business Review). 

    The Feedback Shift can help leaders with those informal feedback sessions. It’s a neuroscience-based feedback model that teaches leaders how to provide informal feedback in a way that inspires, and how to listen and be open to feedback themselves.

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    Benefits of Informal Feedback

    Resolving Mistakes – If an employee doesn’t realize what they're doing wrong, how can they correct their behavior and grow? Waiting until the next performance review could see the issue get bigger or hazy in memory. Informal feedback gives them the chance to nip bad habits in the bud, hone skills, and get on with achieving goals.

    Builds Rapport and Trust – Providing informal feedback gives employees an insight into what leaders think and feel about their input. It also demonstrates that the leader cares enough about them to share thoughts right away. It means no rugs pulled out from underneath anyone, or wondering why a criticism was never raised before, and anxiously replaying all the moments that might have been avoided if it had been. Giving positive feedback – something that is too often missing in the workplace – builds resilience and trust. People need to hear what is working more than what is not.

    Encourages Open Communication – Getting leaders and employees comfortable with receiving and providing informal feedback creates a strong and harmonious culture of open, honest communication. It keeps leaders on their toes, always thinking more critically and thoughtfully about their employees’ performance and how to communicate with them around it. It also helps employees feel confident in raising any questions or problems they’re facing, without fear of judgment or a telling off.

    Authentic Employee Recognition – Informal feedback isn’t just for when things go wrong. It’s really important for leaders to observe, reflect and jump on moments when employees have done a standout job. We’ve all had those moments at work, and we all get a little glow afterwards and feel way more invigorated to keep at it.

    Benefits of Informal Feedback on Business Performance

    How to Provide Informal Feedback

    1. Assess the need, be kind and explain the context for why you’re providing informal feedback

    You don’t want a script, but you do need to think clearly about what you want to say beforehand. Be as detailed as you can on the ‘when and where’. Be fair and consider the circumstances that led to the issue, too. Could they have been supported more? Is this the first time it’s happened? Be human. How did that make you feel? How did it impact others?

    1. Ensure to choose the correct time and place

    Sometimes a cooling off period is needed to clear heads and calm voices. But always waiting hours or days – or even until the next performance review – to provide informal feedback can see an issue get much worse. By then, someone might become defensive (understandably, as they feel they’ve been robbed of the opportunity to improve the whole time you’ve stayed silent).

    1. Have a casual discussion rather than scheduling a meeting

    Feedback sessions should be relaxed, personal, and always verbal – never a quick email. Instead of, “Can I see you in my office?” or some other form of the dreaded ‘we need to talk’, leaders should ask the employee if they could have a couple minutes of their time, so it doesn’t feel overly power imbalanced.

    1. Identify the mistake or win with equal input from the employee and the leader

    This should be a two-way conversation. Be specific about the behavior you witnessed. Rip out judgments or feelings. Provide informal feedback using questions, not statements. That way, the employee contributes, rather than just passively listening, and understands the impact of their behavior and what should happen next.

    1. If the feedback is positive, this should be celebrated and encouraged, whereas if the feedback is negative, it should be a constructive conversation about improving.

    Negative feedback should always be delivered in an actionable way that encourages someone to do better, not just feel like a frightened-for-their-job failure. Give it straight, but make it clear you’re on the same team, and discuss suggestions for improvement. Lastly, whether the informal feedback is positive or constructive, always thank the employee for their time, contribution, and commitment to moving forward, and make your support clear.

    Leaders should be open to feedback too, and view it as a way to stimulate their own growth. Always practice active listening, summarize the information you’ve retained, and confirm your intention to act or follow up on those insights.

    Establishing a trusting culture where informal feedback is regular, transparent, and acted upon empowers leaders to drive performance, makes for happier employees, and ensures that no nasty surprises pop up during those formal feedback sessions.

    You can learn more about providing informal feedback through The Feedback Shift here.

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