How Feedback Loops Increase Employee Retention

By David Hassell

It’s no secret that employee happiness is one of the most powerful investments that your company can make. Numerous studies show us that happy employees mean higher stock prices, healthier companies and business performance.

At times, you may feel the need to shower your rockstar team with unique perks — free food, beautiful office space, company trips, gym memberships, competitive bonus plans, and more. But, the evidence shows that effective communication – not pricey perks – is the best way to keep your top talent engaged. So, the question is, what are you doing to keep your most important business asset ‘happy’?

Perks Aren’t Enough

It’s true: perks are great. They are fun, exciting and novel. But we need to remember that perks alone are not enough to create an engaged workforce. And, most importantly, they are not a substitute for one-on-one interaction or healthy communication.

Even the most novel perks can’t give your top performers what they value most: the ability to leave their mark on the business, and drive goals forward. This global workplace study reveals that the traditional view of the gold standard of an engaged employee — one that is unconditionally willing to give 100% on the job — has been replaced the goal of fostering experimentation and growth in our teams.

“The key factor is a work environment that more fully energizes employees by promoting their physical, emotional, and social well-being,” wrote Tony Schwartz for the Harvard Business Review Blog. “I’d like to add that mental and spiritual well being — or more specifically, the added energy derived from the capacity for absorbed focus and a strong sense of purpose.”

Listen to Your Staff…Or Someone Else Will

Unbeknownst to many, it is the feedback loop that has been most recently credited to incentivizing and inspiring employees to always give their best by opening up clogged arteries of communication. Regular communication creates the energizing, healthy work environment that has been found to be the cornerstone of employee engagement. Feedback loops are more than just company perks — they’re essential for retaining and developing top talent.

Most companies have an annual or semi-annual performance review process where managers provide structured feedback to their employees. While good in theory, these irregular check-ins can seem like token efforts which yield few tangible results or overall organizational communication.

“Annual performance reviews often are considered time sucks of meaningless paperwork and awkward meetings between manager and subordinate who suddenly seem like strangers,” Katie Donovan explains in an article for Forbes.

These processes stifle top employees — these are the individuals who yearn to make a tangible impact daily. High-performers understand that there is constant room for improvement, and they thrive when given the opportunity to give and receive constructive feedback. If managers are not talking with them on a consistent basis, they’ll leave to pursue ‘greener pastures’ where they feel they’ll be heard and valued.

Give Your Team a Megaphone

A feedback loop is a reciprocal form of communication, in which both parties must be fully engaged. The process of active listening is crucial for this dynamic to work. An effective feedback loop is equal parts action and reaction and has four core components:

1. Information gathering
Encourage your employees to voice what’s on their mind. Provide some structure for feedback collection, but leave enough room for open-ended dialogue that reveals your company’s blind spots. A feedback loop needs to do more than facilitate shameless self-promotion. You need to be prepared to ask tough questions — it’s how your company will stay competitive.

2. Analysis
To be an effective researcher, you need to look at the information you’re getting with an objective eye. Analyze the information you’re getting to pinpoint trends that you may not have otherwise seen.

3. Action
An effective feedback loop will illuminate things that need to be done. Learn to recognize situations that need to be addressed head-on, and act immediately. Don’t just talk about what you’re going to do; make a plan, commit to a change, and stick to it.

4. Notification
Let your team know that you’re addressing their needs. What good is change if nobody is prepared for it or knows that it’s happening? Communicating action to your team signals to them that you take their feedback seriously, and will improve buy-in to the feedback system.

Predictable feedback loops are invaluable. When employees know that they have regular opportunities to provide feedback, they will feel heard and will feel at ease in knowing that their problems will be addressed and resolved  — and quickly, too. This dynamic promotes a culture of mutual trust (among employees, management, and leadership) and encourages a culture of transparency and honesty. These environments are few and far between — when top performers find themselves in these environments, they stick around.

The Perks of Agility

Feedback loops empower your company, people, and team to be agile. You’ll position your organization to see problems before they occur or when they just start to happen — you’ll be better positioned to keep your company running efficiently. When your organization is positioned to react swiftly to challenges, your employees will feel supported and empowered.

Let’s face it — your top performers are constantly being recruited by your competitors. Even in the midst of high unemployment, rockstars are always in high demand. You need to give them a compelling reason to stay, and you need to commit to winning them over on a daily basis. The more problems you let pile up from lack of communication (even if these problems are small), the more you risk losing your key players.

So don’t get lazy — it could cost you your top talent.

Equity Beyond Cash

It’s common for companies to offer equity to their employees. The idea is that when people feel a sense of ownership over their company, they’ll work harder to add value. Feedback loops add an additional dimension to that level of ownership —  they encourage top performers to be emotionally invested in the success of the business by connecting their actions with your company’s big picture.

They help build a collaborative environment that transcends the hierarchy of management. Effective feedback loops allow employees to understand how their actions are directly impacting the success of the company, promoting feelings of pride and belonging — which increase their emotional affinity to your organization’s bottom line.

At it’s core, creating a culture of open communication is an economic concern.

Investing time and energy into creating an environment that promotes a sense of accomplishment will help you reduce churn among your top performers – allowing you to safeguard your bottom line.

What does your company do to help promote employee retention?

Image Credit: Jurgen Appelo

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